Bio Note: Before I left a tenured position teaching college English in 1979 to assume a communications-management position with the U.S. Geological Survey/NASA Landsat Earth-observation program, I enjoyed writing poetry and had modest success seeing some of it in print. One thing I hoped for in my new “9 to 5” job would be to have more time to work on poems without having stacks of term papers to read first. As things turned out, it would be well over 30 years before I began to enjoy, in retirement, a return to my own writing.
On a still September afternoon an old woman pulls up tripod poles tightly roped in dried green-bean vines. She rakes the small garden plot and draws two furrows with a finger. From a packet opened in the spring she pinches out some lettuce seeds small as course-ground pepper flakes, sliding her thumb to slowly sow best wishes for crisp salad through the fall. Surrounded by small white butterflies running silent-movie errands, she stands to stretch her back, the rhythmic tamps her hand just made over each new row the only sounds she’d heard. Songbird nesting music gone, cicada choir screeching done, crickets silent in bright sun, she looks at hilltop trees, probing green for any branch already yellow, red, or brown.
I Saw Your Name
Around 1985, heading back to National Airport, I found my way to The Wall. Entering its stone stillness, I floated with the raft of visitors scanning dense petroglyphs on steep black cliffs. A familiar name emerged, starting with Walter, but what came to mind was Wally – big guy, big, friendly face, big, bushy eyebrows and warm, bellowing voice. Was this that student from Ellsworth College? I taught there a couple years, then lost touch. When my plane landed, the last name was forgotten, but not the face or the laugh. I vowed to rummage around for old yearbooks and their Walters, but never did. When I opened the old cedar chest this morning, I came across the 1966 “Lauream.” Sophomore Walter Nutt is on page 23. That affable face also gazes from its internet post of Vietnam casualties. In the remembrances, a buddy had worried about Wally, a medic who would not carry a weapon. Another buddy said Wally spoke of going home to his wife and baby daughter in Des Moines. He was 22. The medal citation states four comrades fell wounded nearby. Under fire, Walter Lee Nutt III treated two and was killed moving toward the third. I saw your name carved in stone, Wally. I’m sorry. You should be 70 now.
Originally published in Better Than Starbucks 2018
©2020 Raymond Byrnes
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