Medal of Honor

In every dogwood blossom his face
smiles too perfectly.
He never yelled about
my forgotten homework; never
buried my first dog by the fence
in our backyard; never
went eyeball-to-eyeball
with a used car salesman
to get my first car.
He’s a photograph now,
an old one in gray scale.
Only I remember
how the dogwood bloomed
the last time he leaned from the train
to wave goodbye.

~Note: Written to honor Technician Fifth Grade F. Peden who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on February 13, 1946. All events but the dogwood and the train are fictional.


The first time I invited him in
I was fourteen. I waited all afternoon
but nothing happened.
Four years later
in a lonely car on a dark, dirt
backroad, I opened the door
and let him ride along.
Only a pair of intervening headlights
coming at us changed the course of events.
After that I kept him hidden,
behind alcoholic wildness and stern,
absolute uprightness and brilliance
and genius and I don’t know what else.
Now, he shares every sidewalk with me.
We trade off using my cane.
I’ll glance at him
and the corners of his mouth will turn up,
his hair, as white as mine,
tumbles into his eyes,
and with that soft, enticing voice
he’s always had, he asks: was it worth it?
Turning me down, sending me away,
Was it worth it?
Yeah, I say back to him  
then pause to consider all the things
we’ve done together, and I say,
Yeah, it was.