Memorial Day got me to thinking. I recently spent the night across the street from the 4000th American service member killed in the Iraq War (remember him?)*. He was a kid from Mission, Texas, in the lower Rio Grande Valley, one of the poorest areas of the US. He is buried in the large and finely-manicured Lower Rio Grande Valley Veteran’s Cemetery. This is a new cemetery, until recently one of the last remaining tracks of thorn-scrub and live-oak forest along the Rio Grande. But now the sprinklers spit constantly over the graves of the fallen (or soon-to-be fallen).
It seems to me that The Grave of the 4000th Fatality should replace The Tomb of the Unknown. This newer burial captures it all. The US won’t - or can’t - provide jobs or housing for poor people, so it sends them off to be killed in foreign wars (cynics would add “for oil”). The US won’t preserve endangered ecosystems, but it will plow them under so that the poor dead people will have a place to be buried - a place which will then be turfed and watered until the Rio Grande runs out (the river that became the US-Mexico border after a big war back in 1848 - the place where a big wall is being built this month to keep out all the brown people on the other side).
Add a “0” to the number of fatalities and you’ll get something close to the number of horribly maimed service members (remember them?). Add a “0” to that, and you’ll be closer to the number of dead Iraqi people.
I heard a story about a gravedigger at a military cemetery. He found relief from PTSD by digging graves for his fallen comrades. If you were to speak to the family of the latest entered service member, what would you say? He responded: I’d tell them, Don’t worry, I’ll take care of him now.
* More accurately, one of fatalities numbers 3,997 - 4,000 - 4 soldiers were exploded at the same time.
At the New Orleans Poetry Festival, April, 2017 - Eileen Tabios, Tim Dyke, Lo Mei Wa and myself before the Tinfish Press reading.
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