They ask “Why do you do this—

This dressing up and dashing around,

This eating from tin and sleeping on the ground,

This playing at war? What for?

And you smile at your friends

Who think you are romanticizing murder,

And give them answers to take home.

To one you say, “Why it keeps me fit!

Like a natural nautilus high!

Give me a ten-pound rifle and a ten-pound pack,

‘By columns right to the road and back!’

Get the pulse rate up with a fierce attack!

It’s aerobics under the sky.”

To another you say, “It’s the sport of it!

Camping outdoors with all my pals,

A beer, a beard, a boast, a jest,

Passing every manly test,

Male bonding at its best,

And flirting with all the gals.”

To a third you say, “It’s my teaching bit!”

Ask the average guy today

“When was the war?”

“What did it do?”

“What did those men

Accomplish for you?”

Most likely he will say

“Something about slaves and Scarlett O’Hara,

And Lincoln and the theater,

And that thing they did on TV with that guy Shelby something, I didn’t watch most of it,

Oh, and by the way … who won?”

To another you say, “Because time won’t quit.”

The past is the present.

We have to know who we are

From whom we used to be.

we look back on the way we were to see how far we’ve come,

But the truth, the root-truth, the seed-truth

That your marrow self must admit

Is this: When the candle is down to a half-inch glow,

And stars bespatter the night,

When shelters and A-frames blossom in even rows

like ivory flowers new sprung from the earth,

When the gold spotlight of campfires raises curtains on twos and threes still tearing away at a tale or two, When finally they fall still, seized by the silence,

The universal quiet,

When the only sound is the ebb and flow of your heart’s blood murmur—

a rising tide of love,

Then you give answer to the person who really counts,

Who comes to sit beside you on the ground

And warms you with his pride.

And you say:

“I do it for you, my sleeping soldier,

You farm lad, city boy, young man, old,

Irish, German, sage or fool,

Who said to wife or mom or farm or job

‘This has to wait a while.’

“I do it for you, fellow journeyer,

You seeker, quester, dreamer,

Pulled by time and unseen hands

Away from the no you knew

And set marching towards an unknown yes;

The yes that’s still out there

Somewhere.”

“I do it for you, my long-loved other,

Who is the man I used to be,

I do all this:

This reading and sewing,

This freezing and sweating,

This marching and shouting,

This doing and showing,

This dying and dying.

All this so you will never truly die,

And neither, my pard, will I”

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