I Google my name
and come up with yours–the exact reverse.
I think what if we went to school together,
what confusion there’d be at roll call.
Ellen, Wade. Wade, Ellen.
But you’re older, a ‘51 baby,
a country boy from Rocky Mount, North
Carolina. And you’re dead,
killed in action in 1972, when the chopper
you’re co-piloting on a rescue mission
is hit by enemy fire and crashes
into a small island on the Dak Poko River.
When I think back to 1972
I see a high school sophomore
in a Black Watch plaid skirt getting high
and I am ashamed
I didn’t know enough about the war
that took your life.
But when I return to your death date,
April 23, 1972–
was it Easter?
I can picture them stranded, at the water tower,
and imagine they wanted to signal
and you, navigating over
the northwestern edge of the Tanh Canh
base camp in Kontum Province,
wanted to save them.
But the enemy was waiting.
That day was without resurrection in Florida too
where I was trying to escape the grief
of my Mother’s death the month earlier,
consoling myself by piercing my ears,
eating peanut M&Ms, sleeping away
on a pull-out bed, and going
to a bar for the first time.
Smokey Robinson played.
I’d like to think my grief was for you too.
That somehow I knew, oceans away,
someone I shared something with
died. But to be real, even now
I find you only when looking for myself.
I’m still that self-centered sophomore,
just a different self,
and you’re dead now for some thirty years.
Then we were miles apart,
even on my radar. But today I found you
just beyond the periphery,
and I want to wave, want to say
I am sorry and ask your forgiveness.
© Ellen Wade Beals, 2004