The Lesson
Every base was a park – clean, quiet, orderly –
Row after row of quarters arranged by rank and size,
The grass mowed the same day, the vehicles washed.
All the khaki and saluting…
No wonder I was a juvenile delinquent,
Shoplifting the BX, starting a fire
Behind the hospital, cherry-bombing the swimming pool
And taunting the air police when they came.
One night Doug Sylvester and I wandered the base
Smashing bottles against anything that didn’t move.
Suddenly a porch light flashed, front door blew open.
We ran but before we could split up, he had us,
Each crushing hand clenching a neck.   
Buzz-cut, barefoot, sweats and tight white tee,
He stumbled us back to his porch glittering with splintered glass.
The nameplate on his door said Lieutenant Something.
He made us sweep up every sliver, apologize, admit
We didn’t know what was wrong with us.
He wanted the names of our fathers.
Sargeant Sylvester. Colonel Nelson.
He stared at me until I looked away. He made me swear
To tell my father what I’d done and sent me home.
He took Doug inside and called his father. Told him
He had a mind to call the air police, have the kid arrested.
Ordered him to come get Doug and teach him a lesson. 

Eric Nelson

If you have any comments on this poem, Eric Nelson would be pleased to hear from you.