The Mojave, January 1988 and Hamburgers, Macaroni Salad, and Vanilla Ice Cream at Senior Lunch Today, 2 poems by Bruce Pemberton

The Mojave, January 1988

Twenty-five months in the Army
and who would put a kid like me
in charge of a six million dollar
tank? I’ve got a crew of tragically
obedient soldiers, all teen-age, one
who marries his sixteen-year-old
second cousin and another who
rides his skateboard to first form-
ation every morning. They’re all
good kids, but most assuredly

We’ve been training in the desert
for two weeks, in cold, sleet, wind,
and constant maneuvering, attack,
defend, attack again, with an hour
of sleep a day that comes in fits and
starts, until, by design, it strips off
any sheen of personality that’s left,
leaving us fearsome and primal.

Our first sergeant radios for us to
pull back from our firing line on a
snowy hilltop and ground guide
ourselves down to a holding area
for diesel, hot chow, and mail. We
start to back up when we find an
infantry squad, wet and shivering,
trying to dry their boots, gear, and
uniforms, in the heat of our tank’s
searing exhaust. I radio back and get
us an extra half hour, so the soaked
grunts can dry everything and get warm.
I have enough left of myself, at least,
to do that.

Hamburgers, Macaroni Salad, and Vanilla
Ice Cream at Senior Lunch Today

Wednesdays are the highlight of my week.
I recycle, do laundry, the gym, tennis with
old friends, then the dog park, and finally
senior lunch. Their numbers are down a bit.
That can’t be unexpected. I tell friends to
come, but they give me that face and say,
I’m not ready for that yet, as if they think a
nurse will be feeding them. No one’s being
fed…maybe one mother, age ninety, by her
daughter, age seventy. Everyone else is res-
ponsible for getting food from a plate to your
mouth, with, hopefully, a fork, or if it’s soup,
a spoon. I sit with retired farmers and listen
to fertilizer, combine, and tractor talk. Their
wives sit at a table across the dining hall, their
silver, blue, or white hair worn manageably
short. One old-timer at my table wears a bib
that he calls an adult clothing protector, printed
with hunting dogs on point and ducks taking wing.
We stand for the Pledge, then a short prayer…
Heavenly Father, thank you for this sunny/rainy/
snowy day in the summer/fall/winter/spring,
and thank you for this meal prepared for us
by loving hands. Bless this food to our need
and use, Amen. Someone from another table
always calls out “play ball!” and lately, there’s
been enough left over for seconds.

Bruce Pemberton
Bruce Pemberton is a retired high school teacher, coach, and Gulf War veteran. Most recently. his work has appeared in American Life in Poetry, Sky Island Journal, and the anthologies In Tahoma’s Shadow and Spokane Writes. He lives on the Palouse, in rural eastern Washington state.

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