Did that eight-year-old boy,
racing gleefully into the playground,
black eyes shining with the joy
of kicking a soccer ball
ahead of him,
and met by two bullets
from an automatic machine gun,
did he die with grace?

Or his grandmother?
Who was rail-thin at 35
from too little food
and too many babies
and too much defoliant
and too few hopes,
who fell asleep in the refugee camp
and never woke up,
did she die with grace?

The white man in the suit and tie
on television
tells me that if I believe
in jesus
and in heaven
and jesus' love for me,
I can die with grace.

Could that be true?

The other white man
on television
tells us that this young man
once from Brooklyn
who fired his weapon
while struggling through the mud
on Hamburger Hill
or at Salerno
or deep in the Mekong jungle,
killing 12 of the enemy
before he was felled by a grenade,
that he died with grace.
The man calls it honor
and announces that his country
is proud of him.

An old man
once awarded the Silver Star
and Purple Hearts
and rank upon ranks
of honors and medals
dies of the cold in a park
across the street from the White House.
His death is not called graceful,
it is judged shameful
and it is named alcoholism.

And the woman
who wrote to the San Francisco Examiner
that finally, at the Vet Center,
she had found a way out
of nightmares
of choppers full of wounded
and dead
and flashbacks of nights torn
with mortars and rockets;
then could not live with her memories
and jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge.
Who is there to say that she died with grace
or did not?

[MARILYN MCMAHON (1990), in: Visions of War, Dreams of Peace, 1991, pp.109-111]


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