Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Sunday

January 19, 2014

Lifelines: A poetic tribute to MLK

The Oglala Sioux artist and peace man, Ahbleza, was said to ride into battle with nothing but a song. The first two times his adversaries reined in their horses and retreated. The third time they shot him.

We named our daughter after Ahbleza, which means “observer,” or “sees with his heart.” But we softened the spelling to Ablaisia. She now goes by Blaise.

When Blaise was in fourth grade we were talking about religion. I was explaining to her how greatness can blossom out of different spiritual paths. I told her about Ghandi. I told her about John Lennon. I told her about Martin Luther King. She already knew about Jesus and Ahbleza, and what happened to them.

She asked, “What happened to Ghandi?” I told her. “What happened to John Lennon?” I told her. “What happened to Martin Luther King?” I didn’t like where this conversation was going, but I told her.

She looked at me and asked, “Daddy, if you believe in peace and speak out, does that mean somebody is going to kill you?” She’s a mom now, and I still haven’t answered her question.

I wrote this month’s poem, from an interview with Larry Lelito.


A Soldier’s Elegy for Martin Luther King

After 13 months in Vietnam

I was stationed on a naval base

on an island in San Francisco.

There were 35 thousand sailors,

with 83 Marines

guarding the place.

I was a Marine range officer and weapons instructor,

teaching rifle lessons.

A lot of veterans were having a hard time

dealing with Post Traumatic Stress.

After a night on the town

soldiers were having drug influenced

combat flashbacks.

It was not uncommon

to have guys brought back to the base

in straightjackets.

I never did drugs,

but I spent my time in the Frisco bars.

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