How Is This Memorial Day Different Than Others?

I've written lots of military-related news stories: veterans returning to college, opponents of military recruitment in high schools, reaction to Latinos being left out of the Ken Burns World War Two documentary. On Friday I reported about friends and family unveiling a memorial bench at Poly High School for a Long Beach soldier killed in Afghanistan. What I saw that day, the emotions I heard, the presence of a man not there seemed to fully come together for me when I started to write a poem. Here it is:

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This is for Sgt. Israel Garcia
Maricruz's son
The housekeeper

This is for the son of Nayarit
In Cora
Nayarit means
Hijo de dios que está en el cielo y en el sol
Son of god in the heavens and the sun

This is for the two year-old Israel
Who'd become a proud Mexican
A proud American
A jackrabbit
And put on a uniform
Decorated
With the bronze star, the silver star, the purple heart

This is for the person
Not a Mexicano
Not a gringo
With a broad smile
Who inspired Steven and company
To go kick some Al Qaeda and Taliban ass

Ten years ago
Israel graduated
Four years go he fought in Wanat

The councilwoman
Was at the airport
Heard the mother wail a "come here"
To the casket

The high school cadets
Presented and retrieved
Las banderas
They're not told what things mean
So they go ask soldiers

This is for the widow and others
Who stood
Three days before Memorial Day
And remembered

Now his mother
Lives north of Seattle
The family packs potatoes
The brother
Kills cows

And a plaque
Outside the high school library
Says this Nayarit boy
Is airborne

Poet and KPCC Reporter Adolfo Guzman-Lopez writes his column Movie Miento every week on KCET's SoCal Focus blog. It is a poetic exploration of Los Angeles history, Latino culture and the overall sense of place, darting across LA's physical and psychic borders.

About the Author

Adolfo’s been a reporter at NPR affiliate KPCC since 2000. He’s reported on three L.A. mayors, four L.A. Unified superintendents, and covered the LAPD batons and rubber bullets flying at the May, 2007 MacArthur Park immigrant marc...
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