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Charlie Brice: Out of the Closet

Clothed in my cheap JC Penny’s suit, holding 
a bible, sitting on a container of disinfectant 
that smells like murder, like what they’d use to clean
the war machine of the United States of America, 
sitting in the utility closet the president of my 
draft board called their “waiting room.”

The door ajar, I see Ben Ramone in his Sunday best, 
Ben who years before struck me out with his ferocious 
curveball during our Little League All Star Game, 
who now pleads with the board. Who would care
for his wife, for his kids, should he be killed? They 
treat Ben the way all Mexicans are treated in Cheyenne 
in the sixties. They are so discriminated against they 
aren’t mentioned in discussions of racial prejudice.

When it’s my turn, I emerge from the closet with 
my bible and my convictions. I’m filing for conscientious 
objection in a state so conservative it might as well be 
in the deep south. I tell the board that I’m a pantheist,
make Spinoza’s argument that all of nature is sacred, 
is god, that to kill a human being is to kill a part of god. 
The old men on the board look perplexed—one falls asleep, 
a more sentient member wants to know why I wouldn’t kill 
for my country. “No people die,” I quote Yevtushenko, 
“only worlds die in them.” Who am I to extinguish a world?

Why not volunteer as a medic, another draft board don asks. 
I would, I say,	but I’d treat the most wounded person and 
if that was a Viet Cong, I’d treat him. One board member, 
an army colonel, turns white (or whiter). He must be 
imagining what it would be like to go into combat 
with the likes of me.

Six months later, with trembling hands, I open a letter
from my draft board. They have granted my request. 
I will never have to kill someone I don’t know, because 
someone else I don’t know, tells me to. But what about Ben,
his wife, his kids? To whom did they hand the flag 
that draped his coffin?


Copyright 2022 Charlie Brice's books include All the Songs Sung (Angels Flight, 2021). He lives in Pittsburgh.
Photo: Flag-post

7 comments on “Charlie Brice: Out of the Closet

  1. charliebrice2017
    March 12, 2022

    Dear Michael, Thanks so much for doing your usual wonderful job with my poem. It’s always an honor to be in Vox Populi. Love to you and Eva, Charlie

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      March 12, 2022

      Hi Charlie,
      Thanks for reminding me about this wonderful poem Out of the Closet. Glad I was able to run it today. My best to Judy.Best to you as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. johnlawsonpoet
    March 12, 2022

    As a Vietnam-era conscientious objector myself, I’m undoubtedly prejudiced, but it seems to me that the national dialogue doesn’t focus enough on the experiences and contributions of conscientious objectors. And I’m pretty sure that’s not an accident.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Barbara Huntington
    March 12, 2022

    And I am crying because I recently (A few years ago)?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barbara Huntington
      March 12, 2022

      Went into some high school page and saw pictures of classmates who died in Vietnam. So many. And I remember one from my old neighborhood. We used to play war, but the girls could only be nurses and then I grew up a hippie and anti war, even as I remember one boyfriend, a marine, who sent me pictures of what they would do to those anti war kids ( I never told him) and my old brain just remembered the name of the boy who said girls could only be nurses, who died in Vietnam. I wonder what he would think if he lived today? RIP Tommy Good

      Liked by 4 people

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