A Stockton Hero


My friend Cenon,
With a smile on his face,
Empties the trash from my basket,
Asks me how I’m doing, chides me if I’m working late, 
Calls me still, after all these years, “Mr. Phil,” 
As if I were somehow his better.


This from a man,
My friend Cenon, who served three tours in Vietnam,
Not on desk duty, not typing up inflated tallies of fallen foes,
Nor ordering others into chaos from the comfort of remote command,
But in the shit every day, death and dismemberment a misstep away,
With the 3rd Marine Division.


While I was groaning over Melville in an air-conditioned carrel,
He patrolled the jungles, in constant peril,
My friend Cenon, finding ways to stay alive,
And helping his comrades to survive.
As I fussed over footnotes and bibliography tags, 
He sent brothers home in pieces or in bags.


Like his father, who fought the imperial killers of Japan
As a guerilla in the Philippines,
But said little of the horrors he had known,
My friend Cenon is just glad he made it home.
When I press for more about his war and his fate,
He turns the topic, tells me again not to work too late.


This from a man who took a full-time job
At Linden High, another at Delta College,
And between them put in
Eighty hours a week, for twenty-eight years:
My friend Cenon, cleaning up messes the rest of us left
To give to his children the chances he missed.


When I hear complaints of PTSD from “too many papers to grade,” 
I think about this quiet man and the double-duty he embraced,
Atop his three tours, and the three kids he raised,
And how much I will miss him when he is gone,
With a smile on his face,
My friend Cenon.

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