Looking for the Letter He Wrote in Vietnam

by Lynn Doiron


I found nubby letter R’s meant for jackets,
meant to brag,
meant to say to everyone,
I got this one for swimming,
this one for track.

I found the Iwo Jima buckle, brass and never worn.

I found the ball-strike counter
from his kneeling days behind home plate
where ten-year-olds swung away.

I found the Forbes 400 magazine (he thought he’d make it
there one day), dated 1987.

I found one leather case—hinged and shallow,
black with gold embossing. And inside that

some ribbon bars,
a USMC tie tack,
the pistol sharpshooter and rifle marksman medals,

and Purple Hearts:

two out of three ain’t bad. Bad blood
between the Corps and him when they pinned
that third one on. I have a photo somewhere.

He’s in
hospital pajamas, shoulders hunched
hard over wooden crutches,
both eyes blacked from a broken nose.

He didn’t want the medal.
The picture of the moment
when they hung it to his chest
shows his lips pressed in the grimmest line
I ever saw him wear. But,
there had been a threat; a C.O. said,
“You show up next time, or
we’ll bust your ass to Private.”

“I’ll take the bust,” Al said.

Then they explained
“exit” pay for the medically disabled.
Wasn’t much,
the difference busted down to Private. But
with one leg left behind near the DMZ
—the difference was enough.

I never saw that third heart ever.
He never shared a word, but knowing him
my best guess is he waved it off
with a toilet’s flush.

I found a clipping from Ann Landers
with a quote on how to take the best from life
by giving all you can.

I found a folded ad for a red ’66 Corvette.
I found a curl of my brown hair.
But I didn’t find the letter he wrote to himself.

I found it once,
in a bag the chaplain offered by the exit doors.

I found it with loose change, car and office keys,
inside his dog-eared wallet,
folded to a little square.

Three pages in his crabbed hand,
blue ink washed to halo every word;
after twenty-two years, the folds showed holes
along the creases, as if read many times to only close
and save to read again.

I saw it the first time Christmas 1968.
He was taking all the odd bits from one wallet
to fill a new one gift-tagged to him from Lynnsie.
He read it to me then.
“Dear Al,” he said, and cleared his voice, “This is so
you won’t forget, won’t take for granted
what it is to want
a glass of cold, clean water,
or a glass of milk . . .”

Three pages of reminders he read to me
on how to savor ordinary things.
And me.
No coded language for the lusty wanting
shared in letters mailed. Instead,

he wrote of
how his palm felt resting on my hair,
about the echo of my heartsounds
pressed into his back.
He wrote,
“Keep your sweetpea laughing
and you will remember
how to smile again.”

I didn’t find the letter.

I know I’ve placed it somewhere safe
to save. His legacy
for our daughters and our son,
for his namesaked grandson, Alphonse,
when he’s old enough.

I found the wisdom of him, though–
the echo of his life
thrumming with a pulse so real . . .
no words come to say it.

I found,
while looking for the letter,
I am still his wife.





Category: Poetry