With a huff and a groan, on a prosthetic leg,
He jerked painfully down the aisle to his seat.
Holding his COVID mask to his mouth
In a grimace.
The pack on his back
thudded heavily down.
“You okay, brother?”
Called a man from the rear.
Quick strides brought the speaker
To the seat with the pack.
“Hey, brother, it’s hard.”
– A cough and a groan –
“Is he drunk?” asked the flight attendant.
“No, worse. It’s withdrawals.”
“Brother, it’s hard. I’m not gonna lie.
It’s bad, and it’s gonna get worse.
Where’d you serve, brother?”
“Four tours in Afghanistan,”
He sputtered through tears.
“Brother, I’ve been there.
It’s bad, and it’s gonna get worse,” he kept saying.
“It’s bad, really bad.
You don’t have to stay here;
You can get out before we take off.
If you stay,
You’ll get help when you get there.
I’m not gonna lie.
It’s gonna get bad; it’s gonna get worse.”
A whisper and groan,
“I can’t, really can’t.”
He lifted his head from his hand on the seatback,
Then scanning the cabin, he looked up at me.
Our eyes met
In the red-rimmed gray ocean
Of his clearing and glowing blue eyes.
I wanted to strengthen him,
To shout,” You can do it!”,
But all I could do was just stand there.
“I’ll pray for you, brother,”
The helper was saying.
Another man, too, had offered to pray.
“Do you want to get off?
If you want, you can do that.”
“I’m going to stay on,” he said firmly,
And all of the passengers cheered.
The plane ride was rough.
Several babies were wailing.
Three rows behind me
The soldier was heaving.
The helper stayed with him,
His hand on his back,
And holding the bag he coughed into.
All finally quieted as we came in for landing.
Quickly the helper walked to the attendant,
And came back and told him,
“They said you’ll be last. It’s okay.”
Then off whisked the helper to catch his next plane.
We waited to see him
When he walked through the gate.
He was last, and they brought him a wheelchair.
With muscular arms
He hoisted his pack.
Standing up straight and tall he said,
“I’d rather walk.”
That’s all we knew
about the man with the pack,
But that man gives me hope
in my country.
He knew it was bad
And that it’d get worse.
He had said that he couldn’t,
But what he meant was “give up”.
He couldn’t give up.
With one leg or no legs
He’d stand up and walk.