Veterans Day

Kevin McIlvoy

On Veterans Day, with no idea why, here we are snow-golfing

again in our usual threesome, exhausted, cursing, cold. Deadbeat,

widowed, divorced, we should be with our living parents at the Y,

the hospice, the home, but this is our place to do, die, be, at least

for now.

From driven women we have learned our names, and have had

practice in driving ourselves together, alone, and alone together

off the driving range. From driven men we have had lessons in the

poetry of the game. From our mothers we have been warned that

with our precise swing, back swing, and follow-through we were

perfecting nothing except becoming willing to dress and act and

take a mulligan and stroke our balls again and once again like

golfers will do on a freezing fresh-snow day like this day, which is

not a fair day to golf, not an easy day to like, even in the good and

terrible linked company of friends.

On the third hole, I tee up and say, “Boys — when this snow thaws

 — out come the sated worms — out come the sweet odors — from

the maze of tunnels — under the shallow — roots of the ocotillos —

and mesquites and acacias — at the edges of all — this greenness —

and out come the burrowing owls squinting — at their young ones

 — in the melting brightness.”

My ball has curved away to the right over the rough and onto the

ninth green three fairways away.

Are my friends happy for me? They are.

“Eagletime,” says Dwight.

“Like Elvis Muddy Wadsworth Tennyson,” says Harry who blows

his hands and Dwight’s concentration at the same time.

“All sky,” says our prose poet, Dwight, after his three wood sends

the ball high, high, directly overhead and lands it almost on the icy

divot where it was teed. “All sky. All loss. All smoke spent in holes

where I went nowhere for twenty years with one woman who

gave me one kind of violent kindness when I most needed to have

none. One week of peace. One fucking week would have been

enough. One.”

“Is this golfing  — or what?” I ask.

Harry says, “Putt in the sand!”

Dwight says, “Long putt in!”

Harry asks, “My turn?” He shrugs snow off his arms, cants his hips

down, takes two practice swipes, according to tradition and his

individual talent, and in an orator’s stance he addresses the ball:

“I know you — don’t I know you? — after all these years of eating

air from the mirrors in your empty bowls? What did you admit to

when I admitted everything to you? What hunger of mine

satisfied your hunger best? If I said it was too late to bring my

shame out of hiding, how would that strike you?” His line-drive

smacks the door of a porta-john and ricochets back to him.

“We should have at least worn jackets,” Harry says.

“Snow,” says Dwight. “Driving snow.”

“Who knew?” I say.

More or less, all three of us are regular men. We are Romantic,

Confessional, Counterfeit-Beat duffers in our middle, old, older

ages, slumped under the weight of our clubs which are the same

bag of bad choices and memorized verses we have lugged over

groomed paths and roughs and greens since our fathers in their

ultramarine Sansabelt slacks and matching phosphorescent green

socks and shirts first brought us. We didn’t ask to be taught this

crass and subtle art exercised on military bases with military

passes for the civilian sons of veterans. We didn’t ask then, we

didn’t, but we still imagine our skinny arms round the griefs of our

middle-class clubhouse sages who believed

we believed in the poetry of cutworms and roses, of one kind of

beauty chewing another kind apart, who thought we thought this

mattered, this veteran’s perk, this stylized sport of the set who

bought their memberships with their lives.

We were their Baby Boom troops tripped from our cribs and

whipped into shape by their words to the wise and those game

legs and war-sacked eyes. They cuffed us with their blunt leather-

gloved hands and called us by our manly nicknames: Soldier,

Buddy, Bud, Guy, Man. This was the boot camp where they taught

us debarking, mapping, bivouacking, and laughing, belly-laughing

at ourselves and not by ourselves.

It was swell.

We watched them laughing and we heard them cursing, cursing at

the flag and the club and the course ahead. They fed us Cokes and

bought us beer nuts and goofy gold caps, and they drilled us and

dragged us out against our wills for another punishing nine

pilgrimages, nine lessons in leaning into, swinging through, lining

up, reading the course, the green, the good lie, and lying good on

our score cards with our standard-issue dull stubby pencils. They

licked the tip and wrote, and let us lick and mix our spit with


It’s a crime and a crying shame the way we visit the dead but

never their graves. Even on Veterans Day. Our shoes crush pecan

shells under the dust of snow on the steep path to the fifth hole

set high above the long fairway’s two berms and the three bare

cloud-willows crowding the apron of the green.

“You first,” says Harry who gives me the honors as the worst of us

in this poetry. “Tighten your grip this time,” says Dwight who has

lost so much from tightening his so well.

“When this thaws,” I say, “what races into — the dark pitchers

underground are — sweet goodnesses only — that the locoweed

and spiderling — and thistleseed can find. — The meek inherit —

meekness, and the wind — pitches the meanest — of us into

darkness — where we drink first and — outlast all grace.”

Where I want to be I am. Where I want to be I am.

“Good lie,” says Dwight.

Harry blows on his hands, says, “Mmmm.”

“I am teeing,” says Dwight. He is a constant man in all his

wordloves. He practice-swings once and is ready. “No forms,

rings, files, rungs, no gripes, no fake unforgivable grins and

asshole canned lines, no loads, lows, lifts, no falling down,

climbing out of leaning into leaving from, no death, no burial, no


The ball has sharply sliced off into nowhere.

“You’ll never find it,” I say.

Harry says, “Not a prayer.”

“Want another shot?” I ask.

He does not.

Harry asks, “Sure?” but he is already teeing up, already shanking

his own shot into the thick cactus and mesquite some people call

The Rough, some The Jungle, and some The Shit.

Harry says, “I can’t say it — what I miss most. Last vow? Last curse?

Cursing? Vowing? Warring? Being cursed? Our dead-end

anniversaries blessed by everyone who knew us? Our thirst? Until

the thought of death parting us seemed sacred.”

I ask Harry if he wants to fall out. He slams the wood into the bag,

draws his seven, heads toward The Dark, The Bitch, The Pit, says,

“Listen to him,” the snide way his dad said the same words to my

dad or Dwight’s in the days when we followed them into The

Crap, The Swamp, The Deep, and shrugged off our complaints,

said, “Hell no,” “Sure as hell,” “Like hell,” who never broke stride,

who knew our orders, who never said never.

It was criminal how they loved us, the old flaying, choking,

flubbing guy’s guys. And we knew they loved us if we only knew it

almost in one practice swing once — their arms on our arms and

hands over our sixth-grade unscarred hands.

Teaching me to scan, my Dad told me, “Dogleft and bunker on top

and a trap and tough approach with a five-iron slap and a

backspin chip up and a long roll on where it breaks right-to-left

and down.”

Dwight’s Pop said, “Skyed that one. Right on the pin. Eagletime.

Lost in the sun. Shanked again. Long putt in.”

Harry’s taught him, “Ass in the drink! Butt in the sand! Big gun.

Magic wand. Goddamn wind! Drove one! Dropped one! Dicked

one! Bogieman! Dripped in.”

You could not convince us that was not nearly love. We were

convinced. We are convinced.

I suppose I am supposed to say their wives and daughters are

owed an apology for being kept away from these nine green

islands all those years ago and since. I am supposed to not contest

custody of this, supposed to beg women banging the glass ceiling

to forgive our lusts, our beer guts, our business suits, our hairy

backs and butts and cracks we made and make them kiss to come

in under par. Or I am supposed to add blame to the blame we

good old boys already assign to the good old crew of dads.

To be that way I would need more time.

On the ninth green, the wind in his teeth, Harry asks, “What

should I miss first? Last second kiss? Last long list of tasks?

Asking? Being asked?” He misreads the break, the depth of snow,

mistakes his strength, and misses. “I miss asking to be asked,” he

says. “The trapdoor of sleep. Noose of dream.”

“That’s your best?” I ask.

Dwight says, “You’re finished?”

“Par,” says Harry. Liar.

We owe our fathers an unrepayable debt for both our certainty

and doubt. It seems whenever we remember them we are given

back again every acute joy and chronic grief, each one.

Harry holds the pin for Dwight so he can line up the shot and wipe

his eyes and face on his shirt, and speak out.

Wordless, Dwight putts in from twenty feet, crystals arcing off the

golf ball burning a green line across the whiteness to the hole you

would swear was widening and caving in and deepening before

our eyes and then sipping, then drinking, then swallowing.

Dwight reaches in. “I miss her. I miss him. What I miss is honest

ugliness as venomous as a snake tattoo the size of the left side of

your chest. As shameful. As useless. As murderously permanent.”

Determined to not even try, I pick up, and agree to the penalty.

“Boys,” I say, “the clouds are pitching more snow — over the raked

sands — and the tilted greens — and striped fairways and — onto

the stunned bull snakes — in the glistening — yucca spikes. It is

blinding — the cursed cactus wrens — their wings struck — by the

shrike’s puzzling shadow — in the golden flakes.”

Are we done?

We are exhausted. It is late. Cold. The flag on the ninth green luffs

and snaps in the wind. Ghosts in the snowfall laugh, cough. Curse.

Dwight asks, “Can we stand another round?”

“I can go nine,” says Harry.

I say, “Sounds good,” and salute.

“This is the grip,” they said, and gripped us. “This is the form,”

they said who formed us, and said, “These are the rules we

learned from the men who ruled us.” Told us women just didn’t

get this poetry and never would. Asked us, “Don’t you

understand?” and understood we never could.

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