“Please Help This Vet” by Gianna Russo

Red light at the corner of Hillsborough and Florida Avenues

His sign’s propped by his VFW cap.
I’m muttering at the red light.
Clouds are grey bellies slung over the belt
of cityscape and wind swipes the street,
riffling his long grey hair, pages of his paperback.
It might be Going After Cacciato or Catch 22.
A face that battered, he may have seen Saigon that last day,
Americans swooped from the hotel roof,
copters returning like jittery swallows.

I was too young for sit-ins, the Washington march.
I drew peace signs on my cheeks, teased my hair to a ‘fro.
But the first poet I knew humped Hamburger Hill,
sliced though bamboo like so many wrists.
His poems were gristled with jungle beauty.
He drank himself numb before every reading.

Here, at the light,
this vet sets back up his blown-down sign,
hunches on the curb, glasses slipping down his nose.
Should I believe the surrender of his tee?
So hard to know about folks on the street,
the broken sandals.
What if I held out a dollar?

Why do I ignore the wind-thrashed sky,
his book pages flailing as I drive on by?

Gianna Russo is the author of the full-length poetry collection, Moonflower (Kitsune Books), winner of a Florida Book Awards bronze medal, and two chapbooks, including one based on the art work of Vermeer, The Companion of Joy (Green Rabbit Press). Russo is founding editor of YellowJacket Press, (www.yellowjacketpress.org ), Florida’s publisher of poetry chapbook manuscripts. A Pushcart Prize nominee, she has published poems in Ekphrasis, Crab Orchard Review, Apalachee Review, Florida Review, Florida Humanities Council Forum, Karamu, The Bloomsbury Review, The Sun, Poet Lore, saw palm, Kestrel, Tampa Review, Water-Stone, The MacGuffin, and Calyx, among others. In 2017, she was named Best of the Bay Local Poet by Creative Loafing. She is assistant professor of English and Creative Writing at Saint Leo University, where she is editor-in-chief of Sandhill Review and director of the Sandhill Writers Retreat. 

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