Reliving Vietnam at the Dillon, Montana, class reunion

"Are not our lives too short for that full utterance
which through all our stammerings
is of course our only and abiding intention?"
Joseph Conrad in Lord Jim

Seniors of 1965 had dreams,
professed faith in country,
some in God, but we all prayed
no draft, no war, no death.
We believed choosing

made lives lived half-right, not worthless.
I remember Gary Dumke, hulking, obese,
Piggy in our small Montana town
with flies, but no Simon, no lord.
Football coaches wanted Gary on the line,

browbeat, cajoled, made him turn out.
I watched him practice in rain,
weep alone after Saturday games.
Gary found courage enough to say no --
walked away, retired helmet, cleats,

ignored jeers, dressed in tie and suit,
carried briefcase, joined debate.
I recall senior government class,
Mr. Claudius Ankeny, Army veteran,
paddle-toter to the core

saying, "Gary, you look nice today."
Gary ripped my breath away,
responded in no-first-name taboo,
"Why thank you, Claude."
Pure surprise made Claudius freeze,

spared Gary punishment, hands
grabbing ankles as hickory board
spat blisters on his three-piece behind.
Graduation past, Gary stood tall again.
Dillon's draft board ordered him

turn out, fight in Nam.
He dressed in tuxedo, boarded train,
then hanged himself,
swinging free above dutiful draftees
sweating their way to war.

Timothy Pilgrim