And that was when the young priest,

the young priest just out of the seminary,

opened the parish gym on week nights

to keep us off the streets,

wanted us to box and wrestle

and play basketball,

cornered us one by one

demanding to know how many times

since our last confession

we spilled our holy seed,

promised us paradise if we held our fists

out of our pants long enough

to wait and sacrifice.

And when

girls like Rosemary

from the convent school

poked against us

in the wild windy midnights,

their mothers in ragged gowns

hissing through cracks

in the screen doors,

girls like Rosemary

who panted until their skin shook,

then stepped back

because the good sisters implored them

not to step down,

sent us home feverish

to wait for something better,

and sacrifice.

And when

the police stalked us

though the glaring, dangerous streets

because we happened to be there,

Mexican, black, youngest family of ten,

and we searched alleys and trash bins

looking for booze or fistfights,

something to steal or break,

running from the young priest

who wanted us to box and wrestle

and play basketball,

tell him how many times that week

we hungered for girls like Rosemary

with their scented hair and the warm place

we could feel though their skirts,

and when the flashing red eye of patrol cars

turned a corner suddenly,

we hid under old Chevys,

ripped our shirts and our skin

rolling over fences

to escape being slammed against paddy wagons,

to escape being beaten into better boys,

willing and ready to sacrifice.

And when

the ex football player, the ex marine,

the All-Christian athlete campaigning for city council,

came to our school to tell us of the vision

he had for our future and explain

how he once felt as we did, felt he knew everything,

but now he knew better, knew how we could create

a better world and be like our forefather,

the founders of the Republic,

the great generals, the great frontiersmen

who believed in God, hard work and cash,

in being second to none,

and so could we

if we’d only listen and obey,

and sacrifice.

And just beyond those days

we woke one morning

in our sophomore year in college,

the last lambs of the nation of sheep,

to see the dream of our future

brighten under a banner headline

in the photograph of the rumpled carcass

of a helicopter gunship smoking human flesh

along a muddy road

in a place we never heard of, called

the Republic of South Vietnam.

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