In seeking a way to express the realities of her life as the wife of a Vietnam veteran, Marilyn Johnston began writing poems when she was almost 50 years old.  She writes like a veteran of many years of poetry and as a veteran of a marriage that has been scarred by what our nation asked of her husband.

The original concept for November 11, first called Armistice Day, was the suspension of business, school lessons, and normal routine to pause and remember what had been sacrificed for our nation.  That pause was to come at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year, the same moment in which the Treaty of Versailles was signed after World War I.

Let us all pause now to remind ourselves of the sacrifices we often forget and to thank Marilyn and her fellow wives of veterans everywhere for what they do, what they endure, and what they manage as those who support the men who have returned from war.


Returning from War

He wears his army jacket
to shoot moles that are
digging tunnels in the earth
in our backyard.  He stands alert to
every sound, watching every
blade of grass, closing in
when the slightest movement
of the ground leaves no doubt
about the nearness of his prey.
These are the times when he
talks about Duc Pho.

I’ve heard his stories of
the minefields and the bombs.
About his jeep someone borrowed
that he found later,
blown up by a land mine
on the road from Chu Lai.

But mostly I return from work
and see him through closed windows.
He is sitting in the chair I used to
nurse our babies—back when
we talked about a future.  Dishes
on the sink, the counter.  Mail
and papers scattered on the floor,
throughout the house.
Disorder representing life on hold.

In my dreams, he is lying down,
his ear pressed to the earth,
listening for my movement
in the tunnels underground.
He madly digs while
I gasp for air, waiting to be
pulled toward him in the light.
The end to thirty years of waiting
for his return.


Printed with permission of the poet


Marilyn Johnston is an Oregon writer and filmmaker.  Her work has been included in such publications as Calyx, To Topos Poetry International, and Café Destiny.  She received a Robert Penn Warren writing competition prize, as well as fellowships from Oregon Literary Arts, Fishtrap, and the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund for Women.  She is the founder of the Mid-Valley Veterans’ Writers.  Red Dust Rising, her collection of poems about her family healing from the Vietnam War, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.  Marilyn’s short documentary, “My Mother was a Coast Guard SPAR,” about a little known group of military women who served during WWII, was produced in 2010 and has played in film festivals in Toronto, Oregon, and Washington, DC, as well as on OPB television.

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  • Tobysgirl November 11, 2012 at 10:32 am

    This may not be popular, but I spend Armistice Day thanking all the people who were beaten, jailed, and killed to bring us the rights we enjoy. We are so suffused with militarism that we forget that no one defended our freedoms in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. Our freedoms, such as they remain, were defended by peace activists, civil rights activists, suffragists, labor activists, and others.