A Monday night in February,
The Verizon Center three-quarters full.
Notre Dame is in town,
But the Fighting Irish have left their game
Back in northern Indiana.
Georgetown’s Hoyas, long, lean, limber,
Take them to school.
Midway through the second half,
The margin reaches twenty.
Hundreds begin the trek upwards,
From their seats to the exit portals.
A pass sails out of bounds, and a whistle blows.
From the scorer’s table, a signal to the referees.
A commercial imperative, a television timeout.
As the teams withdraw to their benches,
A line of people emerges from an aisle
Near the Georgetown student section,
Files onto the court,
Mostly young men, a few young women.
The men, it turns out, are wounded veterans
From America’s twenty-first-century wars;
The women escort the more grievously hurt.
No athletes there, so many of them maimed,
Missing an arm, a leg, even both legs.
They hobble on crutches, propel wheelchairs.
Their artificial limbs, silvery tubes
Suitable for Star Wars robots,
Gleam in the bright arena lights.
Some of the men are unmaimed,
But their frozen faces suggest deep injuries within,
To the brain, to the soul, hidden wounds that lead to
Depression and addiction and suicide.
The public address announcer directs the crowd’s attention
To the file of veterans and their escorts,
Now arranged in a ragged line at mid-court.
He identifies the veterans, names the conflicts
In which they received their wounds.
Noble abstractions, those names, floating in the ether
Above the sand and the heat and the makeshift bombs.
They are honored guests of Georgetown, the announcer says.
He requests a round of applause,
In recognition of their service, their sacrifice.
He makes no reference to the armchair Napoleons,
The think-tank field marshals
Who sent the young men on the court
To places they would call the Sandbox and the Stan,
Where the earth erupted beneath them
In truly great balls of fire and pillars of oily smoke,
Splintering bone, shredding flesh.
The dwindling crowd rises dutifully to its feet, begins to applaud.
The veterans and escorts, curiously vulnerable,
Stand at mid-court as the applause washes over them.
After ten seconds or so, the applause begins to fade, dies out.
It has been polite, not too long, not too loud.
Roars following pretty Georgetown baskets have been louder.
For a while, the veterans and escorts linger at mid-court,
As if waiting for something else, but there is nothing else.
At length they realize: the tribute is over.
They turn and straggle off the court,
Retracing the route they took when entering,
Enveloped by anti-climax.
As the last of the file clears the court, a horn sounds.
The players leave their sideline huddles.
The Georgetown cheerleaders begin a new set of acrobatics.
Georgetown’s bulldog mascot mangles a shoebox labeled “Notre Dame.”
Another signal from the scorer’s table.
The commercials have ended, for a while at least.
The referees blow their whistles.
Play may now resume.