Sam Norman: “Fifty Eight Thousand, Two Hundred and Nine”

Fifty Eight Thousand, Two Hundred and Nine

Standing in front of the classroom
talking about the Vietnam War
preparing them for the novel they
were about to read, I was drifting
inside myself, barely noticing my
surroundings, thinking about my

When I came to the slide labeled
“casualties” I froze. Fifty-eight
thousand, two hundred and nine it
reads in stark white, 32 point font.
Fifty-eight thousand, two hundred
and nine knocks at the door. Military
servicemen saying the now-famous
words: We regret to inform you…
The same words that were spoken
to me at my door.

I imagine the responses varied:
anger and wailing and violence
and crying and dropping to their
knees and crying and screaming
NO! Did any other parent hug
the Petty Officer trying to get
the words out and whisper It’s
ok, I already know about my

Fifty-eight thousand, two hundred
and nine funerals, most of which
included rifles shooting blanks
in the air–the sound of taps playing
in the background, the color guard
slowly, carefully folding the flag
that covered their child.
Presenting the flag to their loved ones,
like they did for my son.

How did they manage the anger,
the crying, the denial, the feeling
of isolation, of being broken? How
do we manage when overwhelmed
by a car, a rainy night, the horrible
knock on the door.

A student says, But I don’t get it, why
did we fight in this war? and I think,
back in the moment, fifty-eight
thousand, two hundred and nine families
asking the same question, why?
Just as I do, every moment, about my


Sam Norman has been teaching high school for 16 years at Bacon Academy in Colchester, CT. His works have appeared in Verse-Virtual, Amethyst, Down in the Dirt, Red Eft, and Praxis. Most of Sam’s recent poetry focuses on a terrible tragedy. Sam’s son, Ben, just 20 years old, lost his life in a weather-related traffic accident on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2018. Sam lives in Coventry, CT, with his wife Teri, their children, Becca and Daniel, a bunch of chickens, and their beloved dogs, Cloudy and Ripple.

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