Village

Down in the village,

children run

half naked through the streets,

dirty faces smudged,

snot running from red noses,

no one seems to care,

an old lady squats,

fanning the fire under her pot

mouth cherry red

from chewing betel nuts,

next to her stands a boy,

his face half gone

the remains of a uniform

hanging like a limp flag

from his broken body

the cost of madness

of debt never erased

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The Outpost

Perimeter lights strain to peer through fog

as night falls,

without a sound.

I look out from my guard post

M-16 held in my hands, its plastic grip cold, unfeeling.

I take one clip, twenty rounds neatly stacked

slam it into its place with a loud click

I think,

can I kill?

Shed the life blood of another?

To pull, no,

squeeze the trigger?

I never envisaged as a kid,

playing soldier in the backyard

shooting at my imagined enemy,

here no bands played

no John Wayne heroics,

no flags fluttering in the breeze,

only the sound of the mini guns and rockets

crashing upon the shore below.

I get the call,

load one round,

HE,

M-79

the words seem distant, coldblooded.

I grab the weapon

an ugly thing,

stout.

With a flick of my thumb,

I unlatch it

it opens wide

as I slip in one round,

oblong shaped,

not even a handful

it slides into place

like a lover at night,

a sharp upward movement

and all’s ready

looking out on the dark perimeter

slowly take a deep breath

exhale

then squeeze,

there is the sharp kick

thump, then wait

wait, wait, wait

Nighttime in Qui Nhon

Above helicopters
circle like vultures 
propellers beating out their call,
sounding like a million bees
they spout their lethal projectiles 
raising a cloud of dirt and dust,
the angel of death has come to call
rockets flare out whooshing
no red glare, 
no bombs bursting,
just a spark of fire then gone
finding targets below
enemy hidden in a green tangle 
burrowed deep underground 
waiting out their Passover.

My Confession

I was young

I truly believed

that we were right

things were black and white

we flew Old Glory

basking in it’s power

our patriotism was boundless

feeding our desire to do right

but in the mud and blood

the cries of children

who did no wrong

still haunt my dreams

and I’m not so I sure anymore

of being right or wrong

as voices in the streets

scream at one another

each holding Old Glory

claiming their truth

to be the only truth

and I no longer am young

belief is an illusion

being right is not a badge

that one wears proudly

as black and white

merge into patterns of gray

where we all truly live.

Seattle, 1971

I can get you to Canada,

she said,

as I waited for my plane.

Just take this card,

call the number,

and you will be free,

her blue eyes bright.

I looked at her wondering

if this could be true,

freedom from the pain

of all that I knew.

I held her gaze,

for just a moment

she smelled of fresh flowers

on a warm spring day

a memory I carry to this day.

I thought about her offer,

then said, No,

I’ve done my time

and now I’m headed home.

She turned away from me,

and walked to another gate.

Was she sad I wondered,

as she disappeared

melting into the crowd

Memories of a Time on a Snowy Day

So, on this snowy day, I’m sitting here remembering being out on guard duty looking out onto the fog illuminated by the perimeter lights, and hearing the crack pow sound of an AK-47 off somewhere in the distance as if in a dream that makes no sense. Meanwhile, outside the snow is blowing around and it’s hard to see across the yard as the plows scape and bang their way down the street and here I am stuck once again with memories of youth in a place and time where there was no snow, and the air contained the smell of rotting vegetation, mixed with the scent of tropical flowers, growing in the burned out perimeter, where only the rats ran and thrived.

Basic

You’re left, You’re right

the Drill Sargent intones

yesterday we were civilians

today we’re soldiers

learning how to walk

how to obey orders

even when they seem insane

You’re left, You’re right

we march along trying

to understand what this is about

carrying our rifles, bayonets, canteens

in the heat of the day, through woods

we march, learning how to kill

that little yellow gook,

whom we never met before.

In the rain and in the mud

with red Georgia clay clinging

to our clothes and boots

we march, singing about her

that girl who waits at home

wearing that yellow ribbon 

we march for our mother’s

our families and country

we march to the beat of war drums

You’re left, You’re right

the Drill Sargent is relentless

the butt of our weapons dig in

backs are sore, feet hot

yet we march, for war is upon us

look to your right, look left

whose face will we not see again

the bloom of youth

another lost generation

with the look of ghosts.

You’re left, You’re right, You’re left.