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.

First Letter

I watch you

sitting there

reading a book

late afternoon sunlight

shining in your hair

thinking about that letter

written so long ago

on a whim 

to a girl I never met

a warm tropical night

on top of a mountain

as the war wore on

in the distance 

the crack of weapons

choppers flying the wounded

to the hospital below

and all you could smell was 

shit and diesel fuel burning 

and there I was

sitting in my hootch

a small light burning

shadows dancing on walls

looking at that picture

of you with dark rimmed glasses

hair shoulder length

smiling for the photo

I take pen in hand

on that cheap writing paper

the crinkly kind

designed for airmail

and I write

a stammering, stuttering

less than poetic letter

that I’m sure you’ll hate

when a few weeks later

there was an answer

and the beginning of it all

baring our dreams and hopes

in letters across the sea

that brings us to this day

as I look upon your face

and the love we share

all from a letter written long ago

Lost Soldier 

“What’s the spirit of the bayonet!”

“To kill without mercy,”

In a time and a place,

we stabbed at straw filled effigies,

of those we were supposed to hate.

Taught to use weapons of war,

to do what we needed to survive,

by making sure the other did not.

No glory, no marching bands,

no great crowds as we paraded by,

only cold stares from war weary folks.

The years have passed yet I remember,

as I stabbed at those straw figures,

with blood in my eyes, being the hero.

Now I’m an old man filled with regrets,

of a time and place long lost,

of a brotherhood united by war,

trying to once again piece together,

those lost places of the heart.