Archive for vietnam poetry
FORGIVING US STILL
In P-town sightseeing when
a bunch of motorcyclists
ride up quiet on their smoking
hogs. I stop window-shopping
to have a look, the butter
crunch ice cream dripping
down the sugar cone into
the palm of my hand.
cigarettes smoldering from dark
bearded faces, long gray hair,
protruding beer bellies, faded
tattoos. They have women
with them, hard looking women
in shiny black hip boots,
tangled blonde hair, peace
sign earrings and love beads too,
like in the 60s.
But nobody’s worried
as they park their bikes
with a clatter and dismount
because the lettering on
their jackets reads:
And somehow we feel safe then,
certain, solemn, because
they’re bigger than life, noble,
for they’ve been to hell and
returned to tell us about it
and live among us,
forgiving us still.
He was staring at something
Phil was saying how some of the boys in
his platoon killed a Vietcong guerrilla, caught
him murdering innocent civilians so they
stripped him, hung him up
from a tree and blew his balls off.
One of his victims had been a pretty young
pregnant woman he raped, then killed
by stringing her up naked and screaming,
cut open her belly with one of those big
jagged-edged jungle knives, just like that, out
there in the open in the village for all
the others to see. So Phil and the boys
caught the dirty yellow bastard yes indeed,
and strung him up naked like the pregnant
woman, then shot away his balls, watching
him squirm and splutter and scream
his head off, eventually bleeding to death.
And it sounds terrible, certainly, and is
terrible, but they were glad of it, so glad
to watch him die like that. They had to do it,
Phil said, or they’d never be able to live
with themselves, ever. And during the whole
while he was telling the story there was this
glazed over look in his eyes like he was
staring at something far far away that never
really could’ve happened, ever.
Jimmy drives us to the club in his
battered Ford pickup suddenly a giant
khaki Chopper appears circling
banking stiff blades churning the hot
June air as it swoops down over
the trees, stopping, hovering right
above us: thank God this isn’t Nam,
I say, voicing what I know is
thundering through Jimmy’s
frantic mind (smoky scenes
of bleeding broken bodies; bullets,
rockets whizzing all around)
but it doesn’t matter what I say,
he must pull over, wipe the sweat
from his face, and wait for his hands
to stop shaking before driving on.
Name: Robert Steven Trujillo
Rank/Branch: E3/US Army
Unit: Company A, 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry, 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry
Date of Birth: 03 August 1946
Home City of Record: Santa Fe NM
Date of Loss: 07 January 1968
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 154047N 1081347E (BT032353)
Status (in 1973): Missing in Action
Other Personnel in Incident: James M. Stone (missing)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 01 September 1990 from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews. Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK 1998.
SYNOPSIS: PFC Robert S. Trujillo, rifleman, and 1LT James M. Stone, company commander, were on a combat operation with their unit near the border of Quang Nam and Quang Tin Provinces in South Vietnam on January 7, 1968. During a fire fight with a superior enemy force, their battalion was forced from their position and began a breakout maneuver.
Members of Trujillo’s unit saw him stand up and start to advance with the armored personnel carriers (APCs) that were attached to his unit. That was the last time he was seen, and he was not wounded at that time.
In the same action, 1LT Stone was accompanied by members of his company as they executed the breakout maneuver. While making their way down a hill with the APCs, the small group encountered automatic weapons fire and were forced to take cover. When the firing stopped, one of the men noticed that 1LT Stone had his blood-stained hands over his face. A medic checked him and stated that there were no vital signs. His body was left behind.
A search of the area was conducted on January 8 and again on January 16, but Stone’s body was not recovered, and Trujillo was never found.
I ran into my street friend Paul yesterday
on the Mission Beach boardwalk.
It’s not his real name
he’s come from Cambodia,
born next to the Mekong River,
Mother of Waters and Nine Dragons.
If you ask he’ll tell you “I fought the communists”
cradling a ghostly gun in his skinny brown arms
wearing snakeskin boots and a duster
he got from Catholic Charities,
like a real cowboy.
I offered to buy him a burrito
but he pointed to his mouth, shaking head no.
Living on the streets for years
teeth decayed and abscessed from neglect
so he can’t eat, his mouth a river of pain,
and a damned shame because he is a Vietnam Vet,
should be eligible for benefits.
But Paul’s not a citizen,
can hardly speak the language
although he’s been in America since Saigon fell,
medivaced to the states for treatment,
I witness a man slipped down
I’ve seen him wandering the beach alleys
chattering in his mother tongue
when he’s upset, wronged, misunderstood.
Once he told me he’d like to go home
but he’s got no home to go back to anyway,
his family forced in labor
then slaughtered in the killing fields
by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge army,
along with artists, doctors, teachers, musicians, monks,
their motto for those chosen elite -
“To keep you is no benefit. To destroy you is no loss.”
Where they still warn children
with educational posters hanging in the streets
not to play with landmines.
Dancing with the Demons
Don’t touch my back,
he would warn us,
Army green at our Navy blue
Pearl Harbor parties thrown
during that five month
reprieve from Vietnam.
I gave a man a black eye,
when he came up behind…’
his words falling between Joplin’s Cry,
and the Stone’s ‘can’t get no’.
Handsome in a worn-down Bogey sort of way,
he never smiled
never joined with our arm flailing
foot stomping, sweat pouring
flight from the tomorrows
bound to arrive.
I often wondered why he came,
made that long transit down from the hills
to watch and speak of his back.
In my maturity, it became clear.
He knew we danced with the demons, too.
I work at a half-way
place for Nam vets,
that’s half way between
here and nowhere,
old age and death maybe.
The director is one of
those pressed short and tie
That’s a rear echelon
mother fucker in American.
Can’t wait until
the No Smoking rule
goes into effect.
All those guys have now
is one room to puff in.
I try to tell the director,
these guys all fought
in a war,
you now what I mean?
Had cigarettes when
they were nervous
They can’t drink anymore
can’t chase no women
or run with the wolves
so they smoke.
They don’t have anything left,
that’s why they’re here.
No Smoking appeared in GPP Reader 2007