Vietnam Poetry by Michael Estabrook


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.
Older motorcyclists:
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.

4 Responses to “Vietnam Poetry by Michael Estabrook”

  1. These poems give me chills they’re so powerful. I’ve known Vets who can’t, to this day, deal with the sound of helicopters. That war carved its way into the human heart and made itself a home there. Thanks for posting these very fine poems.

  2. Carl Miller Daniels Says:

    Great poems. Vivid imagery.

    These poems got to me.


  3. those atrocity stories sound more like what the American troops were doing.

  4. Ross, I saw the post notification and have to say that I agree…both sides were doing it. My first brother in law was in the jungle and he laughed about heads on stakes (until that was theoretically stopped), ears on belts, throwing live Cong prisoners from helicopters, rape , fragging unpopular officers. War is a crazy time. In Coming Home, Jon Voigt speaks such truth when he’s talking to other Vets and saying that they have to not only live with what they saw but with what they did.

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