for all the names on that granite wall and many others...
Vietnam broke my mind.
Now it runs like a cheap watch
always leaping about in time.
It pulls me backward into
strange visions of a world gone mad.
My life is time borrowed from corpses.
It is hard to lead your life
while you are stuck in another.
Time, the great healer,
only seems to make this worse.
Self-medication, legal meditation,
nothing seems strong enough
to stop the pounding of the rotors,
the screams of the men and the monkeys.
I have never been able to **** the demons
hidden in the tree lines of my mind.
Forty-three years later I'm still hiding
nauseous and naked in the napalmed jungle.
But my high mileage body clings to life:
the quest for immortality knows no shame.
Now I am a poet drunk on words,
stumbling over the illusion of art.
The more I know of language,
the less I understand life and loss.
And still the mortars rain down
in an eternal, inescapable monsoon.
Imagine a land that smells entirely of ****.
Only 70 miles wide in some places.
I flew above the abandoned bases of a war
that had been abandoned as well.
Places given up to the jungle
where 60,000 Americans died for nothing.
An implacable enemy that had fought
the Japanese and French before us
and had no doubt they would prevail.
A very beautiful place seen from the air
if no one was trying to eradicate you.
Skinny children, old women, many ******.
A place where real tigers might well
leap from ambush and eat you alive
and snakes so deadly that once bitten
you only got two steps before death.
Breathtaking sunsets and sunrises.
And the possibility of doom everywhere.
Rice paddies, mountains, triple canopy jungle.
Gorgeous beaches and an ocean laden
with sharks and sea snakes for company.
A place where death picked his teeth and smiled.
Stark terror is the mother of combat;
the rage of Peleus son Achilles
drives the soldier into the filed teeth
of impossibly horrible situations.
Not for America or the Stars and Stripes
but for the man next to you
whom you probably didn't even know.
Never ask why one man dies
and the one beside him lives on.
I shot an NVA regular from 20 feet
with a Colt Model 1911 45 automatic.
Got him exactly in the chest.
He looked very surprised to be dead.
I was surprised I didn't miss.
At An Loc a Huey 20 yards from mine
loaded with 18 hopeful human beings
took a rocket up the *** and
disintegrated into a debris cloud
of metal fragments and pink mist.
No bodies to be bothered with,
no pieces large enough to identify.
A CIA officer executing the wounded.
A tame **** torturing his countryman.
The exquisitely horrific moment when
you know you are falling, not flying.
The partner cut in half by a machine gun
five feet from where I stood.
Do not try to make any sense of this.
Fall back on the mantra: *don't mean nothing.
Cling to that and you may stay sane.
Apparently, God was busy for ten years
and never bothered to visit Vietnam.
Forget that band of brothers *******,
we were more like a desperate rabble
with no one to count on but each other.
Sometimes a brother shares the blood
in your veins; sometimes you know him
by the blood that flows from his.
You scream, you curse, you try so hard
and he dies like a huge baby in your arms.
Vietnam was a club you could only join
by being there deep in the ****.
Now we are old men but our memberships
will never expire until we do.
And who will remember us then.
Treated like lepers, we slunk home,
each to do the best he could.
Many died in the denouement of
drugs, alcohol, homelessness, suicide.
When I got home I wanted to be alone,
to be with people, lots of *****,
but only with no emotion attached,
an ocean of Jack Daniels, lines of coke,
mountains of ***, electro-shock therapy,
calm sleep without nightmares
and sometimes the comfort of a quick death.
Not much different than most I think.
Saigon fell. Don't mean ******* nothing.
Only some of us remember and want you to know
so you won't be fooled again.
Forget the past and it will bite you in the ***. Some stories demand to be told and heard. Like slavery, Vietnam will haunt America until it recognizes the great evil that was done. Evil can never be wished away.