SMART ONES

We marched for hours, going
nowhere really, but nowhere was
the point of the marching so we
achieved the goal the Air Force set.
We didn’t even think it odd
that they made us shave our heads,
so we’d all look like fools,
there was a war on and we
were in the military, so we
had already proven that point.
We were the smarter ones,
as it turned out, enlistees
who’d spend our time on bases
getting the pilots ready to fly
into the danger we knew
we had so carefully avoided,
and for us the greatest risk
appeared daily in the mess hall.


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THE GIFTS

They brought him myrrh
on a flaming salver and all
he could do was say
“This is something I would expect
from a butcher or a carpenter,
and the camera angles
would never work, so bring
me napalm or punji stakes
that we have proven to work.”
They brought him ripe oranges
and the sweet meat of the pineapple,
its juice dripping from his chin,
and all he could do was tighten
his grip on the AK-47 and dream
of night on the edge of the jungle.
They brought him Rodin, Matisse,
Rembrant van Rijn, and Blake,
but all he would see was
Bosch and Goya, and then
only by the light of fading candles.
They brought him the String Quartet
in A Major played on Strads
and Guarnaris, but he
wanted the retort of the howitzer
the crump of the mortar,
the screams of the child.
They brought him his child
wrapped in bandages
missing fingers and toes,
and all he wanted was
the nursery, a newborn
in swaddling, suckling her breast
as he stroked her head
and remembered the moment
of her creation.


First published in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press (2008)

CRAFTY MOON

The moon hid from me last night
in a cloudless sky, and only a week from full,
so we both knew it was there, peeking
for a brief moment from behind
the old oak in the neighbors yard.
It wasn’t the first time the moon
had done this, it will not be the last
either, I am certain, but I do remember
the time in 1970, the heat of San Antonio
in mid-summer more oppressive than usual
and only the old barracks
for the moon to use as hiding place.
Yet it hid, and that night I didn’t mind
Lying in the base hospital, where the nurses
ignored me for the seriously wounded, as they should
reading the orders issued that day transferring me
to the Reserves as my fellow air policemen
in my training squadron were calling home,
most in shock, to announce that their plan
to avoid Vietnam by enlisting would soon
be scattered on the tarmac of Da Nang Air Base.

NAM

He said, “I survived the war,
was up to my armpits in water
wading through the night
through the rice plants
that would never bear grain
once we called in the orange.
I walk through minefields,
the noise a deafening silence
since the only sound that mattered
was the click that shouted death
You think Ii have issues now
and in your mind I certainly do
but you my issues didn’t go away
like Jamie’s, he heard that click and a moment
later his issues were gone, and the moon
was painted blood red that night
and it inhabits my dreams still.

ROSHI

To arise from the earth
is simple, too fall back
the more difficult, for
that is a journey we all
seem to fear, though
with no arising, there
can be no falling back.
When I finally admitted
that I feared dying and
didn’t want to be drafted
to fight in that war
Roshi asked me if I
feared being born.
“Fear,” he said, “takes
up all of your energy
and there is never
time enough for that.”

RECALL

It is always odd
watching older men gather
to talk about their lives,
about how much they
no longer remember of last
year and a decade ago, about
the infinite details they do
recall of their time spent
in the army, air force, navy,
the smell of slop on a shingle,
the stain on the finger from
field stripped cigarette butts,
the olive drab they were and lived,
the base post exchange
the mandatory Ray Ban aviator’s,
the sergeants grimace,
the body count no one mentioned
in the war they hated, wanted over,
how they were all brothers
in arms, now just old men,
sharing painful memories.

BOOTCAMP

The butterflies came in the night
floating through the barracks window,
mainly monarchs, orange and black
but the occasional yellow, with
more gossamer wings, and the odd white
with small green patches, one to a wing.

There is a corner in my footlocker
that is mine, where I can hide
the tattered book of poems.
A true poet is unafraid to write
an ode in blood, if the situation requires
drawn from her vein
by a needle or the baton
of the security force.

In the river downtown the cup
floats along, carried on the current
into which I cast my dreams
when they no longer serve any purpose.
I can easily aim the rifle
at the silhouette and ease back
on the trigger, but would the child’s skull
explode with the impact of the round
or merely cave inward, collapsing?

I can look into the mirror
in the morning, before first light
and see the shine on my head.
The cancer is advancing, growing
until I no longer have control
and merely respond to its commands
in carefully spit-shined boots
as though anyone would give a damn
waist deep in the fetid water
of the rice paddies.

The heat is unbearable
and you sweat at the thought of motion.
You, forced march from your dreams,
and the butterflies disappear
into the exhausting night.


First Appeared in Blind Man’s Rainbow, Vol. 4, No. 3, February-March, 1993.