THE RUNES

Here, in these unmown fields
where the morning mists gather
once stood the ancient chieftain
his clan assembled about him
staring into the distant trees
under the watchful eye of the gods.
As the October winds blew down
from the hills, they strode forward
blades glinting in the midday sun
ebbing and flowing until the moon
stood poised for its nightly trek
and they stood on the precipice
of exhaustion counting fall brethren
sacrificed to the blade of the claymore
for glory of clan and entertainment of gods.

On these tired fields no chieftains stride
and the mists no longer wrap the boulders
left to mark nameless graves of kin.
These are now ill sown fields, lying
in the wasteland between chiefs who sit
in silent bunkers, clansmen gathered
to retell the tales of glory long vanished, to come.
In these fields they till the begrudging soil
and beg the gods for meager growth.
As the moon begins its slow journey skyward
they pause to count the craters torn
into the rocky soil, and gather the bones
of those newly fallen, sacrificed to the wrath
of the claymores, the entertainment of the gods.


First Appeared in Main Street Rag, Vol. 7, No. 1, Spring 2000.

FINALS

It was approaching the end
of another too long semester
and the sign-up sheet for office hours
was getting fuller with names
I didn’t recognize, or did and not
in a way that would please the student.
It was always like this, the two weeks
after it was too late to do anything,
when the pleading would begin.
I remember being in that position
almost fifty years ago, making my
supplication for relief of some kind
to a professor I had ignored all term,
and he, genial and gentle, taking out
pictures of the rice paddies
and saying to me, you stand
a far better chance in the Air Force.
There are no wars now that I can offer,
and so I tell them the bad news,
but add that Starbucks can
be a career of sorts, with benefits.


For Something Different, a new bird photo each day, visit my other blog:
Bird-of-the-day.com 

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.


For Something Different, a new bird photo each day, visit my other blog:
Bird-of-the-day.com 

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.

ELLIPSE

He lies on the steam grate
under a thin blanket and plastic
garbage bags, sleeping soundly
lulled by vibrations of a passing car,
back to the Ellipse and grand white house,
oblivious to footfalls of tourists and joggers.
Steam seeps upward through his tattered clothes,
he is back in-country, lying at the fringe
of the jungle, awash in sounds, neat
cast up from furnace earth, cutting
through fatigues and the heavy canvas
and steel toes of the boots, into skin,
to pool on muscles held taut, twitching
at the first heard whoop of chopper blades
or stirring of branches and flora
in still summer air which hangs, a shroud.
Sun rises slowly, bathing the obelisk
in a faint peach glow, he rolls, crushing
the fading, wrinkled photo of three boys
lost, from a different world, standing
in beer soaked mirth, leaning on rifles.
One night, trees oozed forth
shadows, black angels, and his hand
resting in a pool of blood and viscera
with whom he had roamed the bars
of Saigon and Bangkok, invincible knights
before their armor turned to rust.


First appeared in Luna Negra, Spring: 1997