Poetry Feature:
'Only the Dead': Vietnam

Those who engage it in failing
light . . .

We're all veterans of that one.
-- Jim Bodeen ("Thinking about Buckshot...")
~ . ~ . ~

Peter Chelnik
Sanctuary 1970

George Dickerson

Paul Espel
Only the Dead

Joan Fiset

John Foy
On the Porch, Late, Having Read of Passchendaele
Indochina Ode

Veronica Golos
Going the Distance

Vince Gotera
Little Wing
Tunnel Rat
Veterans Day 1987

Maureen Holm
Inches, a Matter of (III)
The Crone Recants

Nicholas Johnson
Point of Honor

Dave King
I am the Dead of Pepper Pike, Ohio

Robert Klein Engler
Collateral Damage

Matthew Laufer
To a Friend Before His Going to West Point (1969)

Catherine MacArthur
Brother's War

Alice Notley
II--The Person That You Were Will Be Replaced

Hugh Seidman
Blood Lord
Poem in Favor of the War

Angelo Verga
Dreams of Sihanouk
Diaz, Foot Route #18, Carrier of Mail,
30 Years, 3 Months, 2 Weeks

Dan Wilcox
Richard Nixon Must Die
Peace Marchers at the Vietnam Memorial

Rob Wright
In the Dusk Gray and Dim

~ . ~ . ~

Peter Chelnik
Sanctuary 1970

Sanctuary wonderful moist geranium seeds
planted in private psycho ward 1970
time to zen expand
over and over again
like ragged right-fielder, weighted bat in hand
in steel batting cage.
No gulag prison ward ball and chain.
Sanctuary 1970, twenty-year-young buck
without poetic language, muted
in a song. Sight lines
settled in Four Men
New York Hospital ward --
innumerable cut-throat
pool games, three squares
with boys. Orange Thorazine on schedule --
Will, Louis, Mike, Tom.
We transform iron psycho ward
gulag into literary prairie.
Better than U.C. Berkeley
LSD killing fields.
Boilerplate sanctuary 1970.
We plant mythic seeds like Viet Cong
pointed spade, metal hoe, gardener's gloves --
miracle dreams no hearts and minds
spirit holocaust.
Sanctuary 1970 two tours 15 months total --
learned prairie barbed wire limits
grace of hot coffee
cold shower, fried chicken dinner,
solitary black-eyed pea,
inner voice howl,
Gregory Corso dream hospital library
I pick up Marlboro habit,
rescued soul out of psychedelic
American killing fields,
striped circus tent --
smoke mirror pine green freak-out.
Sanctuary 1970
15 months removed from
LSD 25, cut marijuana, Vietnam hydra glide
I am clean like 20 Mule Team Borax
generations nihilistic jackknife
into empty tiled pool, cut brain synapse
no suicide in cluttered suburban basement --
no Vietnam cold oatmeal frenzy.
Golden seeds in 20-year-old hand
April planting time, green earth
California garden dream,
a thousand etudes, Marlboros
sweet North Carolina kisses,
highway like Cheshire wonder.


George Dickerson

(for my haunted friends)

If you have been
"In country,"
You know the dark
Hole at the center
Of night
That holds the eye
Sockets of your dead
Friends and your own
Chambered heart.


Paul Espel
Only the Dead*

'Drafted.' That word not heard much anymore.
A war grinding down on the other side of the world.
Got sent to Georgia where no enemy
would ever come ashore. Slogged your way
through groggy heat among the scruffy pines
in soaked-through winter gear -- regulations
stalled the summer change 'til June -- mocked
the mickey-mouseness of it all, fought
fake wars and waited, tallied every day,
cursing bug-thick Georgia. Some went. You stayed.
Did your time. And home. All came home --
some proud, some still defeated. You hear the drone
of cargo planes, with rows of zippered bags,
creased as new and each one neatly tagged.

* . . . have seen the end of war. (Attributed to Plato.)


Joan Fiset

Kneeling down to pet the dog
he said, I had two in Nam,
I was a scout, good dogs -- one died,
couldn't bring the other one home.
He'd flick an ear: how many,
wag his tail: how far away.
Black shepherd, they couldn't see us.
I smoked a cigarette with a guy,
we put it out
then he was dead.
I've got to go now, but
up in the mountains
there's a place to fish.
It won't sound nice, but this is what you do.
Trap a small animal, knock it out,
slit the gut and hang it
close to the water.
Before you know it maggots
will be calling those trout to lunch.
Throw in the line then you're busy,
but don't take more than you can use.
I'm stronger than I look.
When they fit me for a flak jacket
ones my size were gone.
Mine was over three times too big
so I wrapped it twice around my chest,
when I got hit the bullets
left six bruises on my skin.
If I see you again I'll bring my dog,
doberman and malamute mix.
Next door where I live they raise purebreds
between a twelve-foot barbed wire fence.
When the dobie jumped it
they wanted to kill the malamute's pups.
I said I'll find them homes and I did
but kept the one I wanted.
Got to go. Call if you need me -- Car #3.
Five a.m. to five's my shift.



He was shot down
when I was five,

we learned he died
when I turned twelve, they

sent his ashes to Arlington.
My father in Virginia

me out here --
floating in the house he fills.

I ask its walls, Where are you?
Blue rooms answer, Everywhere.

His arms like wings around me
surround the living air.


John Foy
On the Porch, Late, Having Read
of Passchendaele

Those are Adam's dogs, again tonight
barking at 3:00 A.M.,
their voices coming down
through a steep half-mile of woods
as if they alone were wardens
of this hour, the only ones
who cared for clarity.

Maybe it's the bear,
Ogrodnick down on Boehmler Road,
a gunship pilot, once, in Vietnam,
saw it shuffle off
one rainy dawn before the solstice,
disappearing in the pines.

Or maybe it's the meteors
that put the dogs on edge, the Perseids
lining brightly out of space, everywhere.
They kiss the stratosphere and die,
vaporizing quietly, leaving
just an after-image in the mind.

A train cry comes up
from the railroad bridge
beyond Route 42, its urgency
diminished now, the hills
between here and the Delaware
having taken much away.
Still, it's pitiless and clear,
like the shelling that they sometimes heard
as far away as Kent, when the wind
came in right, bringing
more bad news from Passchendaele.


Indochina Ode

What gunboy has his way with you
tonight, Long Xuyen,
when the wind, like opium, comes in
off the casual Mekong?

Who is it this time, too far from home,
lost in your Festival of Lights?
How soon he'll find himself
knee-deep in mud, on night patrol,

packing a greased machinegun,
his mind a bag of birds, his heart
a pipe of pure terror
--all of this for you.

Once it was my own gunfire
pointing in the Saigon night,
Ho Chi Minh City night now,
some other ministration, another lover's name.

(Long Xuyen is a small city on the west bank
of the Mekong River, in southern Vietnam.)


Veronica Golos
Going the Distance

At the long bar of smoke
and dark whiskey, voices grinding
into splinters.

Men who build their lives on steel, on rubber,
on things and the making of things
line the bar, huge as boulders,

a stonehenge of backs, necks, forearms,
knuckles roughened raw,
the wide palms of work. Out of the rock
of bodies, their man talk, the slow turn of shoulder,

I suddenly know:
that one.

I know my worn woman's body;
how it would fit to the center of him
how I could travel from this cold harbor
to the light, which only I can see,

that would drench this dry weariness
I carry like a sponge. And for that, yes,
I would go the distance, allow my flesh to become
a soft drum, a refuge

he could destroy.
I would tow his body down and down
into my sheer well of grief, salvage us
from fault, mistrust, the hunger

he could never name, or allow me to name;
but I would allow, for just that moment
when he lies spent, open as an opulent shell
and I see myself in him

a soft wailing
eased from its casing of stone.

(Prior publ., Rattapallax, Issue 5.)


Vince Gotera
Little Wing

for Elliot Richman and D. F. Brown

Hendrix, Sting, Skid Row scream

their wish    butterflies & zebras
& moonbeams
       reeling down the years

burning skull specter
                  of Vietnam howls demonic
laughter in the fractured

skies shielding Iraq
sheets of flame tucking in the oilfields  megadeath's
Joni was wrong, my friends --

way up in assuming blue
                        above our nation

a little wing
still rides shotgun in the sky
whipping a contrail welt
         across acetylene flesh

on the soundtrack, guitar feedback
splits the air like flowers burning


Tunnel Rat

for David Shaw

Scorpions, salamanders, spiders, earthworms
tracing dim tattoos in the target beam

of my flashlight. Here, I am my own man.
Up there, buddies stuck in the crotch of the Green

Mother. The Corps. Vietnam: one hundred
degree heat and leeches -- shriek of jets

and choppers -- chicom grenades and pungi stakes.
Just now, a scritch ahead to my left. A snake . . .

or Charlie crawling to his post? I heft
my .45 and flick my light off.

I hold my breath. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
Empty -- just a hole in the earth -- and then

a face, the moon. My weapon's on autogetem --
Rock and Roll -- Mad Minute --
till I'm

bleeding from both ears. Thunder jazzing
the tunnel like Jimi's guitar, like breaking glass.

I'm out of there, back in the sun. Fire in the hole.
Our frags boom in the ground, deep and hollow.

Then another tunnel. Another tunnel.
Always another tunnel. But you know I'll

always go down. The dark hush, the cool
air on the back of my neck. I love the tunnel,

the solid weight in my clenched hand of pure steel.
There it is: the solace of pure fucking steel.

Prior publ. Dragonfly by Vince Gotera
(San Antonio, TX: Pecan Grove Press, 1994).


Veterans Day 1987

It snowed this morning in Washington,
and I saw, on the early news,
a black gash carved from a white hillside.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial
on a waiting-room TV in the VA hospital.
The gray-haired veteran next to me telling
about wearing his army uniform into
a tavern in 1945 -- they bought him
round after round. The boys finally home
for Christmas. Even after we left Vietnam,
in 1975, my haircut was brand enough.
I wouldn't have worn my class A's
into a civilian bar. I tried it once
in a honky-tonk in Chowchilla,
and was chased out. They wouldn't believe
I had never been to Nam. Today, I watched
those real Vietnam vets in jeans and field jackets,
beards and berets reflected in stone.
Only 0900, but already a small legion
was mustering. The TV cut away to
the Wall Street Drill Team in a Philadelphia
parade, a platoon of men and women
in blue pinstripe suits with matched briefcases.
They opened ranks and placed the cases
in rosettes on the asphalt. Then countercolumns
and other exotic marching maneuvers.
The crowd on the street cheered,
but there wasn't a single chuckle or even
a smile in the waiting room. In my mind,
those vets at the Vietnam Memorial are wearing
colors: a black and yellow eagle screaming
on a shield, a sable horse against a field
of gold, a sword notched in slotted stone.
No, these patches aren't coats of arms.
They're telegrams from a jungle, monkey howls,
a litany to match words cut into a wall.
But you and I know it 's been almost fifteen years,
and there's the Ayatollah and Afghanistan.
The Contras. American journalists sending their love
on videos shot in some terrorist's basement.
And somewhere the Wall Street Drill Team is marching on.


Maureen Holm

is over
begun over continuous what
is that whir-r-rr through the landscape run amok
antiquated ventilator gyro turbo A-C maniac ack ack ack fanpaddle is that
buzz-z-z in the deep-gut grass-eating upchuck churnaround
halitosis diaphragm dysentery f e a r
dungbeetles bulldozing valor throughthe sandbattle
shalerattle avalanche aftermath skee-e-e
daddle downthe pinkdot paintchip hilltop path
appletree glares back aha aha aahrbor-igi-nal we ii rr dd
of dendri-digit ac-cu-sation atthe
capless fleeing cannonfodder fak fak fak fak
MAN! whaazat whaazat whaazat sound?
sundried sweatcaked saline bloodbaked breath breath breath breath
pant gasp leg heave boot blast boy grunt bayonet rata-tat-tat-tat-tat
haphazard tumbledownthe slipslide pinkmound looseround
fragmentary beautymark shardface babyfreckle toothfairy tree-house prayerrrah!
torn branch stump limb knuckle nose
sun bump buzz whir
soiled underwear
and the frightened neighing of horses


Inches, a Matter of (III)

How long, how bitterly.
Woodstock Nation caught tongue in cheek
in the din of Silent Majority Speak:

and the 'hissing of summer lawns'.

O - HI - O
Tender root, tenacious blade, fescue and clover.
Cambodian crownvetch groundcover troops,
bird's foot yellow campus mounds
of dandelion excessive youth
the first weekend in May.

O - HI - O
'Suffer the little children to come'


These Whitman-spontaneous leaves of grass,
raked to a brittle thatch,
threaten to self-combust
in the academic sough.
Better to let them congregate,
loose the student body
from the Promethean Plymouth Rock and
roll Colombian weed.

'They also serve who only stand and wait.'

Most stood by and watched
while a Sisyphus paltry few
hauled up the protest boulder.

Oh, mendicant State of the Union distress,
oval official SOS of a Milhous divided against,
caving in to Ho Chi Minh
and Kent's in locus parentis
to call up the National Gardeners
to control the grass and flower crowd
with exploding hoes and rifle herbicide.
O - HI - O

Planted like a stand of nervous saplings,
infantry pretenders,
shiny wind-up tinman rows that
circumscribed the First Amendment meadow
of our always taken for granted.
And snapped.

Rat-a-tat-tat! Rat-a-tat-tat!

Helter skelter. All fall down.

. Into the groaning millimeter intimate
of guilt and recompense
for dissenter or the innocent
who just stood by, just stood by.
. To the fescue and the clover, left or right,
on the mall of our yellow disgrace.
From the edgeless into the no-between,
the dying and the bleeding,
deep serrated foliage
of dandelion blades.

Oh, my country.

         'Redeem the time.'

This time and the next time and the time before,
when we bit the lip of promise
and lay down on the Grassy Knoll
to snipe at half-grown heroes.

         'Redeem the time. Redeem
         The unread vision in the higher dream.'

'Suffer the little children'
to disperse.

         'While jewelled unicorns draw by the gilded hearse.'

Oh my country.

(Prior publ. Inches, a Matter of (Headwaters Press, 2000).)


The Crone Recants

Let us swear off love;
we've had enough of private anguish.
Let us, like men, take on external ills:
the soot in factories, the unborn child.
Let us mete out justice to remorseless killers
and stack loaves for the dictator's orphans.

Oh, this is the stepmother's specious wisdom,
aging bride of idle comfort,
conferred on the spinster charge,
spoken to dissuade her from the feminine onus
and recast the world into benighted disarray.

For what heart that waits with full engagement
is not conscribed to tend the casualties at home,
when the cannons are pumped empty of their semen lead
and hoary-headed veterans weep openly
for their sons' abandoned promise?


Nicholas Johnson
Point of Honor

If I loved honor more, there'd be more dead people.
My father's shotgun would have been used,
not just on himself or as an impressive wall ornament.
If I loved honor more, there'd be more people hurt
for stupid reasons. My wife would have been shot
in the act, her lover in the back, all
because of an exchange of bodily fluids.
Yes, she'd have come to me with her legs and knees
all bandaged up, asking for money and forgiveness --
the things I'm running out of. If I loved honor more,
I'd have done my full stint in my jet fighter,
shot anything that moved, and not felt bad about it.
I'm still not clear on all the points of honor.
I was stupid for a long time -- longer than I was married,
longer than I hoisted a flag. Take a look around. Look
how many are dead. If honor had been involved,
there would have been more: Fisticuffs. Duels. Seconds.
Honor has made people happier than alcohol.
Hell, if honor were really involved, there would no World
Trade Center left at all. No business as usual. Me,
I'm sick of bodily fluids and scrapings things off
after C-4's done its work. I'm sick of the air
that insults our lungs, and all that's thrown at us
on the evening news. We should know better than to
consume ourselves and moralize. Thank God for death.
The ability to put ourselves in someone else's shoes
we don't even know. The enemy is a shadowy character.
There are too many silent partners. Buddy, I know
because I was one of them for a long time. Like most men,
I've borne my share of coffins down, but if I had to
choose, I'd rather listen to a band no one had to march to.

(Prior publ.: Poetry Wales)


Dave King
I am the Dead of Pepper Pike, Ohio

Let me describe myself from the boy's perspective:
dark-haired, with pimples and a long jaw. The boy
did not consider me interesting, but what do boys know?

         The earth was green where we lived, the sky was blue --
         except when skies turned silver from Thanksgiving
         to Easter. Then the earth was a constant white.

I wasn't even the favorite babysitter. That would be Bruce,
a handsome kid who wrestled with him and picked him up.
It was Bruce who swung him 'til he could no longer stand.

         In the place I died, the colors were green and green
         and green and orange-green. Of course, the sky was blue.
         Here are smells: dampness, wood smoke, napalm, food, exhaust.

The boy and I left each other alone. His father was away,
and his mother thought male sitters were a good idea.
A similar logic made me a soldier.

         In Ohio, I had no girlfriends, but in Bangkok I got laid.
         Boot camp and high school were things I got through, and all the time
         I had my secrets. I had plans and wishes, just like anybody else.

I was a kid! I raided their refrigerator. I was tongue-tied
with the boy and with his mother. I never went abroad except for once.
I wasn't shot, I was run down by a tank. A quiet day, a U.S. tank!

         One strange thing, though: Bruce died, too. Car crash. Funny
         he and I should be the boy's first deaths. So I made an impression,
but still: there are others who remember me for more than my jaw.


Robert Klein Engler
Collateral Damage

The state sets up long rows of concrete chairs.
We knew in Vietnam that babies died.
With Zyklon gas, napalm and ash of hairs,
If you are keeping score, I guess we're tied.
The scholars say our Civil War was won,
But who divines the threads of terror's web?
It's May, the baseball season's just begun,
So, please, don't raise the ghost of Johnny Reb.
While polls shift left and right, we wait for bells
That tell again of horror wrecked by one.
Some say we lost our way. Some say death sells.
His stare is steel, then cold. Our job is done.
         More blood will never bring an end to blood--
         The second end is fire, the first was flood.


Matthew Laufer
To a Friend Before His Going to West Point (1969)

At the Point, ambition intersects with policy,
action gets in the way of thought
when blood must execute,
orders are cut, and "higher powers" have cut them.
Change the system from inside?
Prisons and protocol are stony inside and out.
Ceremonial scabbards and spit-polished pride
cannot disguise a truth that smells of death.
Men have acted strange--
and not always bravely strange--
when they've obeyed the patriot that's in them.


Catherine MacArthur
Brother's War

When you returned that summer
after Vietnam
living in the basement
under my room

you sang ballads at night
and guzzled whiskey,
running water in the sink,
neighing like a horse.

One night you carried
a dead, bleeding cat
that had been hit by a car
and slept with it.

Sometimes you arrived
at 3AM, climbing up stairs,
our parents calling your name,
peering through curtains, doors.

As if in a theatre, half asleep
I lay in bed, waiting for lights
to go out before rising for school.
Nights, in the next room,

fists pounding the kitchen table
or clutching a knife,
you leaned over Father
while Mother and I watched.


Alice Notley
II--The Person That You Were Will Be Replaced

In grief the person that you were is replaced by grief . . .
not the person you originally were but the one you'd become.

Grief is opportunistic and uncontrollable
         it doesn't exactly come
from you, you "allow it in"                  It's godlike
         as in possession.

This was the night I was the craziest: near my birthday,
four months after Ted's death, walking
on Second Avenue I thought "It's possible
he didn't really die." I felt a maniacal joy
and then became sickened and distressed
I knew a depth of me had, up to then, believed he was alive.
That depth was now emptied of him and filled with grief.

I dreamed all that year; I divided into dreamer and interpreter
         A gigantic horse blocks
         the entrance to
my building; I wake up and think "The horse is a hearse"
         blocking my life. Or
a dream with a dawn in it, the sky purple black,
but a hint of dawn, and when I awake I know it's the sky
in Lawrence's "Ship of Death" -- thin white
thread -- trying its way.

                                             If a self can
contain the deaths of others, it's very large;
it's certainly larger than my body
         If the other who dies is partly me,
and that me dies and another grows, the medium it grows in
         is grief.

The wish to locate absence, that contemporary obsession to
         find the empty present --
grief will saturate the present.

Grief isn't glandular; though becomes somatic;
gets far into your body. Eats it changes it.

One is magically struck down at certain
moments, can't move, can't arise,
and inside is poison; grief gets caught
in intensifying pockets which when opened
cause sensations of illness. On Christmas morning
I can't stand up.

If you immerse your feet in icy water
you forget grief for a moment. I did this once, my
brother-in-law made us cross a cold stream barefoot,
that winter, walking in the woods -- I was emptied, then elated,
blissful; but didn't try it again. Grief
returns vengeful after you've repulsed it.

(Reprinted with the author's permission from
Mysteries of Small Houses
(Penguin, 1998).)


Hugh Seidman
Blood Lord

Who was it banged on the window?
emptied of dream, Blood Lord
I may speak it now
Blood Lord
his fingers are ropes, his heart
the long sought
perpetual engine, entropy zero, here
for we who have withheld

Last night
the color TV spanned pleasure
guerillas butchering cream
the latest whores and pimps
revising metaphysics
we were both on the great triple bed
were reclining like kings at apocalypse
enlightenment on all channels
and pineapples
shitty little Christ fruit
spitting needles thru the meat
of three-year-olds on the Stone Age
Plain of Jars, corpses
on scanning scopes
in the air-conditioned cockpits
reconnaissance helicopters
automatic gun ships and bombers

There have been many subtle themes on this theme
the banality of shadows
shut from their sun
this is the boredom of history
but we sleep as the credits come
with a last kiss, a last
twisted dial to miss
nothing as we have not of our true work
our hands scouring sky to press us to
the sill's soot, the blue
edge where murderers pause
before paradise, the recoil
as the cabs halt or the elevators
fall so that millions
are assured and are sure again
that when the day is cleared
his switchblade will be pure
and will redeem them


Poem in Favor of the War

Women and the men, the guilty, who have hold
who are planed into my anger who postulate
penitence that I hate
in my allegiance to the martyrs who deserve
to take violence, that nobility
the dead lend to their hands
for forgiveness and I give them
the forgiveness of the gun

I had wanted to end murder
but compassion made me
the maniac of murder
and each day as on all days
I have argued in anguish it is true
that they beg, that the mind is pain
the ploughshare beaten back to sword
I know this is anger on the astral
I know but I am worthy now to know
I am worthy of what before me
was filth in their butchership

And I come to it having broken it
and I deal it as the sea
deals its orders for the armies
turning ardor to the blood wheel
and now I am for all crime and you
who are the platitudes, the X's
of morality, the geniuses of anus
it is I who raise entropy
it is I who leave no one
it is I who grind the teeth
of the armaments that the stars offer
to a seeker after vengeance

And now it is my time for redemption
as the body times spew for the cleansing
when the mothers jam a son to the nail
and the roses plead
adornment by the thorn
in their deaf art marking sentence
and as the sun burns, I mock and burn
and as the branch fans, I am wind
and as the child and the lovers lust, I love
and as the book is signed, I sign
I, Of Butchering
and as the Christ found, I have found
the continent and the blood river
holy unto butchering



I sat in at Low Library, at Columbia, the first night: 3 A.M.
The police were to come but did not.
I had friends in SDS.
I knew no one in Vietnam.

An old lover walked arm in arm with another.
The revolution, I said, feminism, sexual politics.

I typed in my apartment on 104th Street, on a manual portable.
The hundreds of pages of the novel I did not write.
Someone will get it straight.

I drew dreams: spiders, fetuses in closets.
I marched against the war.
I debated a Green Beret and went on.

I read The Function of the Orgasm.
I loved Laurie Cohen.
Before that I programmed computers.
Before that I wept because I had nothing to do with my life.

That start of the poem.
The flame stirred by a wind past argument, money, or fame.
Burning, as it always burns.

But outside, the napalm burned,
Which the President denied, who signed his name.
Washington lied about the dead.

Then, I went West.
I saw Charles Manson on a bar TV.
I parked at Laurie Cohen's shut house, at the Golden Gate.
I waded the metallic sea light.

Now, we are N years late.
And that one, alive somewhere, her dark hair still in that wind, like flame

(The foregoing three works reprinted with the author's permission from Selected Poems: 1965-1995 (Miami University Press, Oxford, OH, 1995).)


Angelo Verga
Dreams of Sihanouk

Chaste sweet Sihanouk
blue helmeted coalition troops
& armless villains who salute
the legless, triumphant over landmines.
A gangling American president
& CEO's from 3 continents
clog the black onion fields,
fluttering like prayer wheels
across the river from Phnom Penh,
Khmer Rouge wave shimmering rifles & flags.
Spectral Pol Pot is felt
fleeing into the strangled jungle
on a Chinese bicycle, without tools or food.
We bring VCR's and take back
rubber, young rice, & girls.
In my wife's dream we are deaf,
large salaried men, big-intentioned, wide
legged fools, who can't sing French.
Sihanouk signals from his tassel festooned
podium tank. The sky turns white, then red.


Diaz, Foot Route #18, Carrier of Mail
30 Years, 3 Months, 2 Weeks

"In my dreams Vietnam is a river
A river of fire, and
Trees burning, buffaloes burning,
Women burning.
A fire so loud with eyes closed I still can hear it.
I can hear it chewing the banks of the river.
I did 19 months overseas, aged me 20 years."

He pulls a plastic vial from inside his shirt to show me
What he needs to sleep: Heart medicine? Prozac?
"Pot. Booze. And these," he says into my eyes.

"They help, but not much
It changes you to kill people every day
Even if you don't kill them, it changes you to see people killed
But I did, I did kill them
I killed buffaloes, I killed women, fish, birds
I killed anything that moved because I had to
Kill or be killed, you know what I mean?
At night you can't see 3 meters into the trees

Some Vietnamese moved into a building on my route
The first time I smelled fish heads cooking in the hallway
I saw the river blow up, blood gush, mud explode
I got sick, I got sick to my gut
I heaved black gunk I didn't know I still had in me
I saw myself running, young again, puking,
The river in flames, dead in the mud chewing their graves"


Dan Wilcox
Richard Nixon Must Die
(for all the victims of the war)

Richard Nixon, the 37th President of these Divided States, must
Because the cure for cancer lies rotting in a rice paddy of Viet
Because the next, best President of the United States has no legs
and is locked in a VA hospital in Buffalo--
Because the new Martin Luther King, the new Malcolm X got his
head blown off in Hue--
Richard Nixon, the 37th President of these Divided States, must

Because the hope for world peace is crawling thru these streets
looking for a fix--
Because the answer to the World’s economy is busy selling her ass
on the neon highways of L.A.--
Because the way to feed the children of Africa disappeared in a
malnourished brain in Ethiopia--
Richard Nixon, the 37th President of these Divided States, must

Because there is no hope for any of us, because it is all out of
Because Wall St. is there, buys our Presidents, our Mayors, our
Because the Declaration of Independence is enemy propaganda--
Richard Nixon, the 37th President of these Divided States, must

Because campaign workers are paid to steal and rob instead of
sticking labels and dialing telephones--
Because our contributions now go for wiretaps and surveillance
instead of buttons and salaries--
Because especially the stay-at-home voters are holy, the salt of
the Earth, and the politicians are not--
Richard Nixon, the 37th President of these Divided States, must

Because the FBI is listening right now, the CIA is listening
right now, the Tactical Police Force is on your line right
Because you really can’t read everything you want and they have
already censored this line--
Because Lenny Bruce died for our sins--
Richard Nixon, the 37th President of these Divided States, must

Because the townhouses of America are exploding around us--
Because of Watts, and Newark, and Miami, and Chicago--
Because every city is Chicago and Chicago is everycity--
Because our best minds are being taught the M-16 when they should
be playing guitars--
Richard Nixon, the 37th President of these Divided States, must

Because America’s best children are dead, or lost underground, or
gone to Sweden, to Canada--
Because there are really no sacred places, the Indians' burial
mounds are breweries--
Because the state of poetry is not really a state but an occupied
Richard Nixon, the 37th President of these Divided States, must

Because Tricia Nixon has the largest collection of stolen panties
in the Free World--
Because Pat Nixon is a raging nymphomaniac hiding in the body of
an aging Methodist Barbie doll--
Because America is sick of its rulers' televised weddings and
black-tie inaugurations--
Because when we really need him Lee Harvey Oswald is nowhere to
be found--
Richard Nixon, the 37th President of these Divided States, must

Because we no longer just know someone who has been raped but
have ourselves been raped--
Because even our bodies have been denied to us, to others, to the
future, and we are told "No, stop it, it's wrong"--
Because it is better to get power than to get laid--
Because when I kissed her she cried and cried because she wanted
me and she wanted to come and she couldn't let me--
Because when I wanted to love America I was told to go kill
someone I didn't even know--
Richard Nixon, the 37th President of these Divided States, must


Peace Marchers at the Vietnam Memorial

Who would have thought on the cold December in 1969 when we
met, my boots & I, that we'd be here in Washington, on
my birthday, marching against still another war?
We did not think then we would stand here, older now, more
worn, creased, grey showing at the fray
among other peace marchers who leave their signs on the lawn
to stand before this litany of stone
58,000 points of light etched into the blackness & now gone
out, not even a flicker
unless you count those here now, those who remember, who tell
their children
Vietnam, Cambodia, Kent State, Jackson State
who hug each other, who cry, who lean against the wall, find
names we have not forgotten, some never even known, in
the worn sole of memory.

When we low-crawled through that night assault exercise we
did not imagine this pilgrimage along the dusty stones
of the Mall
in still another grim age like when those on the Wall died--
it just goes on & on, from a jungle of politics to a desert
of values
Kuwait, Tel Aviv, Baghdad, Khafji.

Who would have thought when I applied those acres of black
polish I would be here to say "No" again
like that birthday when I sat in the latrine and cried for
loneliness, I don't want to have to do this, I want to
go home & celebrate my birthday.

We came here to wage war on War
Vermont, Albany, Boston, Toledo
to the Wall, to weep, to stare, to murmur, hushed as if the
dead were here
as indeed they are, in us, in this great crowd that even all
of them could be lost in.

Who would have thought, who would have thought -- at least
we, my boots & I, can still march
& when they're gone, I'll buy boots & boots for my children,
& keep on marching.


Rob Wright
In the Dusk Gray and Dim*

(on the eve of the Republican National Convention)

The republic hums sweetly. Helios are hovering,
roving, luminous, wide-eyed,
beating the brackish air in the near dark.

The sound reminds me, always, of Asian place names:
Play-ku, Mekong (betraying my age.)
The republic hums sweetly. Helios are hovering.

And Saigon, a conga line ascending heaven, suits and ties,
code books, The Elements of Style, pictures of wives,
beating the brackish air in the near dark.

Reporters suited up in jungle kit, microphones, rum-washed eyes,
while on camera, Bloods from Hood and Drum load one-o-five's.
The republic hums sweetly. Helios are hovering.

Pencil lines of jet vapor follow the fifteenth parallel,
packed to the gillies with bombs and greetings for l’Ecole Normale,
beating the brackish air in the near dark.

A friend was brought back zipped in plastic, except his lower half,
which was blown to atoms of bone and bladder.
The republic hums sweetly. Helios are hovering,
beating the brackish air in the near dark.

[*] Whitman: "A Sight in Camp in the Daybreak Gray and Dim"

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