Vietnam Sideways

for Big Benny

A monarch’s image flitters across the honored
on that glassy, black wall, floating
caught up in concentric wind loops across names,
nearly 60,000 etched.

A person with paper scratches a son with lead.
She is gray, drained, rock-wrinkled.
Old, fixed medals and buttons clink an echo.
She shifts, and I see the shadow silhouette, P.O.W.
The monarch glides past a guitar man,
settles on his tree-green sleeve as he sings,
“Fortunate Son” and sounds out
the shambles from “Eve of Destruction.”
He stops his strum, tells a tale.

“When we came back, the United States had a real spit-fest,
and not just polite ptooeys, but hockers and loogies
– the kind where the head goes back
rooster-like before the glob of goo.
The People gave us an impressive parade
of confettied shame and petrified silence.
Only bits of them were human.

But I didn’t care ‘cause my mind was back there
with the boy from the foxhole.
When we left, Little Foxhole Boy strove
hopeless outside our chopper.
Noise as loud as silence. Chaos and people
(There’s a difference
between a yell and a scream.
Yelling’s from the soul.)

Masses of metal, everything ditched and quitted.
Bodies trampling, clawing, punching, kicking,
to go . . . to come . . . to be.
Hurry, hurry,
rush, rush,
Đi Đi Mau! Đi Đi Mau!

We chucked as many as we could in each chopper.
Little Foxhole, aged about eight,
who I’d seen everyday,
outstretched his arms,
reaching, grasping,
mouth wide-open,
crying like a baby bird for room,
Làm ơn! Làm ơn! Làm ơn!
The pilot made a motion.
We’ll take no more.

As Foxhole clawed and clutched the chopper edge,
I shook my head.
From his eyes, I read
You are my Judas.
He gave up and wilted
back, back.
And, as we flew
away, away, and over,
Foxhole fused graceful with the elephant grass.
Real beautiful country without blood, you know.
I would’ve taken him home to be a brother.”


**Photograph:   My father during the Vietnam War, 1967 – 1968


  1. There is so much going on in that first verse; it pulled me in right away. The butterfly caught in the wind, circling by the names, is such an apt metaphor for all who got sucked into this war. The guitar man’s lament is moving, and reminds of me of how much sadness and regret is etched into those 60,000 names.

    1. Author

      Thank you for noticing the butterfly. It is indeed a metaphor for men like my father who came back metamorphosed and uncertain. Though the butterfly tries, the wind (of time, regret, and maybe even change) won’t allow it to maintain stability, go its own way, or leave the names of those who died. It even comes to rest on the army jacket of the former soldier.

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