Vietnam Sideways

for Big Benny

A monarch’s image flitters across the honored
On that glassy, black wall, floating sideways, backward, up, down,
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. They had that impressive parade of confetti
Shame and petrified silence, only bits of it were human.

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

Masses of metal, everything ditched and quitted.
Bodies trampling bodies, clawing, punching, kicking,
Time to go, hurry, hurry, rush, rush, sideways, backward, up, down.
Đi Đi Mau! Đi Đi Mau!

They chucked as many as they could in each chopper.
Little Foxhole, aged about eight, 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. No more.

As Foxhole clawed and clutched the chopper edge, I shook my head.
His eyes replied – You are my Judas. He gave up and wilted back, back.
And, as we flew away, away, and over, Little 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

2 Comments

  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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