Gunner Tries to Die, Gunner Tells What Happened, Gunner Apologizes for Not Shooting
GUNNER TRIES TO DIE
The sea rolls off the end of the world.
Somewhere in the sky is Nam.
In the invisible jungle the Unknown
Buddy wades in the infected
Muck, twigs in his hat, face
Painted green and black, elbows
Cradle the AK-47
Swing at night in the thick water
And lily pads. Gunner believes
his own heart is shot, hangs
on a wire from his neck purple as rage,
or a prize. He dies then on the fan tail,
clutches his shirt for the Unknown Buddy
grimacing and sinking in
the novel swamp without him. The U.S.S.
King steams out of the Tonkin Gulf
out of the smoky towers and muddy
caverns by an itinerary,
a tidy printed protocol
clean as the admiral's shoes, orders
to abandon the Unknown Buddy,
lost anyway, breathing slime
into his lungs sinking and dying.
Gunner looks back from the rolling fantail,
over the wake of the U.S.S. King
imperial, blind and speechless.
GUNNER TELLS WHAT HAPPENED
From below where the tanks
of heat boiled he surfaced charred
boots first drenched with his last
sweat cheeks and forehead blistered
perfect circumferences islands
of pink skin strafed by fire.
Tied in a metal stretcher still dressed
he stared off as if in thought
about to ask the time or tell
how he smelt his death and let go.
Bearing their damp shipmate forward
they navigated this new continent
on the dark deck of the
disabled ship adrift and blind
in the Gulf of Tonkin, running lights
the only stars. How awkwardly
they set the body down. Their hands
failed them. They returned for the next
body, three more yet, failing
silently as young men do.
GUNNER APOLOGIZES FOR NOT SHOOTING
Somewhere over the hot water lay the enemy.
Don't know what they're gonna do, Captain says,
our faces parallel at battle stations.
Sure, we're nuclear. But they're crazy.
Keep you butt up, boy.
The rivet of my helmet dug into my scalp.
Nothing anywhere but ocean.
The enemy is always invisible, Captain says.
Until it's time to shoot. Brace yourself like a tripod.
My flack jacket hung on me. The flacking
started eight inches below my shoulder.
Plenty of room for a small rocker
Or a series of shells in a neat parabola
To find me and my bowl of a helmet.
The best defense is a good offense, Captain says.
Shoot first. Two facts, Captain says, in military life:
Follow any lawful order; and all orders are lawful.
Watch the endless horizon endlessly. Breathe,
bend your knees, grip the gun as if you would fall
without it, the knuckle loose at the trigger. Wait
for the enemy. Hold your position for twenty-five years.