My Vietnam Buddy
To Mike Neuzil (1969-70)
l. NEUZ WELCOMES ME HOME
Neuzil, my Vietnam buddy, bussed from Chicago,
Not thinking I wanted to leave him behind too.
He said his wife cheated, and that he had nowhere else to go,
While his finger picked at the air, as if picking a scab.
Soon he stopped talking until even my kids learned to ignore him.
At night, we watch Richard Widmark in Halls of Montezuma,
But we are never there.
When I say my children had dreams that I wouldn't save them,
He knows I am always awake, like a sentry. He is too.
When I have night sweats without dreams,
The kind you can't remember anything to be terrorized by,
But you are...he is so patient.
He brings a towel and checks on my sleeping wife.
Sergeant...young buck. He knows what will happen in the end.
2. NEUZ LEARNS I LIKE "THE DOORS"
When I have fainting spells, he closes the door,
Helps me to my feet to face my wife and kids.
When they enter, he stands in my clothes
Because he knows shame has no disguise.
When they leave, he sits with me on the floor.
When I stare at the night
For tracers to knit the sky back together,
He looks for them too.
I tell him I like The Doors' "Five to One":
"You got the guns,
But we got the numbers."
He so wants to be like me.
It is the only song he plays
Until it is the only song I want to hear.
3. NEUZ PHONES HIS OLD BUDDIES
He began to wear my flannel shirts
Because they were baggy enough
For both of us to disappear into.
In my truck, we sat behind the windshield and the disguise it offered.
When he wore my Mariners hat, brim cupped
To the shape of my hand, a woman spoke to him
In some language he could almost understand.
He, too, knew alienation was a medal
That can't be shared with anyone.
When he phoned his old buddies,
They hung up.
I wanted to leave him behind, too,
But I became more like him each day.
4. NEUZ OFFERS ADVICE ON GHOSTS
My hair turned from blond to dark,
As if it was my own. I spoke less
Of a vial of French amphetamine
And the monkey who gnawed his left finger off
Because Neuzil remembered too.
Soon my wife and kids no longer understood what we said.
Neuz and I began to carry dictionaries, but didn't use them.
We spoke only to each other.
I don't like to listen
When he tells me how much easier it can be.
He says if I just listen to him
No longer would I feel the lost fingers of ghosts,
Almost hanging onto me,
Almost letting me go.