What Was Left Out, Perchance to Dream
WHAT WAS LEFT OUT
Dear Mom and Dad,
these are the lines you will never hear.
You wanted to be assured that
I would be safe here on this fire-base
after the patrols.
So in my earlier tapes, I have only talked
about easy outs that you knew were not completely true,
but you will have to say, if I ask you,
and you know I won't, that you are relieved.
The people in this country are small and grow thin;
but, scrounging in our garbage, uncaring
of our good intents, rats fatten.
You said that the explosions on my last tape
disturbed you. I did not think to wait for another time
to tape my letter. Those are the righteous sounds of outgoing
artillery; now I notice the sounds only when they do not fire.
Because of them I sleep soundly: I call the barrage, the 155 lullaby
or else "Give My Regards to Uncle Ho."
And, again, one more time, with feeling.
I won't mention the tunnels I know are under our base,
maybe as extensive as those in a rabbit's nest, the repeated breaks
in the perimeter, the hollow blast walls, the sappers at night,
or, how while standing guard how hard it is to tell pig from foe
even if you're not sleepy. You can die just as dead from friendly fire.
I won't tell you how the body bags mound up,
or how I found an NVA scout dead in a cave near our bunker
(and the el-tee did not want anyone to look there)
or about the 45 that is my pillow at night
and my blanket by day. Linus, you understand.
I can almost laugh to tell you about claymores,
mes amours, and how they have
which way to point them (and which way not to point them)
stenciled on opposite sides. Death by dyslexia is a poor joke
that would not even make the Johnny Carson show.
I don't want to tell myself about the conscientious objector
who won't stand guard with a weapon.
Or, how the rats grow bold and crawl over us at night.
Anyway, it's better when the rounds go out than the other way around.
You don't have to know and I won't tell you
about the sauce, heroin and crack
that pour through here like massive rivers in the oceans,
or about how most of us are stewed or stoned.
I often wonder how, in the force of these torrents,
any can stand or tie our shoes or pee straight,
not to say, hear the orders of the day, aim, run or fight.
The fog of war cannot further becloud the drugged in war.
Mom, you feared I that I have become a sot.
That I am not, but that is not what I fear.
I do not drink from fear of death,
but from fear of worse.
Even the small peccadilloes I will not tell you of:
how a son of a minister has learned to curse,
wheel and deal, lie, swindle and steal. All for the troops.
All for a good cause, of course.
I can't help it if it's so much fun.
I am not my brother, Abel.
Without knowing how I know,
this ex-pacifist can lay down fields of fire
like sharp scythes coming across at just the right angle
against stalks of grain. I coax out vectors
from the lay of the land (like a chess board
I used to read blind-folded). I hear what the men say,
always more than the colonel knows.
My next-to-greatest sin is that I wallow in pride
to know that they would follow me instead.
Mom, what I will never tell you
and what I do not want to tell myself
is not that I fear the way I am now,
but that I fear that I have always been what I am now.
One foot in hell, one foot in paradise,
electrified, over-charged, I feel my skin tingle;
if my next moment will be my last,
this one will have to last me forever.
My vision has never been clearer;
at once, I am aware of shadows, whispers, the breathing
of the men, the position of the moon, the shift of the wind,
the smell of decaying vegetation, my last orders.
My thoughts have never been faster;
in a sky-dive (what are parachutes?).
I am hooked on the dive;
accelerating, main-lining the fear,
the rush is beyond drugs.
I am alive, alive
as I have never been before
and hate it, feeling so much alive
born to war, so natural, so good,
for so many wrong reasons.
Pelicans go blind after too many dives.
Mom, you will not hear this prayer either. Someone must.
Prayers in a bunker should be better heard than those from a closet.
A whisper may do just as well as a chant or a shout.
The candle burns very bright, brighter than the garbage burning outside.
Dad has taught me that theologically all prayers
are paeans of praise and thanksgiving.
My tongue is dry; my knees are unused to bending and are tender.
Words come slowly. Blessed are...
Sometimes the alcohol cools me down
when the Beatitudes do not. Ecclesiastes
is a cold smooth stone but too dense to swallow.
the peacemakers... The 45 is my rod; and the M-16 is my staff
and they comfort me. I have looked upon the enemy...
Sometimes, it does not cool. I cannot rise.
Who am I? Can I bring myself to know?
And, sometimes, with the alcohol and never without,
I can even stare into the mirror.
Yaacob, thou wert blessed, thy angel had a human form.
PERCHANCE TO DREAM
The fanfare from our firebase vies with the harmonies of the brass choruses
of Finlandia. The earth trembles. And the sappers keep coming.
The flares cast changing, eerie glares that reflect from low clouds.
Gˆtterd‰mmerung is staged in the Ashau. Cordite is the air.
Even Ella couldn't sing against the meta-(fuck-you Charlie)-
constant beats of the out-going 105s and 155s.
Turn off the TOC: screams are bad karma.
Toss me a hookah, I'll take a toke;
play me an aria, a ballad psychedelic,
something from Airplane will do.
White rabbit, white rabbit, I'll chase the dragon,
smoke me a moon beam, toss me a riff, stretch out my heart beats;
I'll swallow that mushroom, let it twist my mind gently,
lend me a lullaby and lilac-scented memories of time in world.
Mortar rounds walk toward us, thump out the rhythm
of our nightly call to prayer; then stop as quick
as a mother-in-law's smile. Black bags fill. To sleep
is a chance to die. To die is a gift not to wake.
I bolt upright, 45 in hand, silently snarling, to scrapings
coming from beneath the floor of my cot,
softer than a brush stroking a snare, not part
of the dreams of my desire, and made by no syncopating rat.
Dream me the chill of Rocky Mountain mornings,
let me hear the ice in their streams;
then wake me greatly to constant light, to sweet air,
to friends long absent and to ground that cannot shake or stir.