You Had to Be There
"War is good for you."
as quoted in The First Casualty
by Philip Knightly
In Vietnam, they grew
a kind of miniature banana too small for export,
but orange and sweet.
You had to be there,
that morning, on the banana road
where an explosion took off the driver's head
and opened Captain Anderson's belly.
The column turned alternately
left and right, "the herringbone,"
the standard formation designed to flank your captain
left and right with fire.
While he died, big guns
hacked banana trees like deranged lumbermen
and little guns hosed down the green part.
Pop got so mad his hands
locked on the trigger, jamming the weapon.
Frantic to make it work again,
he burned his nose.
For such a joke,
you had to be there.
To be able to laugh,
you needed to see the whole Pop
with just his eyes white
and a poor red sore
and the rest of him smoked black.
Harder still you laughed
as he turned the fifty calibers on you.
He squeezed for bullets.
Hardest of all you laughed
as you rolled off the ACAV,
running away from Captain Anderson
and into the field of wounded bananas.
They tasted delicious.
They made funny little horns
if you stuffed them in your ears
and the peel dangled out of your pockets
like ribbons for victory.
How could you shave next day for services
without cutting yourself?
Thinking of Captain Anderson calling you "New Boy,"
how did you learn to be old
and a man?
Every time they show
bananas and corn flakes on television,
you remember those fragments of the driver's skull
that sprayed you after the blast,
bits of his mind slightly coarser than sand
sticking to your face, your arms, your clothing.
Breakfast has always been the most important meal.
How did you manage to wake up
when you had to be there
and swallow what they put in front of you?