Hell, You Can Tell
( at Chiodo's Bar in Homestead, PA
after reading for the Writers Harvest at the Rainbow Kitchen )

Johnny's been to Nam and back. Hell, you can tell. His fatigues are not street chic. It's clear from here at the bar when he barks, "You been over there, to Southeast Asia?" spying a red-headed bird on your bluejean patch. You can tell as he rails, "You protest the War?" and when spilling over with explanations to disarm this situation, offering up your name, he grumbles back with "Hanoi Jane".

You can tell. You can tell by the slick half-moon blade track that rings his throat from ear to ear, shrapnel specks atwitch in the tick at the crow's feet at his eyes. He says he can tell you about mountains and paddies, desk MOS's and grunts, the VA Hospital for home, the Wall as a tombstone. He tells you, "This is my life, all that I have--a record from juvie, ninth-grade education, my own kids calling me crazy, a little dope, some smoke, this affliction called post-traumatic stress syndrome."

You can tell. You can tell he has tanks rolling over his dreams. You can tell there are incoming rotors beating night winds, mortars storming that firecracker sky, thin reeds flaming the fields, guerrillas drumming his bed with bamboo flutes and chimes, and his running tab with the rest of the out-of-work mill hunks at a corner bar in Homestead, you stationed at his side, someone who once protested the War and writes poems he won't read. Johnny's been to Nam and back. Hell, you can tell.


"Hell, You Can Tell was sparked by a chance encounter that leaves an indelible impression. The poem moves from the present scene to the imagined past, emphasizing that being away from an experience does not mean being released from it. The poem puts one of many faces on PTSD, in this case for the Viet Nam war veteran. It is also the face of the WWII "shell shocked" patient ducking and covering from loud noises that I witnessed as a little girl when visiting my own father in a VA hospital. It is the face I continued to witness on my own students returning from desert wars - tanks rolling over all their dreams. The poem is one of experience, in this case the poet's experience of the broken warrior. It's hell, you can tell."

by Contributing Poet:     Andrena Zawinski   Copyright 2007
      ( First published in   Poemeleon   prose poem online edition   2007 )

Bio:   Andrena Zawinski   was born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA but has made her home in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her poetry collections include Landings, forthcoming from Kelsay Books, Something About (a PEN Oakland Literary Award winner) from Blue LIght Press, Traveling in Reflected Light (a Kenneth Patchen Prize in Poetry) from Pig Iron Press, and four chapbooks. She is also editor of Turning a Train of Thought Upside Down: An Anthology of Women's Poetry from Scarlet Tanager Books. She was able to marry her partner of over twenty years, a career Army Chief Warrant Officer, with the falling away of DOMA.

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