frag racing
  october 1963   tự do street, sàigòn

                        old waiters at l'imperial
                        sprint from the open air cafe,
                        racing a pursuing billow
                        of hot shrapnel steel, smoke and fire
                        from mr. charlie's tossed grenade,
                        in the cartoonish fashion of
                        wile e. coyote, and barefoot,
                        their plastic flip-flops left behind

                        after the evening's close call,
                        their memories fresh blistered, scarred
                        from the experience of fire,
                        they return to their wait stations
                        for the next morning's all day shift
                        wearing new bata tennis shoes,
                        insurance against second place
                        in any next footrace with death

by Contributing Poet:     John Buquoi   Copyright © 2016
      ( First published in   2016 )

  tropic lightning
củ chi base

                        ankle deep in the mud
                        of a malarial peanut farm
                        scraped from ancient jungle
                        now rome plowed clear,
                        agent oranged,
                        poisoned, defoliated deep,
                        the division troops,
                        the 11-bravos, 'grunts'
                        are tented in fetid favelas
                        of rotting surplus canvas
                        from korea, world war two,
                        (now blue hazed in mary jane)
                        to endure beyond combat
                        the heat, the bugs, the rats,
                        the endless monsoon
                        and the most inelegant
                        mess chow mélange
                        slung to steel trays
                        by much better fed,
                        sloven, sweat-soaked
                        sous chefs du jour

                        in the commanding
                        general's mess
                        nestled in officer country's
                        manicured, suburban
                        emerald otherworld
                        of putting green lawns
                        and air conditioned luxury
                        command staff trailers,
                        privacy fenced and gated,
                        guarded against the envy
                        and anger of their own troops,
                        obsequious white smocked
                        young soldiers bow and serve
                        at white linened tables,
                        the lobster, shrimp,
                        filet mignon, prime rib,
                        and cabernet, then light cigars
                        for the general and his staff,
                        fresh from the social stress
                        and bourboned branch
                        of the pre-meal open bar

                        the general's waitstaff,
                        chosen from among
                        his troops in the field
                        found to have performed
                        meritoriously and
                        deemed most worthy
                        of his boon reward assigned
                        as favored staff garçons,
                        replace departed predecessors,
                        out of favor late unworthies,
                        who have displeased,
                        or just not measured up
                        to command expectations
                        as proper table servants
                        and been banished back,
                        re-condemned to combat units
                        where their punishment,
                        up to and including
                        even death itself,
                        will be delivered by
                        the unhampered enemy

by Contributing Poet:     John Buquoi   Copyright © 2016
      ( First published in   2016 )

xuân lộc, việt nam 1969

                        at the orphanage
                        beneath the rubber trees
                        the monks cook rice
                        for hungry children
                        in huge flat pans,
                        eighty kilos per meal,
                        three times a day

                        softly, absent reproof
                        or bitterness,
                        they whisper
                        that just as fragrant rice
                        multiplies in volume
                        as it cooks
                        over the open flame

                        so, too, the orphanage
                        swells in numbers
                        of orphaned children
                        ever since the americans
                        came to help their friends
                        and set the land
                        so much to fire

by Contributing Poet:     John Buquoi   Copyright © 2015
      ( First published in   2015 )

  sàigòn samarra

                        he was a frightened priest, they said,
                        afraid to sleep in his own bed
                        terrified that death might find him
                        whenever counter batteries
                        found rocket launchers near his home
                        so he fled away to sàigòn
                        where he begged refuge from a friend
                        in a shed on the villa grounds,
                        cool in the shade of bird rich trees
                        across the alley from our house

                        the 'may offensive' underway,
                        that night katyushas stormed sàigòn
                        screaming into our neighborhood,
                        death's own double clapping harpies
                        whose lightning shattered walls and bounced
                        us from our bed onto the floor
                        hot steel scythe-shredding tamarinds,
                        mangoes and nurseries of birds
                        from the trees close beside the house
                        where sometimes we could dream of peace

                        morning light, we crossed the alley
                        onto the villa grounds to see
                        how danger close the night's barrage
                        and found only cold flame charred steel
                        powdered in blast burst concrete dust
                        where the priest's final night was spent,
                        the twisted frame of his deathbed,
                        bits of his meat and bone around
                        a morning feast for buddha birds
                        from the ashes of his karma

by Contributing Poet:     John Buquoi   Copyright © 2016
      ( First published in   2016 )


                        so tell me, will you, you've been there,
                        to war, i mean, that war, your war
                        i think, i know you know the score
                        i want your help to understand
                        this conundrum, unsolved puzzle
                        how it is god selects his side,
                        his team, and how he picks the ones
                        who get to say 'god's on our side',
                        and who's to live, and those to die
                        and who's the one, who stands opposed
                        on that side fighting without god

                        ma'am, i don't know a whole lot, but
                        i know there's one thing that i've learned
                        there ain't no god, at least not one
                        who picks or chooses who might live
                        or die and as for death itself,
                        it's always seemed to me to be
                        just the way it is, the dice rolled
                        or a spin of some fateful wheel,
                        however spun, or thrown the dice
                        but there's no god on either side

                        and, ma'am, as for the other one
                        the one you ask who isn't god,
                        one you think's on the other side
                        (you'd like to call him 'evil one')
                        well, if there's no such god to blame
                        or any one who chooses sides,
                        there's no need for another one
                        to be partnered to the other,
                        that missing one who isn’t there

                        then how is it i want to know
                        how choice is made who lives or dies
                        when the shooting starts there must be
                        some god who makes that election
                        there must be one who names the names
                        i mean, you know, the heroes, those
                        who'll die today, surely they're picked,
                        selected for hero's honor
                        i don't think that's just left to chance

                        well, death's no hero's honor, ma'am
                        those dead men, you say are heroes,
                        but i don't think so, nor did they,
                        no more than those forgotten ones,
                        those dead, too, on the other side
                        it's all the same, ma'am, all the same
                        they're all just dead, both sides, you see
                        no need of gods in war's death game
                        and yeah, what i know, for sure, ma'am,
                        is that those only ones who die,
                        i think that's what you asked about,
                        the special way they're picked, or not,
                        well, there's no god makes those calls
                        they’re just those time place fated ones,
                        they're right where they're supposed to be,
                        imagined on some disc of sand
                        so like this milky ring of stars,
                        when their last day comes to an end
                        and like the sand they're blown away
                        discarded dust along the wind
                        as it all starts over again
                        like dylan's wheel that's still in spin
                        without a god on any side

                        still, you want another answer
                        so i guess maybe we could say
                        that the one who pulls the trigger,
                        fires the gun or drops the bomb is
                        the god who makes that final choice
                        so, yeah, god's sort of on one side
                        if that's just what you need to hear
                        but know that god's still on the wheel
                        and might well be the next one gone
                        your dead 'hero' no more the god
                        ... it ain't religion, ma'am, it's war,
                        a god wouldn't have none of it

by Contributing Poet:     John Buquoi   Copyright © 2015
      ( First published in   2015 )

Bio:   John Buquoi   was trained as a Vietnamese linguist, spent seven years in Vietnam in the military and as a civilian. He has recently published snapshots from the edge of a war, a volume of retrospective poems which echo that experience in a series of reflective narrative vignettes which one critic has called, "... first-rate in every respect, resonating on all levels--emotional, personal, factual, historical, literary ..." His work has been published on and accepted for publication in the journal, War, Literature & the Arts.

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