VIETNAM WAR POETRY

  Fall of Saigon

On the 40th anniversary of the evacuation of the Saigon embassy

                                      1.

                        I was already long gone by the time Saigon fell.
                        I watched on television as the last helicopter lifted
                        from the embassy like a tired pelican.

                        I had been a field medic, rescuing someone every day.
                        As soon as I felt the trip wire, I knew — Oh, no.
                        I flung myself like a football player diving for the End Zone.
                        The explosion set my boots and feet on fire
                        before the world darkened.

                        I heard distant voices talking about amputation
                        like they were talking about gardening.
                        They removed my blackened skin, peeling it like onions.

                        It took years for my body to lose all traces of scars
                        like a deer vanishing into woods of silence.

                                      2.

                        My own family never knew I was there.
                        I never wanted them to worry
                        and being young meant I was stupid.

                        When I married, my wife never noticed the scars.
                        When my son played war, I would hear men dying.
                        The smell of Agent Orange was in the lilac bushes.

                        When that helicopter left into the white flags of clouds,
                        I felt sorry for those left behind,
                        and I realized my memory was still there.

                                      3.

                        Every now and then, I see clouds as body bags.
                        Thunder is helicopters. Mail becomes dispatches
                        sending troops like they were toy soldiers. My feet
                        still feel the flames. Nightmares speak Vietnamese.
                        Flotillas of escaping bodies bob in headwinds.
                        The landscape has scars. Herons are bandages.
                        The dead wander asking if I mailed their last letter.

                        It does not matter what your nationally is,
                        we all bleed.

                                      4.

                        Other times, I am back in a land that is healing.

by Contributing Poet:     Martin Willits, Jr.   Copyright © 2016
      ( First published in   VietnamWarPoetry.com   2016 )


  Forgive Me

                                      1.

                        Forgive me for having a postage stamp moment
                        of hope; it’s ill-fitting.Forgive me for tossing fish
                        back into a lake, but Isaw them struggling to breathe
                        and it reminded me of asoldier who died that way.

                        I do not know where luckbegins and skill ends;
                        however, I know themathematics of it. Forgive me.
                        There are laments only therose can speak.
                        It sounds of heavy bootsin an empty house.
                        Forgive me if you believeotherwise.
                        Forgive me if a mapcontains boots and dead trees.
                        Forgive me if faces onmilk cartons are Asian.
                        Forgive me if angels countsurvivors and death equally.

                                      2.

                        The armies ran this wayand that way
                        uncertain if they areattacking
                        or retreating.

                        Someone dies in the marginof an accountant’s book.
                        He multiplies that number,assuming it is wrong.
                        He adds a couple of digitsjust in case.

                        The General, feelinggenerous, adds some carnage.
                        He files his reports andwonders
                        if it is gruesome enoughor too over-the-top.

                        When the report hits thecentral command,
                        What is called for is pacification.

                        When the numbers ofcasualties
                        finds its way to thenewsstand,
                        the war must be over.

                        When the coffins pour in,numerous as sparrows,
                        countless and numbing,
                        no one asks what happened.

                        I closed some of thosebody bags.
                        After one hundred,counting does not count.
                        It hurt to think of allthe dead —
                        some of them, technicallystill children;
                        some of them still did notneed to shave.

                                      3.

                        The ones I left on thefield were dying.
                        There was no hope forthem.
                        I was told to make a quickassessment,
                        then move on. I could onlyrescue so many.
                        Get what you can and get out was the motto.

                        I concentrated on bodies —
                        not on bullets smackingaround me
                        like metal mosquitoes, orgrenades rolling past
                        like tiny armadillos. Notime to worry about safety.
                        Drag one back; head backfor another. Forgive me,
                        but they were dying fasterthan I could run.

                        Forgiveness had little todo with survival.

                        I ran in and out of warzones for about three years.
                        It felt like an eternity.
                        Sometimes, I can stillfeel the weight of a soldier —
                        rose-colored bloodtrickling or oozing
                        making them feel lighter.Even though it’s been years,
                        I can hear the woundedclanging on my back
                        like a canteen. Everynumber still numbs me.

                        When I got the wounded tothe field hospital,
                        some never made it duringsurgery.
                        I would say I am sorry,forgive me. I’d hear:
                        Sorry does not cut it; sorry never saved anyone.

                                      4.

                        Forgive me for writing. Forgive
                        the unforgiveable. Forgivethe enemy.

                        Forgive the General
                        filing his fingernailsinto a leveled playing field
                        where forests of AgentOrange.
                        Forgive the reporter
                        throwing up after seeinghis first battle zone.

                        Forgive the monks
                        for setting their bodiesinto matchsticks.

                        Forgive the period ofsilence
                        when you hear body bagszipping.

                                      5.

                        Sometimes, when fightingstopped
                        you could hear a heron’sfeather in a breeze.
                        Death would be on a coffeebreak.

                        In the hospital tent, thewounded would ask me
                        to read their letters fromhome.
                        They were always fishingfor good news.

                        Forgive me, but I wouldlie if the news was bad.
                        I decided enough loss wasmore than enough.
                        I would change break-upletters into expressions of love.
                        Cities could fall due tothe lack of love letters.
                        I almost cried dog tags.

                        One solder caught me atit. He challenged me,
                        Tell me it straight. So I did, forgive me, I did.
                        Each word werebooby-traps. Words like divorce and
                        I'm with someone else.
                        Messages no one wants toreceive.
                        He forgave me fordelivering the harsh reality.
                        It was like taking anothershot to the gut.

                                      6.

                        Sometimes, it was soquiet, you’d think the day died.
                        You could hear a pin drop allthe way in Minnesota.

                        When the lilac sky beganscreaming,
                        due diligence killedthroughout the night
                        with centipedes of bombs.

                        The night had no bottom toit.

                        Bones separated and pulledback
                        like rubber bands.

                        The names and days arenumbered.

by Contributing Poet:     Martin Willits, Jr.   Copyright © 2016
      ( First published in   VietnamWarPoetry.com   2016 )


Bio:   Martin Willits, Jr.   was a Field Medic in the Quaker hospital in Quang Ngai Province, South Vietnam. He has over 20 chapbooks and 11 full-length collections including How to Be Silent (FutureCycle Press, 2016). As a non-combatant, he does not receive military benefits, but during the war you did not want to see him because that meant you were wounded and could not move. He was wounded after 3 years of going into battle trying to save people.


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