VIETNAM WAR POETRY

  The Handsome Black Case

                        In a place where ceremony had no place,
                        the honor fell on me to confer
                        this award, this medal for gallantry,
                        tucked away in a handsome black case in my hand,
                        to flag him down, this chopper pilot
                        passing through base camp on his way
                        to hop a big silver bird back to The World,
                        who flew all those rescue missions
                        in his unarmed medevac chopper machine,
                        stopped counting holes in his metal skin after the third,
                        kept nosing it down to the fire-breathing jungle floor,
                        the rounds snapping around his pedaled feet,
                        the ribbed hulk seizing and shuddering as it dropped
                        as his crew chief clambered through curse-flecked prayers,
                        and the limp, wet parcels waited below
                        for hands to load them on.

                        They pointed him out, the one climbing into the jeep,
                        no toughened, thick-veined warrior before me
                        but a curly-headed kid with barely a whisker,
                        and the eyes' awful look of sadness postponed
                        for an Indiana farmboy-turned-flyboy,
                        who finished with a thank-you in his smile,
                        a wave-off of the precious black case
                        and a turn on the heel.
                        "Don't need that, man – I'm goin' home",
                        was all he said, was all.

by Contributing Poet:     Paul Scollan   Copyright © 2010
      ( First published in Paul Scollan's first book, Liberty Street Hill, by   Antrim House, Simsbury CT, Editor Rennie McQuilkin   2010 )


  R&R, Taipei

                        Her name Sung Lee, the seer in the dark,
                        the madam-barkeep of this Taipei bar.
                        For her the hands told all, and not a hand
                        got by the grasp of her uncanny eye:
                        she saw the rank, the work, the manner bred,
                        their claim to objects, how the fingers spoke,
                        how fast they burned the wad of riffled bills.

                        The troops rolled in, two dozen to the bar,
                        these stumbling boys still new at playing men;
                        they reared back on their heels with burning stem
                        as ladies sidled up for evening's catch.
                        They told their stories, slow as pushing stones:
                        that night the ambush failed, they ate the dirt
                        and held his body whole till choppers came,
                        met Charlie in his maze of spider holes
                        and counted double for the body count.

                        Back when, Sung Lee could grasp the GI slang,
                        could pierce the flak vest to a mother's son,
                        but soon they all left handprints marred the same
                        across the bar top, tables, all who came.

by Contributing Poet:     Paul Scollan   Copyright © 2010
      ( First published in Paul Scollan's first book, Liberty Street Hill, by   Antrim House, Simsbury CT, Editor Rennie McQuilkin   2010 )


  Argyle Street, Chicago

                        It wasn't raining hard but long enough to run water along the curb.
                        My son and I, the tag-along, walked past McDonald's arch,
                        past Big Chick's Bar and Rique's Regional Mexican Restaurant,
                        then turned beneath the big green sign that read Argyle Street,
                        and as we were rounding the corner,
                        dropped off the map, or so it seemed,
                        touching toes on another land mass, oceans away,
                        the Vietnam of ghosts all mine, in one short breath:
                        thickets of signs in wavy strokes and cantilevered characters
                        hanging from shops and markets for clean-swept city blocks,
                        and the smells of curry and ginger following us.

                        He was picking up more lucky bamboo for his apartment,
                        having been charmed by their simple grace,
                        exotic character and low maintenance
                        (no soil, just water, little sun).
                        The shop was a bamboo-forested alcove
                        housing shoots of every size, cut and configuration,
                        all placed in glass planter-bowls and vases,
                        which gently cupped the floating hair-roots at the base.
                        A small sign told us lucky was for good luck as a gift.
                        The young shop owner wrapped the stems and roots
                        in damp paper towels and covered them with plastic
                        while conversing with us in near-perfect English.
                        We quick-stepped down the street under dripping awnings.
                        The rain was coming down harder now,
                        the runoff rippling higher against the curbstone
                        and welling into the deep cracks in the walk
                        from which these proud, straight plants would thrive,
                        given half a chance and a lick of luck.

by Contributing Poet:     Paul Scollan   Copyright © 2016
      ( First published in Paul Scollan's first book, Liberty Street Hill, by   Antrim House, Simsbury CT, Editor Rennie McQuilkin   2010 )


  Kim Phuc

                        There it was before me,
                        the one that stung like no other,
                        the photo snapped in Vietnam '72,
                        of nine-year-old Kim running
                        from the napalm that took her infant brothers,
                        those eyes blank for deposit of our horror,
                        her clothes fused with the flesh,
                        fused in our memories, the nakedness,
                        a different kind of nakedness
                        for all the world to see, stopping it dead,
                        stripping the viewer unclean,
                        the blind purchase of innocence and pain,
                        and the soldiers walking beside her
                        detached as death itself.

                        Lives later, her voice heard on the radio,
                        a meek, lone voice among former foes,
                        there to complete the story:
                        how long and hard the fight to save her;
                        the miracle of healing, of forgiveness;
                        her wounds a shrine for causes;
                        her dream of saving others as a doctor;
                        the joy of bringing forth new life through family;
                        how after thirty years the scars still hurt,
                        said with no anger or pity,
                        despite the indisputable right.

by Contributing Poet:     Paul Scollan   Copyright © 2016
      ( First published in Paul Scollan's first book, Liberty Street Hill, by   Antrim House, Simsbury CT, Editor Rennie McQuilkin   2010 )


  ~


  Letter to a Would-Be Pacifist
(Part One:   Bus to Vancouver)

                        They prepared you for your designated
                        place in the paddies and jungles,
                        had you fire all the military hardware,
                        learn the latest methods of warfare,
                        what to expect from the cunning, tunneling
                        enemy called gooks aka Charlie Cong,
                        the black-clad bad guy in the marching song.

                        Not you, enlightened draftee, you’d
                        never fall in step to the clang and clash
                        of armor of a nation gone mad.
                        You'd hold out, hold on somehow
                        to your peace credo.

                        Until the day came.
                        You rolled out of bed hungover
                        that off-duty Sunday afternoon,
                        head aching, muscles aching more
                        from bending ends together,
                        and you must remember, college boy,
                        hearing the chuffing of the bus rounding
                        the corner of the army barracks, the bus
                        you knew would take you to Seattle
                        in an hour or so, from there a short ride
                        to Vancouver, Canada.

                        But you just sat there on your bunk
                        as your ticket-out rolled to a stop,
                        clapped doors open, clapped them shut,
                        and lumbered along into tomorrow,
                        with your credo in tow.

by Contributing Poet:     Paul Scollan   Copyright © 2014
      ( First published in   VietnamWarPoetry.com   2015 )


  Letter to a Would-Be Pacifist
(Part Two:   A Pheasant)

                        Of all places, a pheasant –
                        strutting spangled feathers
                        in a stubbly field surrounding
                        a gutted Sherman tank
                        serving as a training target,
                        and surely you remember
                        the bird still hanging
                        there in your periphery
                        when you bolted into action
                        in the mortar pit,
                        the gunner beside you
                        setting the firing grids,
                        and you dropped the round
                        into the tube, anyway,
                        missing the target by twenty feet
                        and missing the collateral damage
                        by a mile, because the thump sound
                        of the round hitting the bottom
                        of the tube was Mr. Pheasant's cue
                        to make a fast wing-beating retreat
                        from the mangled tank.

                        But you, sorry to say,
                        Private Mortar Man,
                        who'd never hurt a friggin flea,
                        didn't really know that –
                        until after the thump.

by Contributing Poet:     Paul Scollan   Copyright © 2014
      ( First published in   VietnamWarPoetry.com   2015 )


  Letter to a Would-Be Pacifist
(Part Three:   The Grenade)

                        So off you go to Vietnam,
                        to that base camp up north,
                        a hopeful Objector on guard duty,
                        keeping watch from a bunker
                        piled high with sandbags,
                        standing in the pitch-blackness
                        broken by popping balls of light,
                        mortar-fired illumination rounds
                        floating down on tiny parachutes
                        over rows of razor wire strung deep
                        on the perimeter, making it easier
                        to spot an intruder –
                        but the swaying candles also made
                        way for a parade of moving shadows
                        that played tricks on vigilant eyes –
                        your eyes – and you'd swear you saw
                        an enemy sapper splayed inside the wire.

                        You knew it had been placed there,
                        that grenade.
                        You reached for it,
                        wrapped fingers around it,
                        locked eyes on the sapper’s location –
                        false alarm!

                        So began the long off-beat patter
                        inside the head of the wingless dove.

                        Sorry to bring it up, ole buddy.

by Contributing Poet:     Paul Scollan   Copyright © 2014
      ( First published in   VietnamWarPoetry.com   2015 )


  Buck Private Danny,   1969

                        Through it all, through basic’s first week of sunup jogs,
                        classes on military protocol and endless marching drills,
                        Private Garrett pressed the little bible tightly in his hand,
                        and when left no choice stuffed it in a pocket.

                        This scrawny blond kid from a backwater burg in Ohio
                        hadn't the guile or gall for pretense or malingering –
                        spoke rarely, smiled benignly, and did all he was asked to do –
                        which made things dicey for the brass to eject him.

                        Then came the morning on the firing range, Cease fire!
                        Cease fire! shrieked Sergeant Cruz for all he was worth,
                        flapping arms like crazy across the firing-line berm
                        as a body sprinted down-range against bullets flying.

                        No mistaking it was baby-faced Danny, bible in hand,
                        his back to us, racing swiftly to the targets and beyond,
                        till our boy shrunk down to a speck in the wood-line,
                        undeterred in his higher mission – such as it was.

                        The soldier in Cruz took control, gave orders to our squad
                        to chase him down, who after all was one of us, and it was
                        one of us who caught Danny skulking low in the brush,
                        and brought him back to be handed over.

                        We the warriors went on to shoot and drill and bivouac
                        without him, and I would've blotted him out entirely if it
                        hadn't been for the annoying times I'd hear his timid voice
                        rising through the whoooshh-ing sound of the mortar round.

by Contributing Poet:     Paul Scollan   Copyright © 2015
      ( First published in Paul Scollan's second book, Unaccounted For, by   Antrim House   2015 )


  Stockade Fence

                        We were basic trainees,
                        all draftees, marching
                        and singing the army cadence
                        with Drill Sergeant Lopez in the lead,
                        Vietnam, Vietnam, late at night
                        while you're sleeping Charlie
                        Cong comes a-creeping around,
                        to an old pop tune, Poison Ivy.

                        After a day at the firing range
                        with Charlie in our sights,
                        we were marching back to barracks
                        when we passed the stockade’s
                        outer fence in the exercise yard,
                        with a dozen or so confined soldiers
                        of every stripe and infraction,
                        fingers gripping the wire mesh
                        over heads, faces scrunched
                        against it, shouting taunts as far
                        as voice could carry, the likes of,
                        Ya ass-lickin' gung-ho wusses – or,
                        Hey, sucker, they'll send your sorry
                        asses home in a plastic sandwich bag.

                        But we the trainees on the fence's other
                        side kept marching, marching in cadence
                        past the fenced-in chorus,
                        till the heckling was drowned out
                        by our marching feet and the cadence
                        sounding out in synchronized beat
                        to the song of this guy named Charlie.

by Contributing Poet:     Paul Scollan   Copyright © 2014
      ( First published in   VietnamWarPoetry.com   2015 )


Bio:   Paul Scollan,  a native of Connecticut, is 70 years old in 2016, married with five sons, retired after working 35 years as a clinical social worker in community mental health. Since college days he's been dog-earing poetry anthologies and jotting lines of his own on the back of office memos, in a mental notepad on sleepless nights and while waiting in checkout lines.

His poetry finds much of its source and inspiration in his professional work, years of travel in Spanish-speaking countries, experience in the Vietnam War and the wonderful peculiarities of being from a large Irish-Catholic family.

Poems have been published in The Connecticut River Review, Litchfield Review, Sow's Ear, The William and Mary Review, among others.

Unaccounted For is his second published book of poetry. His first, Liberty Street Hill, was published in 2010 and was a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award in 2012. Both collections are published by Antrim House.

His work looks for daylight in the small cracks in the walls surrounding us, and seeks to reach all who savor its texture, musicality and message.


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