VIETNAM WAR POETRY

  What They Wanted

                        Was my soul, my body, my mind.
                        Instead, what they got
                        Was a declaration to wage war on the war.
                       
                        In the Nam,
                        During my relationship
                        Between being the manipulated
                        And the manipulator,
                        I was nothing more
                        Than U.S. Grade "A" American meat,
                        Used for some bureaucrat's political gain.

                        Now, over forty years later,
                        In this war of no fronts,
                        An MIA in my own country,
                        I sleep lightly,
                        Keep a knife nearby on the night stand,
                        Continue to go on night patrols,
                        Look for an alternative revenge.

by Contributing Poet:     Victor Henry   Copyright © 2004
      ( First published in   Revenge and Forgiveness: An Anthology of Poems   edited by Patrice Vecchione   2004)


  True Love

                        She married him a week before he deployed to Vietnam,
                        On Christmas Day in 1969,
                        The happiest and saddest occasion in her young life,
                        A life framed with an unknown future,
                        Filled with unknown expectations,
                        Daring beyond the moment,
                        A kind of hesitant anticipation,
                        Determined, in the spur of the moment,
                        To be lived delicately and dangerously.

                        Loving him since her junior year in high school,
                        Discovering the epiphany of true love for the first time,
                        She shared her inner most secrets
                        With her soul mate girlfriends,
                        Her monologues a verbal diary.

                        They envied her, the first of the four
                        To find the man of their dreams,
                        A Christian man, a man respected
                        In their small community,
                        The quarterback on the varsity team
                        That led them to a state championship.
                        He was her universe, her world, her everything.

                        A year later he came back from Vietnam,
                        A boy of fifty, deeply scarred and depressed.
                        For the first week he never touched her,
                        Never held her, never kissed her.
                        Never spoke a word to her at all.
                        Late at night, he hid outside in the tool shed
                        So she wouldn’t see him cry.

                        His mood swings unbearable.
                        Followed by violent, emotional outbursts
                        That startled her, scared her, spooked her into hiding.
                        Half the time she didn’t know
                        If she should fly, freeze or fight.
                        His insomnia became her jungle terrain,
                        His PTSD her PTSD.
                        He slept with a pistol and a knife under his pillow.
                        His nightmares so intense
                        She had to sleep in a separate bedroom, fearful for her life.

                        She confided to her mother he'd been living
                        Multiple roles since he got back.
                        That something was terribly wrong.
                        That his anger was tangible.
                        So tangible she could smell it. Taste it.
                        That his rage was dark and foreboding,
                        Vicious and savage. Cruel.

                        He embarrassed himself amongst their friends
                        Until they had no friends.
                        He withdrew a nightmare at a time
                        Until he didn’t give a fuck anymore.
                        He sedated himself, day and night, doing drugs of all kinds,
                        His drinking destructive.
                        She could see he was annihilating a part of himself.
                        But he wouldn't let her in.

                        She was at a juncture. Should she stay or go.
                        The wall he had erected
                        Between them was insurmountable,
                        A formidable, unconquerable barrier.

                        One night she came home after a night
                        Of self-imposed sanctuary with her girlfriends
                        And found him hanging from a garage rafter,
                        The noose tight around his neck,
                        His body lax and loose,
                        A note near the toppled stool
                        Saying, It's better this way.

                        The moment surreal.
                        His death an emotional time bomb
                        He had planted in her heart
                        About to erupt and mushroom.

by Contributing Poet:     Victor Henry   Copyright © 2015
      ( First published in   Dead Snakes   2015 )


  Standoff

A disabled Vietnam veteran, legs blown off at the knees from a land mine in III Corp in 1967, checking into a dingy hotel in downtown San Francisco, has traveled over fifteen hundred miles for three days and nights to be near his estranged wife and twenty year old daughter. Inside the bare room, smelling of stale cigarette smoke and dried semen, he feels the gnawing presence of loneliness and depression, the painful gut-wrench of separation, the despondency that has come from being unemployed the past few years. He visualizes his phantoms in group therapy, shouting and sobbing, as he unpacks his personal possessions: a ratty toothbrush, a box of baking soda, a clean flannel shirt, a pair of faded Levis. On this cold winter evening in December, with wind blowing through the cracks and crevices chilling the marrow of his bones, he imagines being asked to discuss his difficulties and problems freely, to come out of silent isolation and accept the truth about himself. Today he doesn't need God; he knows he's lost everything that meant anything to him. All he has left is hope. In his world he pictures a fairy tale reconciliation, a chance to repair the rips and damage in what she called an unpredictable marriage. As he considers this unexpected possibility, he tapes an explosive device to his chest, triggered by a photoelectric cell, which he will activate at daybreak. In a few moments the standoff will begin. Now, he calmly phones the police.

by Contributing Poet:     Victor Henry   Copyright © 2015
      ( First published in   VietnamWarPoetry.com   2015 )


  Cherry Boy Comes Home from the Nam

When I came back to the states from Vietnam on 7 February 1968, DEROSing at Oakland Army Terminal, from midnight to six in the morning, I was hoping my entire family would be in Stockton to greet me. Only my mother met me at the bus terminal. Naturally, I was pleased to see her, but I was bitterly disappointed no one else had accompanied her. I didn't have a girlfriend because in basic training she had written me the proverbial Dear John letter. There wasn't a protester or, for that matter, an army recruiter at the terminal either. I had gotten a letter shortly before I left Camp Bearcat forewarning me that a Welcome Home Party was being arranged. I yearned to hear the cheers and yells from my loved ones, feel the pats and slaps on my back, hands grasping hands, lips touching lips, the words "We’re so glad you made it back alive and in one piece" that I dreamt of it for days. I almost forgot the mortar attacks and sniper rounds. I was in a state of short timer's frenzy. I pictured a humongous party on the 4th of February, the date I was supposed to arrive. Like all good signs born under a bad sign, the 68 TET ruined my homecoming. On the fourth of February swarms of Viet Cong endeavored to come through the concertina wire at Long Binh, Ben Hoa. I had already turned in my weapon and the rest of my gear earlier during processing. Their smoldering bodies—fresh from barrage after barrage of Willie Peter rounds—lay contorted, spread eagled, fused to their fate, symbolic of man's ability to efface man from the planet. Was it their death or my own spiritual one that created the indifference I feel now? It's been forty years since the Nam and a little over twenty years since my mother died. Now, a homecoming party that never happened is nothing more than an old memory, a roll of film never developed.

by Contributing Poet:     Victor Henry   Copyright © 1994
      ( First published in   Nobody Gets Off the Bus: The Viet Nam Generation Big Book   1994)


  The Media's Magical Treatment of History

A kid, naïve and innocent, grows up reading Fenimore Cooper's novels, never thinking about the relationship between Natty Bumpo and Indian John. On the radio, in the mountains of Montana, he listens intently to broadcasts of the Lone Ranger and Tonto. Later, as a teenager in California, at the precipice of Manifest Destiny, he reads comic books and discovers Red Ryder and Little Beaver. Never once does he question what these heroes, white and red, might say to one another around the campfire after the sun has set serenely in the West. These champions, of course, have never heard of Plato, Machiavelli, or Coleridge, but neither has he. In his mind, he unquestionably believes in the willing suspension of disbelief. After all, this is the art and craft of fiction, the illustrator's airbrush, the voice-over of authority he has been weaned on. Even though he cannot hear the silence of Natty's laughter, or the father-to-son conversations Red Ryder and Little Beaver have, he has always felt a sense of loyalty and love in Tonto’s words "Kemo Sabe". But it isn't until he is sent to Vietnam in 1967 that he learns cowboy heroism is nothing more than aggression, that the roles of victim and victimizer and the massacred and the massacre have been perversely reversed.

by Contributing Poet:     Victor Henry   Copyright © 1994
      ( First published in   Nobody Gets Off the Bus: The Viet Nam Generation Big Book   1994 )


  ~


  Civil War of the Soul

                        You keep asking the same question
                        over and over
                        to those who will not listen:
                        If it wasn't a civil war,
                        then why were we fighting
                        men, women, and children?

                        Like Kerouac on the road,
                        a hobo riding the rails,
                        a saint in search of the Grail,
                        you separate reality from fantasy,
                        select Fellini as your point man,
                        cross over life's invisible line of demarcation,
                        and remove your Rosencrantz and Guildenstern doubt.

                        For years you've looked for Viet Nam
                        after Viet Nam
                        in the drugs you took
                        in the alcohol you consumed
                        until you saw the lie
                        for what it was.

                        Now in your early fifties
                        you know how lemmings feel
                        going over the cliff,
                        know how pigs and cattle feel
                        when they're led down the chute,
                        know how young men feel
                        when they're cannon fodder
                        in another senseless war.

                        Left alone like a refugee
                        forced to choose
                        between two countries
                        you stave off sadness
                        and suicide
                        wrestle the demons
                        in this civil war of the soul.

by Contributing Poet:     Victor Henry   Copyright © 2015
      ( First published in   VietnamWarPoetry.com   2015 )


  Chills and Fever

Benny Mays and I were fed up with jungle warfare and our tour in Vietnam. So Benny, a young black man from Watts, refused to go on a night patrol. He'd had a vision, warning him tonight's combat assault would not be a bargain of events. The next morning a kangaroo court was held. A rear echelon officer addressed the jury. We have not been training Barbie dolls to kill Viet Cong, he screamed. This soldier disobeyed an order. The lieutenant assumed the air of a mythical god, delighting in a perverse passion for justice, and delivered his Pied Piper offering like the last of the true believers. His voice echoed throughout the courtroom as if each word was a blow from the axe wielder. Benny, suffering chills and fever, sagged to his knees like a sunken fence.

by Contributing Poet:     Victor Henry   Copyright © 2015
      ( First published in   VietnamWarPoetry.com   2015 )


  Buddy System

                        Frank calls today,
                        Says The Buzzard
                        Checked out from a drug overdose.
                        I ask if Tony, Wild Bill Ramirez,
                        Odom and Nichols know.
                        That's all that's left of us now.
                        We congratulate each other
                        For surviving The Nam, so far.
                        Who would have guessed
                        Sutton would die of AIDS two years ago
                        While directing a production of STRANGE SNOW.
                        Who would have guessed Max
                        Would drink himself to death,
                        Survive three marriages,
                        Bear a child born without a brain,
                        Another born with web feet,
                        Lose more jobs than a company
                        Downsizing in the middle of the night?
                        Who would have believed Nate Longley
                        Would be killed in a freak accident,
                        A beam giving way
                        On a high rise 55 stories up?
                        Turner was predictable.
                        When he held up that branch
                        Of Bank of America and was obliterated
                        By the swat team, we weren't too surprised.
                        Yeah, Frank says, Life's a goddamn S & D mission.
                        You come back from getting your ass kicked
                        in an ambush and years later
                        You still dwell on the things
                        That were significant then.
                        How you would have done the mission differently.
                        Now forty years later, after normalization,
                        You go back to Vietnam on company business,
                        Help establish a capitalistic base
                        In what once was a communist stronghold.
                        Frank, I ask, What the hell was that war all about?

by Contributing Poet:     Victor Henry   Copyright © 2015
      ( First published in   VietnamWarPoetry.com   2015 )


  Perimeter

                        We've filled sandbags all afternoon,
                        Setting up a perimeter
                        In a clear and secured area.

                        A couple hours later,
                        During a hard monsoon rain,
                        We're ordered to slit the bloated bags

                        With bayonets and move camp
                        300 meters north before night falls.
                        Wet, exhausted, pissed off,

                        Some of us slip into slumberland,
                        Dream of family, friends, freeways.
                        The rest of us curse

                        The 5th VC Infantry Division
                        For not showing up to the party.
                        Asleep in a Vietnamese graveyard,

                        Danny calls out for Lan,
                        His girlfriend, a dancer at the Pagoda Club.
                        In the half light of the morning,

                        A couple of us see a black scorpion
                        Scamper across the wet red dirt,
                        Plant a perverted hicky on his neck,

                        A kiss so provocative,
                        Danny moans for more.

by Contributing Poet:     Victor Henry   Copyright © 2014
      ( First published in   Poets On the Line   #9 & 10   The Millenium Issue   2014 )


  Flak Jacket

                        Sometimes when it was too hot
                        To wear a shirt
                        And Major Stiles wasn't around
                        Handing out Article 15s
                        Like they were all purpose capsules
                        Bobby Joe wore his flak jacket
                        Unzipped,
                        Flaunted his white belly
                        And farmer's tan,
                        Risked the demotion
                        And loss of pay.

                        His bro, Stevie R,
                        Liked to strip to his waist.
                        Showed off his 18 inch biceps.
                        Boasted he'd gotten his guns
                        At Al's Gym in Jersey.

                        Three Rivers, a Hopi Indian,
                        Felt like a buffalo hunter
                        Wrapped in a wool overcoat
                        During the dead of summer.
                        He'd sprinkle the ground
                        With red dirt to cover the red
                        Of his spirit
                        In this part of Indian country.

                        Bobbie Joe, Stevie R, and Three Rivers
                        Cleaned their M-16s
                        On top of the track.
                        Sat cross legged
                        Like tribal chiefs at a powwow,
                        Drank warm Kool-Aid from their canteens.

                        It was so hot and humid
                        That vest and man bonded
                        Like peanut butter
                        Stuck to the roof of your mouth.

                        Last night
                        Bobby Joe dreamt
                        He'd met his wife
                        In Honolulu on R&R.

                        Stevie R ranted:
                        It's him or me,
                        Kill or be killed.
                        Said, Ain't this a bitch.
                        We hunt Charles for weeks
                        And he don't want no part
                        Of our shit.

                        Now, worked up
                        into a lather
                        Stevie R slapped a clip
                        Into his M-16,
                        Chambered a round,
                        Flipped off the safety,
                        And pulled the trigger.

                        Bobby Joe groaned
                        Like someone hit him
                        In the solar plexus.
                        A crimson spot,
                        The size of a dime,
                        Appeared near his open flak jacket
                        Just above his heart.

                        He toppled over the side of the track,
                        Landed face down,
                        Sprawled and twisted
                        In the red dirt.

                        The only man Stevie R
                        Killed during his tour
                        In Viet Nam.

by Contributing Poet:     Victor Henry   Copyright © 2002
      ( First published in   Red River Review   2002 )


  ~


  Jumping Ship

                        That morning at chow
                        rumors float like jettisoned debris.
                        Psycho Man leaped over the railing
                        sometime after midnight
                        on the way to the ship's brig,
                        handcuffs straining against
                        blood and bone,
                        plunging feet first
                        into the cold, black sea.

                        Each time one of the MPs
                        threw him a life preserver
                        he pushed it away.

                        For a few minutes
                        he was in the spotlight,
                        bobbing up and down
                        like an unsinkable cork
                        before being sucked
                        into the ship's propellers.

                        That afternoon while searching
                        in circles for the P Man,
                        we listen to Hanoi Hannah
                        on a short-wave receiver.

                        She knows we're coming,
                        knows our troop strength,
                        knows the names of our officers,
                        predicts how many of us will die
                        in the coming year.

                        Later, like derelicts huddled
                        around a bonfire, we listen to
                        The Lakers play Philadelphia
                        from The Sports Arena,
                        Jerry and Elgin
                        against Hal and Wilt,
                        a game we understand.

by Contributing Poet:     Victor Henry   Copyright © 2015
      ( First published in   VietnamWarPoetry.com   2015 )


  Liberation

                        He was there to liberate
                        the oppressed of South Vietnam.
                        But when his convoy drove up Highway One
                        to Camp Bearcat
                        all he saw were American soldiers
                        standing or lying by the side of the road,
                        as if the war zone he had been prepared for
                        was in another country.
                        Where’s the war? He asked his friend
                        sitting next to him.
                        Stopping at a checkpoint
                        near a hamlet
                        his friend pointed to an old woman
                        staring intensely at them with hatred.
                        There, he said, In her eyes.

by Contributing Poet:     Victor Henry   Copyright © 2014
      ( First published in   Poets On The Line, Vol. 6 [Vietnam work]   2014 )


  Car Wash

                        That sweltering April summer afternoon
                        when Ramirez and I take a 5 ton
                        down to the river
                        to wash the red dirt
                        from its banged-up olive drab body.
                        I leave my M-16 inside the cab
                        propped against the sandbagged floorboard,
                        concealed from children
                        playing in the tepid water nearby.
                        I enter a crude dwelling
                        lacking electricity and plumbing,
                        smell the paraffin odor from a candle stub
                        on a saucer in the center of the table.
                        See the hole underneath the bed
                        surrounding the dirt floor.
                        A faded photo of Father Ho
                        tacked upon the wall
                        of the dimly lit hut
                        looks down at us.
                        Together the old ones
                        pour green tea
                        into a cracked bowl,
                        their fingers like frail fans
                        opening and closing.
                        I recognize sadness
                        in the old woman's face,
                        see my mother
                        at the airport
                        for the last time
                        before flying back to Ft. Riley,
                        my right arm holding her shoulder
                        as if she's the child,
                        her mouth downturned,
                        her heart broken.

by Contributing Poet:     Victor Henry   Copyright © 2015
      ( First published in   VietnamWarPoetry.com   2015 )


  Beneath a Thin Layer of Life
Tet 1968

                        Incoming mail arrives,
                        a barrage in the black hours of the night,
                        messianic visitors from space.
                        Meteoritic showers of mortar rounds,
                        defying darkness,
                        penetrate the perimeter,
                        malignant in execution.
                        Our new point man takes a direct hit,
                        a lob shot,
                        landing on top of his steel pot.
                        He vanishes.
                        At the entrance of a corrugated iron bunker,
                        a buddy lies frozen in the fetal position.
                        Beneath a thin layer of life,
                        he ruminates about the progeny of permanence,
                        as Viet Cong,
                        overseeing death and destruction,
                        infiltrate the landscape like ghosts.

by Contributing Poet:     Victor Henry   Copyright © 2015
      ( First published in   VietnamWarPoetry.com   2015 )


  G.I. Party
For D.M.   ( Vietnam veteran - committed suicide 1984 )

                        Today you reached retirement
                        with a disturbed and primal conscience.
                        Two 12 gauge Remington shotgun shells
                        saturated the field of ice
                        that separated body count
                        from catatonic commitment.
                        Drunk and stoned,
                        down in your worst moment,
                        you subpoenaed yourself
                        into believing
                        the mission
                        was more important
                        than the man.

by Contributing Poet:     Victor Henry   Copyright © 1984
      ( First published in   Nobody Gets Off The Bus: The Viet Nam Generation Big Book   1994 )


  ~


  Draft Notice
3 May 1966

                        Late afternoon. Friday.
                        Sacramento simmers in hundred degree heat.
                        Mom greets me, grim news in her voice,
                        a sorrow I'd heard a couple months before
                        at my father's funeral: the somber sadness
                        from which she'd never recovered.
                        For those fleeting mercurial moments
                        between life and beyond,
                        I'd held dad in my arms,
                        heard his death rattle,
                        a staccato low-pitched gurgling sound,
                        rode in the ambulance,
                        called a Catholic priest,
                        dealt with the nightmare.
                        I hear the faint sound
                        of war drums beating,
                        imagine my mother sobbing
                        beside her son's coffin.
                        The fire and smoke of my life
                        rise higher and higher.
                        My fate, a booby trap, detonates,
                        destroys what's left of my fragile world.

by Contributing Poet:     Victor Henry   Copyright © 2015
      ( First published in   VietnamWarPoetry.com   2015 )


  Hometown Hero

                        Like a hometown hero from the heartland,
                        a poor black from the projects,
                        a son expected to emulate his father,
                        I'm drafted, wander off to war,
                        told to kill for an idea,
                        to kill a Commie for Christ.
                        My coworkers at the aircraft plant,
                        both World War II and Korean veterans,
                        agree it's my patriotic duty, right or wrong,
                        to defend the flag, motherhood, the American Way.
                        It's understood we must bomb
                        North Vietnam back to the Stone Age.
                        That I must do my job, fight like a man
                        in this Theatre of the Absurd.
                        I'm ordered to wage cruel war
                        on my own species in a country
                        that has never known peace.
                        Sheep like, I never question my role.

by Contributing Poet:     Victor Henry   Copyright © 2015
      ( First published in   VietnamWarPoetry.com   2015 )


  Weapons Cache

                        We've traveled on a bus
                        from the Oakland Army Induction Center
                        to Fort Ord.

                        After piling off,
                        a corporal, wearing starched fatigues,
                        spit-shined brogans, and a helmet liner,

                        orders us to form five lines of ten men each,
                        to stand at attention,
                        to not move a muscle or make a sound.

                        He barks out commands
                        to dump our overnight bags
                        onto the ground,

                        to put any weapons we have
                        in the plastic buckets
                        being passed like collection plates.

                        From the back row
                        I see guys toss stilettos,
                        Saturday night specials,

                        brass knuckles, blackjacks,
                        ice picks, and other paraphernalia
                        into the wire handled canisters.

                        I hear metal strike metal,
                        harsh discordant sounds
                        that grow heavier and heavier

                        as the bucket comes closer.
                        Only the guy next to me
                        sees my contribution

                        thrown into the brim-filled five gallon container,
                        a tiny penknife dad
                        gave me as a graduation present

                        I use occasionally to pare my nails.

by Contributing Poet:     Victor Henry   Copyright © 2015
      ( First published in   VietnamWarPoetry.com   2015 )


  Private Numnuts

"Before we can get to a place of peace, we have to touch our suffering - embrace it & hold it."
At Hell's Gate:   A Soldier's Journey from War to Peace   ( Claude Anshin Thomas )

The Drill Instructor, veins protruding from his neck, yells at a platoon of new recruits to answer post haste. He says, Which is easier to kill? A fly? Or, pointing to a cruit in the first row, private Numnuts over there? With his left hand rolled tightly in a fist, and the other with forefinger extended, he signals to private Numnuts to move front and center. The platoon hears the whirring. The fly trapped inside the D.I.'s hand going bonkers. And, as quick as a gambler moving thimbles in a shell game, he has private Numnuts by the throat. Which is easier to kill? He screams again to the platoon, standing at attention, outside on a very hot Kansas afternoon, sweating bullets in their skivvies. The fly or Numnuts? Paralyzed with fear, they are speechless, their mouths open, forming perfect round O's. Numnuts! he yells. Goddammit! It's Numnuts! The D.I. squeezes tighter and tighter until private Numnut's eyes pop from their sockets. Now, speaking softly, almost in ecstasy, the D.I. slowly punctuates each word, saying, as innocently as a murderer confessing his sins, Believe me girls, I wouldn't hurt a fly.

by Contributing Poet:     Victor Henry   Copyright © 2014
      ( First published in   Homestead Review   2014 )


  AWOL

                        Riding from Stockton to Oakland to Ft. Ord,
                        we reminisce about our high school days,
                        laugh because we never fit in.
                        He's from Stockton; I'm from Lodi.
                        Swear on a pint of sloe gin
                        we'd dated some of the same girls.

                        We're unsure what this war is all about,
                        can't figure out why
                        we're fighting people halfway around the world.
                        We're draftees.

                        At Ft. Ord we talk one more time
                        before I'm shipped to Fort Riley, Kansas.
                        Eight months later we meet again in Tay Ninh.
                        I'm outa here in four months and a wake up, I say.

                        He confesses this is his first day in Vietnam,
                        that he went AWOL.
                        Reveals to me he missed his family, his girl too much.
                        Informs me the Military Police hunted him,
                        interrogated his parents, dogged his girlfriend,
                        cross-examined his former employer.

                        Finally, after living underground for eight months
                        he turned himself in.
                        The army, he says, gave him a choice:
                        Vietnam or Leavenworth.

                        Now, nearly three decades later
                        I recall the day we met in Tay Ninh for the last time,
                        puffs of smoke appearing and disappearing
                        on the Black Virgin Mountain behind us
                        like phantoms in tulle fog.

                        Hear him confess to me, venom in his voice,
                        that this war is a curse that will follow us to our graves.

by Contributing Poet:     Victor Henry   Copyright © 2015
      ( First published in   VietnamWarPoetry.com   2015 )


  ~


  Local Board No. 32
During the Vietnam War two thirds who went enlisted

                        For years now I've longed for
                        The executive secretary, the principle clerk,
                        To understand that her decisions
                        were the reasons why twelve men
                        From my hometown died in Viet Nam.
                        That Congress had not formally declared war,
                        That there was no clear and present danger,
                        That there was no need to impose a draft
                        That I need her to explain to me
                        Why I was drafted when others were not.
                        That her signature on my induction notice
                        Was like a death warrant.
                        Old matriarch and executioner,
                        You could have been anybody's mother or grandmother,
                        And I wondered then, as I do now,
                        How many of your sons and grandsons got drafted.
                        How many died in the red dirt and monsoon mud of Viet Nam.

by Contributing Poet:     Victor Henry   Copyright © 2014
      ( First published in   Dead Snakes   2014 )


  Candyasses

                        During basic training,
                        Fort Riley, Kansas,
                        Was the asshole of the earth.
                        He spent nights
                        Crying in the latrine, beaten down,
                        Whimpering, mewling,
                        The other recruits
                        Thought he would wash out
                        Be on the streets again, a free man.
                        But when he became a squad leader
                        In a strac killer platoon
                        They depended upon him.
                        Especially the mama's boy,
                        A shit-bird, whose weapon always jammed
                        During a fire fight.

by Contributing Poet:     Victor Henry   Copyright © 2015
      ( First published in   VietnamWarPoetry.com   2015 )


  Dust Off

                        A medivac chopper flies
                        On a slant into a cold LZ
                        To pick up a Lt. Col,
                        Two Brigade majors
                        And three wounded grunts.
                        The dead brass lay
                        On ponchos
                        In the pouring rain,
                        Droplets streaming down
                        Their freshly shaven faces.
                        Three WIAs,
                        Scared and bleeding,
                        With stomach and leg wounds,
                        Beg for a ride out,
                        Pleading for a freedom bird
                        Like grunts near the end
                        Of their tour.
                        Men scramble to load the wounded
                        While the dust off chopper
                        Sits shimmying and shaking.
                        The chopper pilot
                        Waves them off,
                        Points to the KIAs,
                        The index finger of his flight glove
                        Swaggering like a short-timer’s stick.

by Contributing Poet:     Victor Henry   Copyright © 2014
      ( First published in   Dead Snakes   2014 )


  White Mice

                        We're in a convoy
                        stopped at a narrow bridge
                        while two MPs and a couple
                        of South Vietnamese Police
                        argue and gesture. The White Mice
                        are on one side, the MPs on the other.

                        I see one of the White Mice
                        motion for a deuce-and-a-half
                        towing two trailers of ammo,
                        filled full of mess equipment,
                        and two cooks, to cross the bridge.

                        Everything happens in slow motion,
                        as if it has been orchestrated,
                        and this is the final take.

                        The Six-By slides into the rice paddy,
                        turns over from the weight
                        of the ammo trailers.

                        What looks like no more
                        than two to three feet of water
                        must seem like an ocean
                        to those trapped.

                        The driver emerges
                        a couple of minutes later,
                        gasping for breath.

                        I don't see the cooks.
                        Disbelief turns to anger.
                        I curse the White Mice's incompetency.

                        Two cooks drown in a ditch
                        while black clad peasant women
                        in conical straw hats
                        replant green seedlings.

by Contributing Poet:     Victor Henry   Copyright © 1996
      ( First published in   Viet Nam Generation: A Journal of Recent History and Contemporary Culture Volume 7, Numbers 1-2   1996 )


  Droopy Dawg

                        He sits on his cot sharpening his killing knife,
                        a Bowie that can easily cut through metal, even steel.
                        Droopy Dawg, a self-appointed mercenary from Charlie Company,
                        takes money for patrols.

                        He barks in a slow southern accent
                        that he kills gooks for a price.
                        He's an expert with an M-79 Grenade Launcher.

                        Tonight at Camp Bearcat, before we go out tomorrow morning,
                        many of us are getting stoned, getting juiced,
                        getting totally ripped.

                        It is 1967 and this shit is no longer fun.
                        Too many of us are ending up in THE STARS AND STRIPES,
                        KIAs dead and going home!

                        Droopy volunteers to take a ride with the LRRPs
                        on their tracks into the bush.
                        He's got over $1500 on him stashed in a money belt
                        he had specially made in Saigon.

                        To some of us he's a real up-and-coming entrepreneur,
                        claims he's going to start his own business
                        when he gets back to the world.

                        When the LRRPs come back the next day
                        I hear Droopy bought the farm, got zapped,
                        got wasted
                        that when he got to Graves Registration
                        all he had on him was an empty wallet,
                        his girlfriend's picture,
                        and a debt of death Uncle Sam could never repay.

by Contributing Poet:     Victor Henry   Copyright © 2015
      ( First published in   VietnamWarPoetry.com   2015 )


  ~


  The New Enemy

                        You had never met a Vietnamese
                        until you went to Viet Nam
                        in 1967, the year of the Sheep.

                        Basic Training
                        taught you to kill
                        the new enemy.

                        Democracy and Freedom
                        kept vigil every July 4th
                        as a reminder of past wars.

                        None of your high school teachers
                        told you thousands of Vietnamese
                        were shipped to France in 1939,

                        used as cannon fodder
                        in the fight against Hitler.
                        Years later you discover

                        The war was based on a lie.
                        The Gulf of Tonkin incident
                        Never happened.

                        That Admiral James B. Stockdale
                        Flew air cover for the Maddox and Turner Joy,
                        That he realized he was one of only a few people

                        In the world who knew we were going
                        To launch a war under false pretenses.
                        And much like Coleridge's Ancient Mariner

                        you, too, have the strange power of speech,
                        a tale to tell, to teach the man who must hear.

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


  Oakland Army Induction Center

                        Terrified and dazed,
                        we stand with our toes flat against a yellow line
                        that separates us from them,
                        four military doctors in white coats from each branch of the service,
                        yelling like tough guys for us to bend over and spread our cheeks.
                        I look to my right and left, seeing young men with both hands
                        clutching the fleshy part of their face.
                        They just don't get it.
                        We're all hemorrhoids here anyway.

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


  First Love

                        For over twenty days
                        you've been topside
                        on a ship headed for Vietnam.
                        You're nineteen and naive.

                        She'd sent you a Dear John Letter
                        during Basic Training.
                        Yet you still love her.
                        In the Fall Semester

                        she'd asked you out for a date.
                        Three months later,
                        after proposing marriage,
                        you dropped out of school,

                        got drafted.
                        At the drive-in that spring,
                        you kissed her,


                        named your children.

                        You look over the side of the ship,
                        see white water
                        cutting across the bow
                        like a cloud being separated

                        by a strong wind.
                        You think of her often,
                        feel like dying,
                        jumping overboard.

                        You float farther and farther
                        from her as if you're being pulled
                        by a current with a logic of its own.
                        In her last letter she confessed

                        she'd found someone else.
                        Now pinned down under fire,
                        in the mud and the rain,
                        you're so close

                        to the earth you swear
                        you can smell
                        the fragrance of her hair,
                        smell her perfume,

                        smell the sweet scent
                        of her sex,
                        feel her soft skin.
                        When RPG rounds and mortars

                        pound your perimeter
                        you scream hard for your mother.

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


  After the Fall

                        When Saigon fell in April 1975 you were in Australia
                        Waiting for the winning numbers in the Opera House lottery,
                        Expatriated from your family, from your friends, from your country.

                        For seven years you self-exiled yourself from the U.S.
                        Then like a man recently released from prison,
                        You returned home to California, a foreigner, a newcomer, a visitor.

                        You enrolled in a community college, took an American history class,
                        Learned from the past what mistakes will be made again in the future,
                        Began reading the history of Vietnam, starting with the 1954 Geneva Accords

                        And The Pentagon Papers. You replaced willful ignorance with critical thinking,
                        Examined the moral imperatives leading to the war, questioned the unnecessary deaths
                        Of three to five million brown-skinned people in Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

                        Declared you'd never trust the government again, never trust politicians again.
                        You scorned warmongers and war profiteers. But those you despise the most
                        Are the pseudo patriots, those who use patriotism to silence criticism against


                        Those holding them in contempt.

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


  Jimmy Lee

                        Jimmy Lee jacks up
                        the front wheel
                        of Babe The Blue Ox,
                        my 1964 Buick Le Sabre,
                        and removes it
                        like a pit crew mechanic
                        at the Indy Five Hundred.

                        Afterwards he chugalugs
                        another cold Miller Lite
                        in what must be
                        record breaking time.
                        I love him like a brother.
                        This Irish misfit.
                        Long red hair

                        flowing past his shoulder blades
                        like a Viking war lord.
                        Before tackling the serious stuff
                        we've inhaled two 12 packs
                        while watching the 49ers play
                        the Rams to a 35-35 tie.
                        Laughing deeply from lungs

                        already donated
                        to Johns Hopkins,
                        Jimmy Lee tells the clerk
                        at Safeway
                        I'm this weeks $1000 winner
                        in their football contest.
                        It's five in the afternoon;

                        a typical sweltering summer sun
                        blistering the concrete patio floor
                        of my San Joaquin Valley villa.
                        Hot enough to fry quesidillas
                        on the cement.
                        Jimmy Lee has descended
                        from the Sierra Nevadas
                        like a trapper on the take
                        to fix The Ox,
                        loving her like
                        she's his better half.
                        We're both students
                        at the local state university,
                        Vietnam veterans

                        living on the G.I. Bill.
                        Jimmy Lee sleeps in a trailer
                        amongst the pines in thin air.
                        I rent a cottage that has no heat
                        or central air in the barrio
                        on the west side of town.
                        We're both social pariahs,

                        a couple of modern day misfits.
                        We don't care about anyone or anything,
                        dead men in our own homecoming parade
                        carrying each other's coffins.
                        The socket slips from his hold,
                        falls fast from his fingertips,
                        knuckles scraping hard against metal,

                        blood instantly appearing like sunspots.
                        For less than a welcome home hug
                        or one more reminder we lost the war
                        Jimmy Lee swears he'll get The Ox
                        on the road again within the hour,
                        then drains the last drop
                        of foam from another dead soldier,

                        crumples it in his hand.
                        He bets me
                        before the next cold one
                        touches the sides
                        he'll have replaced
                        the ball bearings,
                        bled the breaks,

                        changed the oil,
                        and tuned her up.
                        Since he came back
                        from Vietnam
                        he rarely talks
                        about the war,
                        only of sin and forgiveness.

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


Bio:   Victor Henry   is a Viet Nam veteran, in Nam all of 1967 up to 7 February 1968 with the 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division. He earned master's degrees in English and Library Science. His work has appeared in numerous e-zines, small press magazines and anthologies. His new book, What They Wanted, has just been published in 2015 by FutureCycle Press.
Victor-Henry.net


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