Returning from Vietnam , 1970


The MP at Oakland Airport

pokes me awake with a sharp baton:

get it together, mister,

straighten your tie, put your shoes on,

sit up, act military,

you’re not civilian yet.


I want to kill him,

such an easy thought now.

I look for a 45 or Bowie knife,

consider a kick to the head

sending his eyeballs back

to where they came from.


I know something’s wrong;

I can feel it.

It’s the smell of the village

after the napalm,

digging for bodies

curled crisp.


What’s wrong is

the rocket that shook

Tay Ninh Base Camp

disconnected my heart

from the rest of me

and covered it with ash.


After my plane lands

I’ll step onto a freeway

in the plume of Greyhound bus,

bony ass and shaven head,

so turned around I won’t remember

what I was like back then.


Cars will skid to avoid me

dragging my duffle bag

over the median,

people will gawk

at the jungle rat

marching to an odd rhythm

with a left, a left,

drop and fire.



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