I. Base Camp

From where I sat

in a five-ton truck,

it seemed he’d always been there:

nineteen, no shirt,

prayer beads bangling

with ID tags,

grenade rings

around his bush hat.

They stood by the road

chanting: New guys, new guys,

greenhorn GI’s.

Hey man, he said,

grabbing my gear,

move in with me.

Mostly, we filled sandbags

or unloaded trucks

or after dark on bunker guard,

sandflies biting our faces,

told half true stories

of summer nights in Missouri .

We dreamed of a cool place,

and once on detail,

sat for five minutes

in the ice house,

a Quonset hut

between the ammo dump and motor pool.

Block of murky ice,

stood stacked in silver bars.

They kept the bodies there.

It was the only cool place.

Then there was an airlift

to Nui Ba Den.

You should have seen him

waiting for the Chinook,

joking around,

a stereo from Hong Kong in one hand,

a carbine in the other.

They ought to make a statue of it.


II. Mountain

The noises at night on Nui Ba Den

are ghost of old Buddhists they said.

Cambodian tiger one thousand years old

hides in those caves, they said.

In mists among large stones

he spliced a strobe light

into the generator,

watched it flicker

in our bunker.

Hey man, he said,

let’s make it home,

make it like Kansas City .

We built partitions with

ammo boxes, bamboo screens,

hung posters of Colorado ski slopes,

rock and roll stars.

We swung in our hammocks

to the breezes of a GE fan.

We had it made up there.

Had it made until the rocket

shredded his clothes,

blew his billfold into a bush:

photographs, laundry receipts,

prescription for eye glasses,

shot record, best part of a letter,

five dollar bill.

III. Dream

We stacked him up

naked and hard

in a dark icehouse,

his pubic hair

a blond willow tree,

his body

a silver kind of ice.


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