I.  First Light


My boys, haggard and dazed

slept instantly in their boots

on the wooden floor of an abandoned hooch

reeking of dried urine and crusted vomit,

canteens empty, water truck late


In the universal search for water

mine was for purifying my mouth,

rank with old earth, insect repellent,

fear and spite in the early morning


Toothbrush too dry for its mission,

I knew where to steal it


My nasty little secret whispered to me:


“It’s in the dusty brown five gallon cans

hidden behind the officer’s tent”


The nasty little secret whispered to me:


“Steal it, corporal, in your tin cup

It belongs to you

It comes out of your ration”


Not fifty feet out,

in the seconds it takes for a nightmare

to scatter in fragments throughout later years,

the jet engine roar of the rocket

shook and rattled the tin roofs



II.   Dust Cloud


I had taught my boys:


Do not light up joints on ambush patrols

Suck your thumb, play with yourself,

anything, but do not smoke or toke

Victor Charlie can smell you

Do let him spot your match


I taught them:


Victor Charlie does not come by invitation

He will come when you nod to sleep

His rockets, her AK-47’s, his RPGs,

will come whenever she, whenever he

chooses to nail your ass to the moon


I taught them from past mistakes,

mistakes a young soldier makes

because he is tired and reckless

and thinking of women:


Do not run for a bunker

when Victor Charlie sends mama-san to visit

Hit the dirt for crying out loud;

give yourself half a chance


But no, too young, too terrified to listen,

my boys bolted out of their inner darknesses,

clawed the tire marred trek of the road

for the bunker’s maw,

slid right into their dying moment

as a rookie slides into home plate,

all arms and legs

in the scruff of jungle fatigues



III.  Sirens


The explosion rolled me,

caked the crud and crap of war

into my eyeballs, the holes of my ears,

into the crevices of my teeth

into the thickness of my tongue


Its contusion blocked my hearing,

but for the screams

of the boys of my platoon:


“Mama!  Mommie!  Nana!  Daddy!

Karen! Angie! Pam! Jeanie!”


but for my own screams crawling

through bodies no more familiar

than road kill


“No!  No! No!” I screamed,

my M-16 pointed at nothing

No!  Not my boys

No, not them



IV.  Flashbacks


In later years an aging platoon leader

heading to his last LZ,

thinks on a park bench


He thinks to himself,

for no one else will ever get it,

will ever know


He thinks

looking for water

can be as easy as:

a fountain in a grade school hall;

a kitchen sink;


following a divining rod in a Colorado meadow;

a journey of beauty along a cascade

ending in a pool of smoothness;


a dry throat gulping cool water

drawn from under a gushing farm pump

the summer before becoming a man;


the rainstorm puddle on a sunken sidewalk

along a street of elms

a small boy dashes through;


the shallows of an ocean

where a platoon leader in his later years

can soothe his burned and spotted skull,


can find water that cannot be hidden

in five gallon cans


along coral as dead as his heart



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