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 icehouse,

a Quonset hut

between the ammo dump and motor pool.

Blocks 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 him

II. Mountain

The noises at night on Nui Ba Den

are ghosts 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 a generator,

watched it flicker

in our bunker

Hey man, he said,

let’s make it like home,

make it like Kansas City

We built partitions with

ammo boxes, bamboo screens,

hung posters of Colorado ski slopes,

rock and roll stars,

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