David Connolly


David Connolly was born, raised and still lives in South Boston with his wife, Lisa. He is the father of two grown daughters, Christine and Jennifer, son Jake, and the grandfather of Samantha Anne, Michael and Aideen, with another one the way. David served honorably in Vietnam with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. He takes pride in having been--and continuing to be--a Vietnam Veteran Against the War. His poetry appears in the film Voices in Wartime.


Food for Thought, 3:00AM

They moved in unison
like dancers in a ballet,
the spider, twenty inches from my rifle,
the VC, twenty feet farther out, in line,
each slowly sliding a leg forward.
I let the man take one more step
so as not to kill the bug.

Poetry Slams and Healing


This interview was reproduced from the film Voices in Wartime.

Tell us a little bit about what you've been doing since the war. Are you still involved with poetry now?

Oh, yeah. I'm the slam master of the South Boston Slam. I run a monthly slam in one of the bars in town here. There's an open reading and then we usually, if we can engage musicians we'll have a little musical interlude and then people will get up and slam.

I don't know if you know about slam poetry. But I'm the poetry editor, managing editor of the South Boston Literary Gazette. Poetry's very important to my life. It has been very important to my life. It's brought me to where I am right now. My son writes poetry. Both of my daughters write poetry. And pretty good poetry. Again, I love the written word, but I think that nothing can carry an emotion, nothing can carry that distilled vision, that distilled moment, like poetry can.

I love the written word, I love to read. I don't get as much time to write anymore as I used to. I do when I feel the need to write. But because of the duties that I've picked up for the Gazette and the slam, I'm more of a reader and an editor of poetry than I am a writer.

But that says something about how much my life has changed, too. I'm in a very secure relationship, and I love my life. I no longer have to go to work every day, so I get to raise my kid and my grandchildren, and I get to write about that, too, instead of Vietnam. I get to write about my relationship. I get to write about playing ball with my son and watching him learn Karate and swimming with my grandkids down at my cottage. Poetry's very important in my life.

Tell us a little bit about slam. Do you think it's a way that poetry's moving out into society?

In slam poetry, the content of what you say is at least as important as how you deliver it. So there's times where you'll get people who march around the room or run around the room. Some people just really engage in real histrionics. But there's also people who stand up there and forcefully deliver what it is they have to say.

Again, it's not Moon-in-June poetry, though it could be. If you deliver it well enough, you'll get a good score—you're scored when you slam. I always wait at the door when people come in and Shanghai them to be judges: "Here, you're a judge." And usually they're pretty reticent about doing it until the first time they do it, and then they say, "Oh, that was cool."

The first slam that we had here, people told me that I was crazy, "You'll never get people to South Boston for poetry." But when we formed the South Boston Arts Association in South Boston last year, within months we had over 150 members. And these were people who were long-standing members of the community and people who have moved in since the area has gentrified, since development has started. I think the Arts Association, the arts themselves have helped to coalesce this neighborhood again, after it was really taken apart by development.

At our first slam, we had better than 50 people there. It's fallen off at times. Around Christmastime it was tough to get people out. And we've had two slam nights that landed in bitter weather. But the people who showed up, showed up and heard the spoken word. I like slam. I like to go listen to poetry to start with. My problem with listening to poetry is that I always cozy up to the poet afterwards and say, "Read slower. Read louder." I have to be the editor [laughs].

But we have two or three people that come in and if they show up at the door I can almost assure you that they're going to take the slam, because they're people who are just built for performance poetry, not to stand up there and just read their poetry. These people get up and they want you to understand. They want your attention.

I would encourage anyone who's never been to a slam to go to one. No preconceptions whatsoever. Just go. The poetry may not have the form or the meter that you would expect from poetry, but you better expect anything from poetry because the people who live in the spoken word, they're going to change the medium just by participating in it, you know?

And I don't think that's a bad thing. I think to have grown past A-B, A-B rhyme is a very good thing. Not that there isn't a time for rhyme. But I don't know how many poems I've written. I think I've only written three or four rhyming poems. And one of them I can think of I wrote to rhyme so that it would be remembered better.

I was down in Georgia about four years ago at North Georgia State College, and went into a restaurant for lunch. I had been there about ten years before that, and the waitress started to recite one of my own poems to me.

And I said, "Boy, I got you, huh?"

And she said, "Oh, yeah. I'll never forget that poem."

And I said, "Okay, that's what we should be doing this for."

And again, this was a deliberate effort by me to carry this poem, to carry this message. And the best way I could think of to carry it was to write a rhyming poem. You know, "dah-deet-dah-deet," which I usually do not do.

I usually find that intrudes on bringing this point down. If you can do both, more the better. If not, I think the rhyme intrudes. But there's space for it, there's times for it. And again, poetry, the medium's going to change by the people who participate in it.

I usually have to explain all of this, because even second-generation Irish-Americans don't know their history.

To the Irish-Americans Who Fought the Last War

In the moans of the dying Vietcong,
from my grandda's tails, the Banshee.
In the calmness of prisoners shot for spite,
the brave James Connolly.
In the hit-and-run of those we fought,
the Flying Columns of the IRA.
In Tet, so unmistakably,
that fateful Easter Day.
In the leaflets found in farmer's huts,
the Proclamation of Pearse.
In all the senseless acts of racist hate,
I felt the growing fears.
In the murder of unarmed peasants
with our modern technology,
we became the hated Black and Tans
and we shamed our ancestry.

Five, six years down the line this girl started to repeat this back to me. She told me later that I had ripped that page out of a book that I was reading and said, "You like that? Here." So I gave her the means to study this poem and read it back to me over my bologna sandwich or whatever it was.

Is your poetry a way of helping to just let people know what the seriousness of war is?

I hope so. I hope it is. To start with, it's not Moon-in-June poetry. It's not easy stuff to deal with. I hope that I've done a good enough job, that I've thought it out enough and that my poetry does actually approach some form of that, so that it does engage you, so that you do understand the seriousness, you do understand the long-lasting effects, you do understand what we lost; what we lost in Vietnam, what we're losing on the streets of Baghdad every day.

I think any writer who writes anything, that is their end, to relay to you what is serious to the writer. But I think with war poetry, with poetry of conflict outside of war, street poetry, it becomes that much more serious to bring across just what the effects are on people, conflict, combat, whatever it is.



Vietnam and Iraq


When you see the invasion of Iraq, how do you feel seeing these American soldiers and the whole situation? Emotionally, not politically, how does that affect you?

I have friends over there. I have friends who are my age who are still in the military. And I have friends who are young men, one of whom just got sent back. He already did seven months over there and they let him come home on compassionate leave while his child was born, and now they've sent him right back again.

I started to dream again, which I hadn't done in a long time. And there's days when I feel like there's a separate part of my brain that is walking up and down those roads and listening to those RPGs go off.

The warfare that I engaged in by and large in Vietnam was running up and down the roads. I was in an Armored Calvary unit, and the majority of the enemy forces that we faced came after us with booby traps and rocket-propelled grenades.

That's exactly what's causing the majority of deaths in Iraq right now.  And their mission is the same: Ride up that road until somebody shoots at you. And believe me, I'm not making light of it, but I don't believe that there's any more of a mission planned beyond that, you know? That the military is still at the mindset that the way to root out insurgence is to stick men out there, these 19-year-olds as bait.

And they'll come for them. You can see what's going on every day. It's armored column attacked by RPGs. Black Hawk brought down by RPGs. Mortar attacks, booby traps. I was just out at Northshore Community College. I go out there every year and talk with two other Vietnam vets, one of whom was in the 10th Cav, which is the 4th Armored Division, and they have the unit that has sustained the most casualties right now in Iraq. And the casualties they're sustaining are riding the roads and getting RPG'd.

Emotionally I'm attached to the futility of what our government is making these boys do again. And these boys are going to stand up like good Americans and do it. But I don't see an end to it. I don't see an end to it. And the people like George Bush, father and son, they're not really involved, you know? I mean, between his sons and his grandchildren, there's 18 Bushes. Not one of them's in the military. Only one has been, and he deserted.

You said you started dreaming again? Talk to me about that.

I started dreaming again. I started having nightmares again. I had a friend who was over there, and I knew he was in a very precarious position. He was a platoon leader with 3rd Battalion 4th Marines. And I guess fear for his safety was the most personal connection that I have for the war. Fear for his safety brought back dreams that I hadn't had in a while.

There are dreams that I still have, but by and large I don't dream anymore. Not of combat and not of the war. I may dream of the men I was there with, but it's usually sitting around, you know, relaxing, let's put it that way.

When September 11 happened, a lot of my friends, it brought Vietnam back to them very hard, very heavy. And it didn't do that to me. I was horrified by it. I think most Vietnam vets, most veterans, anyone who's seen any kind of conflict like that were really horrified more than the average American who could look at the picture on TV and see it as Die Hard 4, you know?

The first Gulf War with those smart bombs, again, you know, my kids sit and say, "I can do better than that.  It's a pretty good video game, but I can do better than that." But unless you've had really the connection, the experience, I don't think the connection is as deep-seated. Not that it's going to take me apart. I'm not going to go beat the wife or the dog, or drink myself to death.

I'm going to write poetry and I'm going to agitate to stop it, and I'm going to try to influence, not just teach, but influence young men and young women to be smarter about your choices. For a lot of kids in this community, the only way out of this community is in the military. But that doesn't mean you have to be a machine gunner, you know? I realize you're a tough guy from South Boston, but I thought I was tough, you know? The Vietcong women taught me I wasn't tough!

We lost more per capita in Vietnam than any other place in the world.

That's right. That's right. To no end. To no end. Not even the Vietnamese won, you know? The countryside's still in shambles. Their economy's still in a shambles. Only recently have we allowed any kind of inroads for capitalism, but capitalism doesn't mean that something good is going to happen to the majority of the people out there, the average guy in the street. It means that probably some ex-Army Colonel will be a millionaire in a year or two, but poor Nguyen Thieu who sells rice on the street, he's still going to be selling rice on the street. They don't like our rice. They used to feed it to the pigs.

I'd like to just talk about how Vietnam is still with you, and also about what it meant for this community.

Vietnam will always be a part of me, be a part of my psyche. It'll be a part of how I see myself and how I move through the world. Within this community right here, South Boston lost more men per capita than anyplace else in the United States. I knew most of them that died. And that's a part of why Vietnam stays with me. I can't talk about a couple of them without filling up. But that's also why I still do what I do. That's why I write. That's why I try to talk to young men, young women to try to influence them on making better choices.

As I said, in this community, which is a working class community, for a lot of young men and women, the only way out is into the military. At that point, Southie pride and Southie toughness gets in the way because they all think they have to be machine gunners. They all think they have to be Rangers, and prove that they're tough. I've been telling people for years the women in the Vietcong taught me I wasn't tough, you know? They were real soldiers.

But Vietnam stays with me. I don't walk around all day saying Vietnam. There's days when I don't even think about it. But there's days when I think about it a lot, especially when I open the paper and there's nine G.I.s dead in a Black Hawk crash and things like that.

And I'm in schools all the time and I look at these faces of the classes in front of me and I can't help but think, "Okay, where are we gonna lose him? Where are we gonna lose her?" It's an impetus for me to continue what I'm doing. Outside of the art form itself, there's a real political adjunct to this to me.

I, you know, get weepy like a little girl over America, but I don't like the U.S. government too much. They're two things, you know, two things separate completely. I always tell classes when I go in and talk to them, "You're America. God bless America. Watch out for the people in the White House. They do not love you. They do not care for you. To them, you are a number. To them, you are a warm body that they will plug in somewhere to do their bidding."

Not that I'm just talking about the United States government, you know? This is a form of government. They're in the business of government, you know? Again, it's a problem that for a lot of governments, the little guy doesn't count. That's the bottom line, you know? And for a lot of governments, again, they want to walk their way through the world to keep themselves in business, and what they have to do, they'll do.



The Experience of Combat


This interview was reproduced from the film Voices in Wartime.

When you've been in combat, does it ever go away? What does it do to you?

I don't believe that the trauma of combat ever goes away, whether you win or lose the war. My father used to wake up at night. I know plenty of World War II vets, the last "good" war, the war we won, the war that saved the whole world, I know plenty of them that still wake up nights. You don't go through things that are that unnatural, that are that unholy, you don't go through them unchanged.

You don't lose friends the way people in combat lose friends, and then easily engage more people to become your friend, you know? You're kind of reticent about doing that. You kind of hold part of your heart back.

I think that also spills over to your family life when you come home. You have to work towards being a whole human being. You have to work towards not having that part of your heart — that you had to turn cold in order to survive combat — to remain cold, you know?

I think combat also leads to excesses like alcoholism and drug use. Especially in wars like Vietnam, where it was a "dirty" war. It came down to absolutely nothing other than the Vietnamese won. So it's tough to hold onto humanity. It's tough to hold onto having an open heart to all people after what you've seen and after what's been done to you.

One of the things that VVAW, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, used to teach us is that we're not only agents of the war, we're victims of the war, just like the Vietnamese, just like those who died. That we should work from that stance, that there are people responsible for the carnage that happened in Vietnam, for the atrocities in Vietnam, but I'm one of them. Even though I can say to you I never shot anyone that wasn't under arms and never abused the prisoner, I never committed rape, any of those things. But it all happened, you know?

They didn't happen every day. I don't mean to make out the American Army as a bunch of miscreants, because they were not. There was a small minority who were just so embittered by the war, and changed by their training, too, so they came to see the Vietnamese as being less than human. That's how they got all those nice German boys to kill 6 million Jews, you know? The training of dehumanizing your enemy, which still goes on today, it changes you.

Combat seems like a very fragmented experience. Is the form of poetry something that lends itself to conveying that?

What I try to do with my poetry is to distill one second, one minute, ten minutes outside of everything that goes on around you. Just to distill that one little piece of that huge, crazy war, in order to point out a specific lesson that I want you to learn. Or just to tell you how this man died for you, for all of us.  I wanted to point out to people just the absolute inhumanity of everything that went on.

I try to write a poem, write a piece of poetry that would point out to you the absolute inhumanity of combat. And after working for a long time it came to this. It's called "Food for Thought, 3:00 a.m."

They moved in unison like dancers in a ballet,
the spider 20 inches from my rifle,
the Vietcong 20 feet farther out, in-line,
each slowly sliding a leg forward.
I let the man take one more step,
so as not to kill the bug.

What I tried to do there was to give you this vision of looking down my rifle, you know, and give you the feeling of how hard-hearted I was at the time, that I could put this spider's life up above this, really, my contemporary, you know? He may have been my enemy, but I'm sure he was a 19-year-old kid, too, you know?

I think that's why poetry lends itself more to issues that you want to be really incisive about, to meet the listener and to try to treat the listener like he's sitting there beside you, like you're looking down the rifle with me.

If you can do that in a poem, I think you really succeed. I think if you can do that in a poem, especially even one this sharp, it tells you more than 10 pages of prose would tell you, muddied up with the surrounding battle and what was going on in the next province where this is what I'm trying to tell you about that second in my life, and that second in that war and …just, you know, how unholy it got.

Let's talk about each one of these poems that we recorded, starting with the one we did out on the street (“Forget Nam,”). Tell me about where that poem came from and how you wrote it.

Two of my friends were killed. We were in an observation post that was overrun. One of them had been my friend from training, the other one within weeks of getting to Vietnam. And I was left untouched. And again, this is one of the things that used to wake me up at night. And the more it woke me up, the more I decided I had to do something about this. I had to do something to memorialize these men's deaths and hopefully teach America what they sent their sons to do and how badly they died. For America.

Even going back and looking at The Iliad, it seems like people who've been in combat want the truth to be told. Is this something that you're talking about?

I don't know if the truth is as important as debunking the myths.  Sgt. Rock, and Rambo, who sews his own arm up after a shrapnel wound, and John Wayne.

John Wayne wasn't even John Wayne. His name was Marion Morrison and he fought in 7 wars on film and not one minute in a uniform for the U.S. government.

Not that there is not valor in situations like that. There most certainly is. The problem is, what are you going to use that valor to do in the future? How many more rafts of kids? How many more generations are you going to send off with John Wayne, you know? To what end? To what end for this country, to what end for these boys, to our culture?

Right now we've got a warrior sub-culture within this country. And these boys, they go off and they are the policemen of the world at the behest of big business, big money, the White House, you know?

I think debunking the myths is a real big part of it.

How about the role of remembering and memorializing?

It’s certainly tied up in remembrance and memorial, but it's also people who write about the war. I'm not just talking about combat veterans, I'm talking about people who sit down and write about being physically or sexually abused as a child or an adult. One of the best ways they can get through it is to sit down and open, excise that wound. Let the pus flow. You do that with writing. You do that with standing up and witnessing your own experience. I think it's very valuable in all three things; to hear yourself as a form of remembrance and memorialization.

Tell me about the second poem.

"Wearing Faces"? Again, this is debunking the Sgt. Rock myth, where you come in off operation and don't remember who fell in the last one and don't remember the terrible things you just saw. You don't remember the absolute boredom and the shear terror even when people weren't dying. And debunking the myth that soldiers don't cry, that men don't cry, to start with, you know?

I think the tag line in that second poem that some people don't understand is that it was easy for us to act like we were men. I was home before I was 20 years old. The vast majority of my comrades were home before they were 20 years old. The average age in Vietnam was 19 years and a couple of months. In World War II it was 26 years old. The average G.I. in World War II was 26. That seven years is a huge span of time when you're 19.

When I write poetry like that, I'm trying to help me, but I'm trying to teach you also. When I used to read that poem, I used to explain to people the tag line ”act like we were men” at the end, that's what this means. And I realized that for a lot of my audience, I didn't have to tell them that. They understood that, you know?

But it was important to debunk the myth of, you know, you just carry on, just suck it up and carry on. And that didn't happen. We would sit and we would memorialize our friends and smoke a joint for them, have a couple of beers just like anybody would do at an Irish wake — tell funny stories if you had 'em, cry if you needed to, you know.

Do you think that we can get away from war entirely?

I don't think we can get away from war entirely, It's just human nature. But I think we can stop stepping in our own puddles, you know? I mean we keep backing the wrong guy for the sake of business, for the sake of spheres of influence and things like that. We have Castro because we backed Battista. Ho Chi Minh was our pal during World War II, till we screwed him. Noriega.
Saddam Hussein, I have a picture of Saddam Hussein and big George Bush grinning at each other like they're about to swap spit, you know? But how many people? We've lost 500 now in the second Gulf War. To depose this man who we armed, who we made sure was in power when he was going after the Iranians.

I don't think we can stop war. I think we can stop being stupid about war. I think we can stop if enough Americans get together and understand, then we can stop using war as foreign policy — before there's even foreign policy, you know? We can't be the policemen of the world. With what's going on in the world today since September 11, with the Patriot Act and the second Patriot Act coming out, we're not just losing 500 guys in Iraq, we're losing our Constitutional rights. We're losing our rights to freedom, again, to what end?



To Vietnam and Back


This interview was reproduced from the film Voices in Wartime.

What were you like when you left to go to Vietnam, and what was it like to get there?

When I left, I was hot-to-trot to go. My grandfather fought with the IRA and my father was in World War II, and he lost the use of his arm. I grew up listening to these two men tell their stories about war, one of whom freed his country, the other one helped to free the world, and I had no idea that I was being led down the garden path.

I had no idea that the country that I was going to fight for, the government that I was going to fight for in South Vietnam, wasn't a real government. It didn't represent the people. It was a force cobbled together by us in order to maintain our hold in that area of the world.

We had no political understanding of the war. We had no historical understanding of the people of Vietnam, the history of Vietnam; very cursory, if at all. I was the only man in my training platoon that even knew that the French had fought there before us. Nobody even knew about the first Indo-China war.
And we were told that we were there to help the freedom-loving people of South Vietnam, the Democratic government of South Vietnam, the republic.

The truth is that I couldn't find those people. The people that I met were all on the other side. Or didn't want to be on a side. They just wanted their rice bowl filled every day and to raise their kids and to live.

As to the Republic of Vietnam, I found out later they had to make up a word in Vietnamese for "Republic." The idea itself isn't contained in the language, it's so foreign to them to live in the type of government that we have, a republic.

When I first got there, the Tet Offensive was happening. There were literally Communists running all over the place and I was shocked at first. I remember thinking to myself, "We're going to lose this war. We're going to lose this war."

Walter Cronkite was saying the same thing on national TV. I didn't know it at the time.

And it got worse from there. Once Tet ended, the nature of the war changed and we went back out into the countryside, the American Army, the U.S. Marine Corps, and I contend that we were there to pay the people back for helping the Communists stage Tet through the villages.

And we began search-and-cordon and search-and-destroy missions. I couldn't help but think of the stories my grandfather used to tell me of how the British army would come through towns on the western shore of Ireland and search them for arms or ammunition or foodstuff, and if they found any of those things, they burned your house; if they found it in a number of houses, they burned the village.

That's what I did every day in Vietnam. I was only 18 and a dumb grunt, but I'm not stupid. It slapped me in the face that I, in light of my heritage, was on the wrong side, my country was on the wrong side.

And, it may sound simplistic that you can't kill for peace, but you can't kill for peace. If you're Vietcong and I kill you, your brother's not going to pick up your weapon and join me, you know?

I see the same thing going on right now.  We're not making friends with the people of Iraq. We're not winning their hearts and minds. It's going to end badly, like Vietnam did.

How was it coming home?

Once I got to Vietnam and realized that I hadn't walked into what I thought I had walked into, poetry became one of the ways that I tried to sort things out in my head to try to stay sane, to try to make some sense out of what was going on around me.

And once I got home it became even more so. If something woke me up in the middle of the night, some remembrance of a man's death or whatever, I would sit and I'd think about it and I'd write about it and I'd try to almost exorcise the ghost.

And to some extent it worked. I really credit my success in treating my own post-traumatic stress with poetry with that. To try to bring something that was horrible and change it to where it approaches being art, it's very cleansing to the soul, very cleansing to the mind.

And I think if you can do that, you not only create something that's better than this terrible remembrance, you also bring some credit and some justice and some remembrance to these men who died and these things that happened.

You were in combat, and you were 18-years old and feeling kind of betrayed by your government. So who was your loyalty to?

Right away we realized that this freedom-loving people of South Vietnam, and that we were going there to help provide them with their democracy, was pretty much nonsense. The longer I was there, the more I realized that we were not going to beat these people, they were just too tough. They had been at war for literally thousands of years without ever being substantially defeated. They'd been knocked down and they've been occupied, but not defeated.

And very quickly, the loyalty, any legitimacy that you'd give to your actions, came  down to your brothers in the squad or your brothers in the platoon, or the guy right next to you. It didn't go beyond that. It wasn't about fighting for the U.S. or Saigon. It was fighting to get you and the guy next to you home. Politics had nothing to do with it.

When you came back, the war was very controversial. What was it like for you to come back here to the United States?

The first time I come back, on leave, I had come off an ambush patrol at first light and got on a helicopter that took me to Regimental. They cut me orders for a leave. I got back on the same helicopter after it had refueled. It took me to Bien Hoa Air Force Base. I got on a Braniff 707 that took me to McGuire AFB in New Jersey.  After a short bus ride to Newark and the hop to Logan, I was standing on my father's front door step.

I was a sergeant of the United States Army Infantry, but I was only 19 years old. I had no idea what I was supposed to think or say or do. And there was nobody there to help me. There was no decompression. There was no debriefing. At that point, too, in America… people were afraid of me, you know?

We had already begun to be demonized in the press as walking time bombs and drug-crazed baby-killers and nonsense like that. My own family was afraid to wake me up the next morning. My cousin, who I was very close to growing up, she came over because she heard I had come home, she said, "Well, I'm not afraid of him" — marched right up and woke me up.

When I come back the next time it was even stranger, because I was done with the war at that point. There was growing anti-war sentiment, but there was also a growing right-wing support for the war, which people like me couldn't understand.

I know the myth of the spat-upon Vietnam vet, but I don't believe, really, that it happened at all. If it happened, it happened rarely. I was spat upon by an iron worker, a right-wing iron worker, for protesting the war that I had fought and he didn't.

I really wrapped myself up in trying to raise my family. I already had a daughter, and my writing to try to get my head straight, and protesting the war to try to stop it. I joined VVAW right away. I'm still a member of the New York chapter because there's no chapter in Boston. And I pretty much live my life like that. It's not repentance, you know? It's searching for understanding for me and for you and for America, and to try to stop war as a means of foreign policy.

And if I can do that with art, fine, great, because I think poetry and art, by and large will engage you more than just straight political rhetoric. I can tell you what I believe politically. Most people don't want to hear it. But if I can engage you with a piece of art, engage you with a poem that grabs your heart or grabs your mind, I'm way ahead of the game.



Why I Can't


Ratshit and the Weasel and I
are behind this paddy dike, see,
and Victor Charlie’s
he's giving us what for.
And Ratshit, he lifts his head,
just a little, but just enough
for the round
to go in one brown eye,
and I swear to Christ,
out the other.
And he starts thrashing,
and bleeding, and screaming,
and trying to get
the top of his head
to stay on,
but we have to keep shooting.

A B-40 tunnels into the dike
and blows the Weasel against me.
He doesn’t get the chance
to decide whether or not

he should give up and die.
Now I’m crying
and I’m screaming, “Medic,”
But I have to keep shooting.

At this point, I always wake,
and big, black Jerome
and little, white William,
my brothers,
are not dying beside me
even though
I can still smell their blood,
even though
I can still see them lying there.
You see, these two,
they’ve been taking turns
dying on me,
again and again and again
for all these long years,
and still people tell me,
“Forget Nam.”



One Black Mark


At 14, I delivered groceries to the neighborhood;
it was a real job, in the retail clerk's union
and I did a good job for them and my neighbors,
proud of being a union man.

At 16, I was hired as a regular in the store,
throwing stock, a member of the same union,
got a letter of commendation for crashing
through the front door with the escaping thief I tackled.

At 18, the phone company hired me
to climb poles and string wire for Ma Bell,
my neighbors and the IBEW.  
My brothers on the job voted me their union steward.

At 48, I left the company to retirement
to look back on a life spent as a working man,
mostly in the city of my birth,
and found just one black mark.

See, when I was 19 and 20, I had a non-union job,
the only one I ever had,
in the Infantry of the US Army,
and my job, killing Vietnamese, I did well.

But the medals and the badges they gave me
didn't make what I did right
and without a union card in my pocket,
I should have known better.



Wearing Faces

Stand down, guard duty on the bunker line,
Weed-rapping about the last operation.

     And someone said; Ya memba
    That little dude got blown away
      In that shitstorm of RPGs?

         Then someone cried
    And none of us could hold it.

      For a while afterwards
     It seemed easier for us
     To act like we were men.