Mini Anthology of War Poems

A BOOM, A BILLOW

While waiting for a plane to DaNang

I watched American bombers a mile away.

The uninvolved objectivity with which I stared at the sleek jets, their wings sloping back in fiercely powerful lines, confused and disturbed me.

The jets swooped down, then up quickly, to circle and swoop once more.

A boom.

A billow of dark gray smoke. Napalm.

That afternoon I met a boy at the Helgoland hospital ship. He sought me out because I came from Quang Ngai, his ancestral home. He had no nose, only two holes in the middle of his face. His mouth was off to the side. One eye was gone;

there was a hollow in his forehead above the other.

All his face was shiny red scar tissue.

Most of the rest of his body was the same.

One hand was partly usable, the fingers of the other, soldered to his wrist.

Napalm.

PLAYING BASKETBALL WITH THE VIET CONG for Nguyen Quang Sang

You never thought it would come to this, that afternoon in the war when you leaned so hard into the controls you almost became part of the landscape:

just you, the old man, old women, and their buffalo.

You never thought then, that this grey-haired man in sandals smoking gauloises on your back porch, drinking your beer, his rough cough punctuating tales of how he fooled the French in fifty-four, would arrive at your back door to call you out to shoot some baskets, friend.

If at first he seems awkward, before long he's got it down, his left leg lifts from the ground, his arms arch back then forward again from the waist to release the ball in a perfect arc to the hoop, one, two, three . . .

ten straight times. You stare at him, in his tee shirt, sandals and shorts.

good in the war for bringing down gunships —

as he did most proudly in the Delta and other places from where, he whispers, there may be other scores to settle.

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