Scrawled with a bloody knife: War and Anti-War Poems

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Opening epigraph

 

“That night in Venice, George and his death became a symbol to me—and still remain a symbol. Somehow or other we have to make these dead acceptable, we have to atone for them, we have to appease them.  How, I don’t quite know.  … Atonement—how can we atone? How can we atone for the lost millions and millions of years of life, how atone for those lakes and seas of blood?  Something is unfulfilled, and that is poisoning us.  It is poisoning me, at any rate, though I have agonized over it, as I now agonize over poor George, for whose death no other human being has agonized. What can we do?  Headstones and wreaths and memorials and speeches and the Cenotaph—no, no; it has got to be something in us. Somehow we must atone to the dead—the dead, the murdered, violently dead … The reproach is not from them, but in ourselves. Most of us don’t know it, but it is there, and poisons us.  It is the poison that makes us heartless and hopeless and lifeless. … ”

Death of a Hero. Richard Aldington.

Penguin Classics.  1929/2013.  p22

Contents

Contents

 

Introduction

 

PTSD: A Blood orchid from American-made dystopian mud

War, No. 1                                                                              

On good days—Straight from the reprobate                          

On bad days—Screed, screed: I cut, you bleed                                  

War and Anti-war Poems

                                    A sweep of knives and questions                                           

                                    America, the United States thereof                                        

                                    Blackout                                                                                 

                                    Can a poem be a war?                                                             

                                    Combat debris                                                                        

Corpses, corpses                                                                     

Desensitization using A. Ginsberg’s ‘American Sentence’     

FNG                                                                                       

Going to sleep                                                                        

How much reality can I take?                                                 

I died in Vietnam                                                                    

I sing a song that will get me killed                                        

I want to write love poems                                                     

Just another one of the dead                           

Killing for god and country is murder—always                      

Let’s say … I assassinated him                                                           

Lifer in the war against war                                                    

Lucidity: A prose poem                                                          

Manifesto howled in the surditorium                                      

Not Cherokee enough to read broken jungle                          

Pearls, pierced and dark with bitter gold                                

Political Bukowski                                                                 

Secular stupas of stupidity                                                      

Shrinking senior senator                                                                     

Sitting zazen at Auschwitz-Birkenau                                                              

Somewhere in the A Shau                                                                  

                                    Staying awake                                                                         

                                    Struggles                                                                                 

                                    The unvarnished truth is all the puzzle I want                                   

                                    The weight on my heart                                                          

                                    War, No. 2                                                                              

                                    War, No. 3                                                                              

                                    We built a wall for 58,195                                                      

Enough for now

                                    Zen of No-War                                                                       

                                    Meditating in a combat zone                                                  

Desensitized still?                                                                                           

Enso, No. 1-3                                                                                                             

War, No. 1

War, No. 1

 

My American war was long ago.

Still, Moloch’s embers flare daily—lightning bolts

striking my grey-haired head, tearing once more my three eyes:

beauty raped,

life scorned,

love defiled.

No one told me war wounds eternal.

Tell your kids,

tell your neighbors.

On good days–Straight from the reporbate

On good days — Straight from the reprobate

Whitman sang a song of himself, self-publishing grassy leaves and setting the world aflame.

Emerson was an elite word-player, looking for meaning without getting muddy.

Hawthorne wrote political lies for Jimmy Polk’s imperial invasion of Mexico.

Thoreau, at least, was jailed for not paying taxes. (His mother paid them the very next day!)

Me? I’m a happy reprobate—bowing humbly to the old Latinate: ‘one who reproves’—

carping with hot consternation at those who, with blind and blinkered eyes, trail after evil’s

easy, please-y morsels, spending more at Starbucks daily than many elsewhere have for food.

I’ve no pretensions—I’m not a Whitman, an Emerson, or a Thoreau;

I’m certainly not an old Nate Hawthorne. I’m a tired grunt Marine from

the American war in Vietnam, lugging my frayed bulging rucksack over hither and yon,

planting anti-war apple seeds deep in the dirt called America.

On bad days–Screed, screed: I cut, you bleed

On bad days — Screed, screed: I cut, you bleed

I hate that I went to war for you. It ruined my life.

After more than 40 years of wandering the American wilderness …

I’ve reached these sad conclusions, my friend:

I was willing to physically give up my life for you.

I was naïve and full of teenage hubris.

Now I know … You don’t deserve my sacrifice.

Every adult around me encouraged me in my delusion,

or, if they had doubts, did not counsel me from my moral certainty.

You were willing and complicit that I should throw my life away.

Now I know … You don’t deserve the sacrifice of others.

You are unconscionably ignorant of the military history of your own country,

of its lies and deceits, of its wars of racist atrocities,

its strivings for empires to bloat the rich and the bigoted.

Now I know … You don’t deserve those who have fought for you.

Your myth of exceptionalism—we ‘Americans’ are sine qua non

on the face of the earth—is nothing but night dirt,

built upon the hard fact of flagrantly schooled self-deception.

Now I know … You don’t deserve those who have done your killing.

You are immorally ignorant of how your soldiers step arrogantly

onto foreign soil. You train them to disdain everything indigenous,

killing first and asking/answering questions only if forced.

Now I know … You don’t deserve those who have died for you.

I rue this country.

I rue this culture.

Don’t you dare be surprised by my anger.

A sweep of knives and questions

A sweep of knives and questions

 

“This brutality … was a war crime, plain and simple; a war crime witnessed by American officers. A U.S. serviceman standing by while an ally tortures a prisoner is itself an offense punishable under both customary law of war and U.S. military law contained in the Uniform Code of Military Justice. But in the U.S. (military) units in South Vietnam, such acts were not unusual. Generals would deny it, colonels and majors may doubt it, but any captain or lieutenant and any enlisted infantryman who was there will confirm it.”                                                      

Son Thang: An American War Crime. Solis, 1997, pps. 13-14.

 

 

 

Something inside me shattered hard that night. I was 18.

***

We had walked south all day, stepping with worn and weary boots

through the A Shau Valley: Vietnam, 1969.

About midmorning, I step wide, over a discarded, nationless skull.

We find him later: a North-Viet soldier, near-death and left behind.

We carry him, littered, into the glowering, lowering sun. 

Later—my hands dirty, my nails broken, my body stinking—I sit on the edge

of my hole and watch them stick him beside a bare open grave.

They—Americans and their Vietnamese scouts—sweep sharp

questions and sharp knives across his ebbing body.

Too far away to hear anything spoken—

I watch wide-eyed as Americans torture and murder.

***

On quiet nights I still feel my heart breaking apart. I am 63.

America, the United States thereof

America, the United States thereof …

 

I

On July 4th, anger typhoons in me while others party with god, glory, and their gilded beer.

I slam shut my eyes, mentally kicking away the cheesy flags, hating the mindless gala

of making merry death and mutilation, loathing the drunken bop with the legions dead:

carnival supplants the dark dead weight we should be touching.

 

II

Always, at moments of strength, I am tempted to buy a dozen gross

of Uncle Samuel’s damn banners and burn them daily, one-by-bloody-one,

on every courthouse lawn—Maine to California, Alaska to Florida—

as though that would matter.

 

III

Sometimes I can just turn a corner and see you, America, standing smack

in front of me—a collective dumb-fuck Baby Huey: big, damn, necrotic cartoon

of our national myth of Clorox-bleached faux-white goodness, the ‘city on a hill,’

now an malevolent mob of living in hillbilly McMansions, reeking of cum

and scat and piss and pus.

Blackout

Blackout

 

Rage.

Forty years after Vietnam, I wake with my hands, squeezing and hating and squeezing. I gasp for breath. Then the rage dissipates and leaves behind flummoxed, groveling ghosts, roiling sandy and red-faced on storm-churned mental beaches.

Rage.

I’ve stopped cars on urban streets, raging. I’ve raged at television, newspapers, republicans, roadcrews, and little round kids in well-marked crosswalks. Rage turns me to blue-necked Shiva astride a 1,000-year storm; a mustard-seed of frustration, a pebble-caused stumble, slams me to hurricane detonation; kin of stifled sex, its trillion watts more evilly frenzied.

Rage.

When I catch my breath, what remains—always breathing— is the rage: rage ejaculating out the tips of my throttling fingers into another person, rage snapping gladly out of control, rage irrational, venting rage, purgative-high-pressure-steam-rage, rage steam-rolling, rage raging unconscious. Rage the Destroyer.

Rage.

It was decades ago, in one of the 48 contiguous states. I had blacked out. I come to with my hands around her neck, squeezing and hating and squeezing.  I realize I am about to kill her. A blue-hue irradiates her face. I slacken my hands. I say nothing and leave. I never see her again. I return weeks later and move out. It was long after Vietnam.

Rage.