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.

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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.

Can a poem be a war?

Can a poem be a war?  

 

I used to be a soldier: a Marine, to be precise.

Now I am a greyed poet of anti-war words.  

I craft into bullets words of anti-war battle.

 

Call me crazy. I don’t care.

I will stop war with words, alone.

Non compos mentis.

 

It’s post-classical Latin. It means insanity. 

A person of unsound mind.

A person who believes the world can be changed for the good.

 

A person who wants humans to be wise enough to choose

the good over the easy; the best for all, not the best only for one.

A person who demands that words matter—deeply and humanely.

 

***

 

Can words stop cold, in frozen stride, a life—

as can and does, a bullet and a bomb?

Can a little humble poem suppress angriest aggression?

 

Can a stomach be churned in retching rancid reverse

by rhyming words?—abstracting with the very best intentions—

someone else’s stuttering loss?

 

Can sonnets shatter bowel control? 

Can ghazals snuff a life? 

                                    Can villanelles halt genocides? 

 

There’s Homer’s Iliad, certainly, with ancient spears piercing ancient eyes

and hearts and tendons but not even Shakespeare crafted odes of true

lethality, never drew cutting un-staged real red blood.

 

Yes, A Memory of Solferino, that birthed today’s Red Cross/Red Crescent,

was Henry Dunant’s in-prose tale of tens of thousands dead and dying

in 19th century Italy. Yes, E. D. Morel’s journalism helped end Congo slavery.

 

What of World War One’s Graves and Brooke, Sassoon and Owen?

What of Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse

Five, Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun, or Kovic’s Born on the Fourth of July?

 

Picasso’s great work, Guernica, has not—that’s known—

saved a life nor ever ended war alone.

 

Can a poem reliving Hiroshima dying/Nagasaki burning/My Lai crying

be an anti-war meme, blasting mass instruction

from a mushroom cloud of wanting, weeping, wailing words?

Combat debris

Combat debris

 

My mind cramps into a tight fetal coil.

I bend floor-ward, hugging knees to ribs.

My brain whips to spin cycle and I choke a wail.

 

I stand and shuffle to an intersection of walls, an inside

90-degree safe harbor where the drywall is cool and embowering.

I touch the smooth surfaces with hands of the emotionally blind.

 

The blades are slicing into my mind—again—sharp and cutting. 

I recall their birth 40 years before, how I felt them then as

thick ropes of scar, braided, across the inside of my face,

 

through both eyes—thick and opaque, forcing me to know

a disfigured world, while I looked faultlessly whole: the model

of American man, mirrors full of shaved, brushed, air-dried me.

 

Sometimes when I’m alone in the still dark,

the mirrors shards again and I choke on salty tears.

 

 

Corpses, corpses

Corpses, corpses

 

War kills and its stench stays and stings forever.

***

Can I gouge out my inner eye? Block the corpses I can’t stop seeing?

Am I strong enough to force them gone—like Chris Kyle, SEAL sniper?[1]

“None of the guilty are killed” … writes White in ‘Raid’[2] … “We eat, drink,

vote and read and cannot trace the graves or name of a single murdered child.” 

***

Corpses, corpses—charred and dark—reaching ever to me.

 


[1] “In the Crosshairs.” Nicholas Schmidle. New Yorker Magazine. June 3, 2013.

[2] “Raid,” by Landeg White, 1983.

Desensitization, using A. Ginsberg’s ‘American Sentence’

Desensitization … using A. Ginsberg’s ‘American Sentence’

 

“You goddamn asshole!” “You motherfucking cunt!” “Who the fuck are you, turd?”

No one, sergeant, screams your child. “You’re a goddamn, cocksucking liar, cunt!”

“Don’t you goddamn feed me that shit, recruit—I saw you eye-fucking me!”

“You want to fuck me like you‘re going to fuck some asshole hometown cunt?”

“You want to fuck me like you’re going to fuck some raghead in Baghdad?”

“Fuck me like you going to fuck some Taliban in Afghanistan?”

“Asshole, bastard, cock, dick-face, dipshit, pussy-assed, motherfucking cunt.”

“You goddamn asshole!” “You motherfucking cunt!” “Who the fuck are you, turd?”

“Fuck me, fuck you, fuck-face, motherfuck, motherfucking cocksucker.”

“Motherfucking turd, turd bucket, cunt-face, dip-shit, shit-head, bastard, fuck.”

“Fucking, cunt, pussy, asshole-kill, bastard-kill, fuck, dick-kill, fuck-face-kill.”

“You goddamn asshole!” “You motherfucking cunt!” “Who the fuck are you, turd?”

            “Motherfuck, motherfuck … fucker, fuck-face, fuck me, fuck you … god damn-kill.”

“Asshole-kill, dick-face-kill, fuck me-kill, fuck you-kill, fuck us-kill: thrill-kill.”

Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill.

Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill.

Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill.

Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill.

Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill.

Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill.

Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill.

Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill.

Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill.

FNG

FNG

 

He is on his way to death-by-heat-stroke,

cooking from inside out, thermostat busted

by fucking stress, dirty combat, too many pounds.

 

A Navy corpsman—the Marine Corps            has always used

the Navy take care of its wounded[1]—twice our weight,

humping with us, south of Khe Sanh, beneath 130-degree steel sky.

 

Medivac chopper is inbound to grab his fat-boy body,

but now he needs water—all available water—

to try to kick his temperature off its thousand-meter hilltop.

 

All of us are dry—deadly, armed, and dying for even filthy,

pissed-in water, but have to pour what little we have

on this Fucking New Guy—who should never have been with us.

 

An officer yells: Bagwell! Get all the full canteens you can find!  I float

a hundred or so yards back, along the hot ghostly jungle trail, littered

with our combat debris, hallucinating the taste of fresh cool water.

 

 

I grab all the canteens I can find—

including my own.  I swallow my fill, bloat my belly.

I flutter back and watch the rest run down the sagging, fat, flesh.

 

For seconds, the red dirt darkens, and then it is dry again.

I stole water from a dying human being:

I live with my choice daily.

 

Fucking new guy.

Fucking me.

Fucking thirst.

Fucking war.


[1] The Marine Corps does not have chaplains or medical staff, using Navy officers and enlisted sailors for these roles.

Going to sleep

Going to sleep

 

Near 4 a.m.—a firefight infernos the jungle.

 

I’m dead asleep in a shallow hole yards behind where the M-60 machine gun nests.

The gun is pointed outward, a mad part of the night’s circle perimeter.

A dirty, blue-eyed gunner is pulling the warm, worn trigger.

 

I hear the -60 fire, but vague and distant and dreamy.

My mind and body are exhausted. I know I should be up and scrambling

to the gun but I lay dreamily flat: stupidly free of combat fright.

 

The sounds barely register. Inches from my face, tracer-rounds streak

the black jungle iridescent green. Black jungle as lighted carnival.

Angry Broadway lighted with killing colors and screaming sounds.

 

I line the ledge above my head with every grenade I carry.

I pray to the gods of my youth.

I tumble back into untroubled sleep.

 

In the morning, they threaten to court martial me.

I knew they wouldn’t: no Marines had been wounded or killed.

And, more importantly, they needed my body in the bush.

How much reality can I take?

How much reality can I take?

I was gardened naïve, America, inhaling with mother’s rich milk your myths of false values. I believed the honeyed stories, candy-coated fictions yielding fruitcakes made with heavy water; the historicized lies you tell, fabricated, across short centuries by xenophobes and brute muscles that breathed to uproot native peoples and choke the earth red with their lives; the fake fables you tell seeking to keep buried the undead knowledge of how common America really is. Whatever exceptionality we once harvested, we squandered long ago. Now it is just a continuing lie to make us feel sine qua non. I used to believe, used to believe it all, down to the last dog-missed crumb on mom’s worn linoleum kitchen floor. Sometimes, I actually miss those glistening days of homey, apron-ironed self-satisfaction. There: mops didn’t get dirty, shit didn’t stink, god was love. On frank days, I envy the choicefully dumb their blindness, their easy knack of playing with eyes padlocked, pretending to see golden boughs of the really real: plump, purple, tasty grapes of sweet verity, hanging, god-given, within easy reach illusory. Some days, when I’m particularly weary and self-harming, I just wish to go, just leave it all behind, permanently walk away from its meaninglessness.

I died in Vietnam

I died in Vietnam

 

I don’t know what day, what time, what killed me.

I didn’t know I died.

No blood spilled.

No pain screamed.

No medic came.

No NVA bullet touched me.

No shrapnel broke my skin.

Jungle rot? Yes, to the bone on both shins

but Qua Viet’s salty seas healed soft and easy skin.

 

I died in Vietnam.

I can name it now—forty-four years later

because I write hard poems recalling the foul film

my five senses seared deep inside my skull.

 

I died in Vietnam.

I used to think I had escaped.

I used to think I had survived.

I didn’t.