B. D. Trail
As an army captain in 1967-68, B.D. Trail was the Senior Intelligence Advisor in Quang Tin province and on the advisory team to the 2nd Regional Forces Battalion. A collection of his poems, FLESH WOUNDS, was published by Samisdat Press. He committed suicide on New Year's Eve, 1992.
HAZARDOUS TO MY HEALTH
The shit was flying in so thick and fast
Why, man, you coulda almost walked on them green tracers!
And all those little R F motherfuckers started to act
Like turds and sorta
sink down to the ground and get real low.
As for yours truly, I was hunkering behind the haystack
Like the fucking Farmer in the Dell
And Chuck, he was in this ditch being his usual ass-hole self,
Yelling at the Rfs and trying to remember the Benning School
Well, there's just no real future in hiding behind haystacks,
So I decided to Audie Murphy my ass over to that ditch
Which looked to be about 20 fucking miles from me
And wide open all the way.
Meanwhile, the Charlies--the only fucking Vietnamese worth a flying
Were popping up and down, laying out bursts of this and that,
Looking their usual impressive selves. And our Vietnamese,
Those sorry motherfuckers, were eyeball to asshole on the ground
Protecting their transistor radios.
Giggling like some goddamn creep in a Greyhound bus station,
I fumbled my own sweet way across that opening,
My Frankenstein boots and my helmet both heavy as lead.
Jesus-fucking-Christ! Pumji stakes!
I soared through the air with the greatest of ease, Snapped off a bunch of those shit-covered bamboo sticks
And crushed every fucking one of my Pall Malls!
And, you know, that was years before the Surgeon-General
Declared smoking was hazardous to my health.
When I was twenty-seven,
Was a killer of men,
And I have a photograph to prove it.
There I stand, a shadow casting
Before an ice cream white warehouse
with bullet holes
Scooped out of its side.
Three dead men, dead as my shadow,
With an arm up as if to ask a question.
But I'd turned my flak-jacketed back
To face towards the camera and you.
I can answer his question now.
OUR LADY OF THE FLIES
Our infantry satchel-charged a bunker
And killed a VC nurse.
With hooks, they snaked her out.
Then one pimple-faced killer sliced out
That which is between the legs
of all women, dead or alive.
Impaled upon a bamboo stick
It glistened in the sun.
Our Lady of the Flies,
Forgive them not.
They knew what they were doing.
WITH MY SHIELD OR ON IT
When the Danang chopper plucked me out of Tam Ky,
Everything rolled by like a grim silent movie:
The whirring blades--a noisy khaki camera
The little people--extras for a biblical spectacle
The pock-faced land--Hollywood badlands
And it was right that I should see this final film clip,
For I had paid. Not in money,
But I had paid.
No one laughed or even talked much on the plane.
The Stewardesses seemed disappointed in us.
But, I heard one man say,
'At least nothing will ever be as bad as what
We've been through,'
He was wrong, of course.
Home was still ahead.
Fat women in slacks. San Francisco whores and hippies.
The forgotten nausea caused by neon. Slept-in khakis.
Patriotic old men and wonder-struck girls.
Kids saying, 'Did you ever shoot anybody in the face?'
When I flew out of the Inferno
I did not suspect I was entering into another one.
I missed the honest horror of Viet Nam.
(This poem is from FLESH WOUNDS published by Samisdat Press. The collection was dedicated to Dai Uy Nuygen Van Te, 2d ARVN Infantry Division; and to Dock Burke, "life-time friend.")
The ARVN major beat the boy
with the captured rifle sling,
glancing proudly at us,
his American advisors.
An uninteresting event to everyone
except the boy who silently cringed
and shook from blow to blow.
In the madness of the war,
today was near-to-normal.
There had been the usual dance to snipers,
the suck-up in the chest,
the dash across manioc fields,
the crack and whip of bullets
in time with running feet.
Looking at the photos now,
the sand is light like snow.
But then, the sand was griddle-hot
and hard to run across.
And there had been the usual harassment
of the villagers,
the pig killings and gold tooth grinnings
of the chicken thieves,
the stolen rice boiling in black cauldrons.
In our little corner of the war
the major beat the boy,
we Americans smoked cigarettes,
the Vietnamese village women cooked rice
for ARVNs down on the ground
spread out in casual circles.
The stick grenade was lobbed out of a bunker
with all the surety and disguised slowness
of a softball. And it seemed to move towards
a cookfire with measured, casual directness.
A village woman heavy in her pregnancy
caught the rolling blast of the grenade.
The fragments plunged into the soldiers.
For her the blast was a sonic scalpel
slicing, filleting, cutting
deep, deep into her belly.
Something clicks in time of crisis,
a switch to surreal slow motion.
We Americans froze in place
while the Vietnamese,
as if coming up for air,
floundered and fumbled.
Still half-frame, the image slowed
to show her baby,
her corded baby,
from her fish-gutted belly
and fall into the fire.
The madness was not just the foetus in the fire.
No, that was just a novelty-of-horrors
to men who had seen minings and other mutilations.
The madness was the mother was still alive
Split from throat to crotch,
the mother was alive and
screaming screaming screaming.
I didn't shoot her and I don't know why.
No one shot her. And she kept on
screaming screaming screaming.
Dragged over the white-hot sand
on a red-wet poncho,
she screamed for two hours on the landing zone.
She died before a helicopter came.
I died back at the fire.