Sunday, October 2, 2011

Fragments from the Vietnam Era

by Steve King
 © 1982
 All rights reserved


Thursday was the day
the numbers would disrupt
the cartoon screens
with dead, wounded, MIA,
and body counts (theirs)
to balance the equation.

As if sacrifice
was a matter of numbers
and not a matter of the heart.

As if the measured sacrifice
was not, too, a measure
of some diminished heart.


Some conflicts still exist
in the sheen of the soul’s night:
the memory of random death
and fast retreat;
the muffled howl
of strategic assassination,
silent feet gliding
through dead paddies;
garrotes, punji,
roaring green dragons, gunlit
descending out of the blood moon…


“If they would just obey the damned Accords…”


“If only we had taken the Yalu…”

All things pointed backward
and away.


Out of the eastern war they streamed,
out of polyglot hell,
away from the sting of death,
reprisal and reprimand, they thought,
away from the mute approbation
of the new

The dead,
by command and choice.

The dead:
seed of ‘scholarly misapprehension
within a dispassionate framework.’

The dead,
defining the moral question,
each moral question,
each side brandishing the dead
like tattered banners
hammering the dead
like broken drums,
each in their own manner
to remake the dead,
each in their own fashion
to explain…

The dead,
cause enough
justifying one thing
…or any other.

The dead,
framing expeditious analysis
in dead resolution;
giving new meaning
to the phrase ‘dead reckoning.’

The dead,
as ever before,
no need now
for the love of words,
yet the one last measure
of all words.


Boxed between four walls
ceiling and floor,
inside a pretty house
within the perfect yard
abutting on a quiet lane,
they shuttered tight the windows
that squandered precious light
upon the darkness;
and on the very worst of days,
they hearkened to distant thunder
sensing, first and foremost,
only the distance,
knew thereby
the parameters
of a perfect safety.