(for Miss Tin in Hue)
"The girl (captured; later, freed)
and I (collapsed by a snip of lead)
remember well the tea you steeped
for us in the garden, as music played
and the moon plied the harvest dusk.
You read the poem on a Chinese vase
that stood outside your father's room,
where he dozed in a mandarin dream
of King Gia Long's reposing at Ben Ngu.
We worry that you all are safe.
A house with pillars carved in poems
is floored with green rice fields
and roofed by all the heavens of this world."
.....Well, that was the poem, written
in fullest discovery and iambics
by a twenty-four-year old feeling lucky
not long after those scary events.
Three years later, he (i.e. yours truly)
went back with his young American wife
(not the girl above "captured...freed, etc.")
and the night before the '72 Spring Offensive
(which, you'll recall, almost took the city)
tried to find Miss Tin's house once again
.....in a thunderstorm, both wearing ponchos,
and he (a version of "me") clutching a .45 Colt
while she, just clutched his wet hand. Of course,
anyone might have shot us--the Viet Cong
infiltrating the city, the last Marines,
the jittery ARVN troops, or, really,
any wretch just trying to feed his family.
So here's the point: why would anyone
(esp. a: me, or b: my wife, or versions of same)
even dream of going out like that? ...Simple:
A. To show his bride a household built on poems.
B. To follow love on all his lunkhead ventures.
Anyway, when we found the gated compound,
we scared the wits out of the Vietnamese inside
on the verandah reading by tiny kerosene lamps
or snoozing in hammocks under mosquito netting
who took us for assassins, or ghosts, until
my wife pulled off her poncho hood, revealing
the completely unexpected: a pretty. blonde. White Devil.
Since Miss Tin wasn't there, they did the right thing
and denied knowing her, as night and river
hissed with rain and a lone goose honked forlornly.
The next night, we headed out again,
the monsoon flooding the darkened city,
the offensive booming in nearby hills,
and montagnards* trekking into Hue in single file
as their jungle hamlets fell to the barrage.
I kept our jeep running, as my wife dashed out
to give away our piasters to the poor
bastards half-naked in the driving rain.
She gave it all away. Six month's salary,
a sack of banknotes watermarked with dragons,
(except what we needed to get back to Saigon,
but that's another story)...the point here being:
I often think of Miss Tin's pillared house in Hue
and those events now thirty years ago
whenever leaders cheer the new world order,
or generals regret "collateral damage."
*Montagnards are people inhabiting the mountains and
highlands of southern Vietnam near the Cambodian border.
For the Missing in Action
Hazed with harvest dust and heat
the air swam with flying husks
as men whacked rice sheaves into bins
and all across the sunstruck fields
red flags hung from bamboo poles.
Beyond the last treeline on the horizon
beyond the coconut palms and eucalyptus
out in the moon zone puckered by bombs
the dead earth where no one ventures,
the boys found it, foolish boys
riding their buffaloes in craterlands
where at night bombs thump and ghosts howl.
A green patch on the raw earth.
And now they've led the farmers here,
the kerchiefed women in baggy pants,
the men with sickles and flails, children
herding ducks with switches--all
staring from a crater berm; silent:
In that dead place the weeds had formed a man
where someone died and fertilized the earth, with flesh
and blood, with tears, with longing for loved ones.
No scrap remained; not even a buckle
survived the monsoons, just a green creature,
a viny man, supine, with posies for eyes,
butterflies for buttons, a lily for a tongue.
Now when huddled asleep together
the farmers hear a rustly footfall
as the leaf-man rises and stumbles to them.