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Paul's Vietnam War Poetry

Two Award-Winning Poems
(First published in Proud To Be)

Fear of flying no more
medevac swooping in
rotor blades whooping it up
in the key of A major
trembling violins and staccato horns,
Tracers red and green arcing
brass casings spent
sunlight reflecting
too bright, too bold, too much
no pain.
Blood sanguine and sticky
shimmering on hands, legs, abdomen
no pain.

On a litter, four men running
scrambling for their lives and yours
someone stumbles, goes down, you roll off.
It’s OK, you think, you don’t mind.
Just get you to the bird before she’s hit
get you to the supermarket, coffee on sale
get you to Reno, gambling still legal
get you anywhere,
just get you the fuck outta here,
and they do
sliding you in next to your platoon sergeant,
swathed head to thigh in battle dressings
your very own mummy, moaning softly.

You look to the crew chief, your eyes beseeching
lift off, lift off, lift off.
The bird does, and you don’t get hit.
You clear the tree line, joy surging
every cell, fiber, synapse, as
eagles vie with Valkyries for your souls,

and Wagner provides the overture.

The dead from that war so long ago
continue to haunt.
You wish it were possible to speak with them,
but you know not what language,
English, Vietnamese, French, or perchance
ghosts speak in tongues not understood by the living,
boughs whispering in breeze,
wind wolves sighing through grasslands,
call of redtail hawk.
You wish you could understand,
You wish one would speak to you, maybe
the burned boy who lived nine days, or
the gut-shot PFC called upon to endure twenty minutes,
or the lucky one, killed instantly, one bullet, one heart.
All dwell deep in your skull, reclusive,
not coming forth to tell what you want to know.
Were one to speak up, he might be angry,
having expected a seven-course dinner
but served only a mess of pottage,
resenting, perhaps, your surviving, and
surely questioning the point in coming home intact
only to live like the street, without joy,
fortified with beer and Scotch,
thick with longing,
heavy with inertia.

© Paul Hellweg. All rights reserved.