ROBERT D. WILSON'S
the moon, a sea laden
in the rice
field, singing to
her stomach . . .
an arched bridge
with the same shadow
a long night . . .
a quiet without
field, singing to
her stomach . . .
an arched bridge
with the same shadow
a long night . . .
a quiet without
they hide in
each other's shadows
and when it
rains, a thousand
more like them
noon heat . . .
a dog licks
from my chest
a thousand breaths
each of them
attached to a carousel
horse painted green
seeing with hands
what they hoped to steal
last night . . .
a bar girl carries me
to the moon
a lot of
of a can of soup . . .
painted by warhol
sunday . . .
a poor man chasing
morning cool . ..
the heat of walking
grasping for ghosts
a child that night,
this morning, scenting
she sees more
than shadows washing
with rats on my
ex-wife's back porch
catfish, probing . . .
this man writing
in a locked room
with stuffed animals
moonless night . . .
surprised when i
looked at her
in front of a shanty
made of tin men
late morning . . .
and still the taho
soothed what is left
of the beast in me
a tilapia asked
me to let her go
i heard your belly
rumble . . .
the fire inside
you, an altar
she swallows him with
a dance . . .
the boulevard lined
with christmas lights
male toads . . .
the hoarse song of
the unrelenting grasp
of summer . . .
twirling in circles,
a GRO painting shadows
just a child
this girl watching
what goes through
her mind escorting fat
men into hell . . .
a young boy taps me on
the arm, begging for pesos
winter heat . . .
young boys scavenge
still trapped in
a world i didn't
ask for . . .
the dragon wagging
her long tail
day moon . . .
i wasn't brave enough
to ask her
a live bird
inherit its soul?
ill fitting sandals
noon whistle . . .
what you least suspect . . .
a pebble washed by waves
robert d. wilson
about the war?
monks on fire . . .
you fed the fish
It was like a dream. The moon was full. The faint sound of singing
awakened me. I peered out the leeside portal of our sleeping quarters on
the YRBM-17 and saw two drunken sailors walking arm in arm towards
the water on a dock that ran perpendicular to our barge. It was about
two in the morning. The two men were singing a country western song.
I remember coughing. I always blink when I cough. The drunken sailors
were gone. The next morning at chow, a sailor told me the drunken
seamen walked off the dock and drowned. Most of those I served with in
Vietnam were ill prepared to fi ght a war they didnʼt understand. A tour of
duty was one year.
They were lonely. The culture was foreign. The pay was minimal. Unlike
those who served in past wars, those serving in South Vietnam were
afforded no honor for their participation in the war. Servicemen drank,
smoked marijuana, or prayed.
summer of summers --
swallowed up by the
dragon, too many lives
The dragon never slumbers. He has been awake for over a thousand
years, eating soldiers and civilians alike. In his wake, a trail
of bones. If only they could speak
summer breeze . . .
letters from home paint over
now with some day
Most of us were away from our families for the first time. We were
separated from our families and the neighborhoods we grew up in. We
were stationed in a country on the other side of the world with a culture
completely foreign to our way of seeing life. There are no certainties
in war. It's a crap shoot. Maybe youʼll make it home. Maybe you
wonʼt. This reality never strays far from a soldierʼs mind. We were
isolated from our families, our culture,and the world as we knew it.
I was 18 years old and newly graduated from high school. I never
knew how much I loved my family until I was away from them
living in a war zone. Suddenly, they were the most valuable thing
in my life. I lived and died for letters and packages from home. In
my spare time, Iʼd daydream about my family, fiance, and friends.
Thinking about them was what gave me hope and kept me going.
That “some day," needless to say, mail-call, was a major event.
the earth, this autumn day . . .
Thousands of people died in the Vietnam War. Not all of the dead
were soldiers. Many were innocent civilians. People with no axe to
grind. No political goal to fulfill. Men, women, and children who
were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Their lives snuffed out
by napalm, bombs, hand grenades, mortars, rockets, automatic rifle
fire, knives, and human hands. There are no shiny black memorials
to commemorate their existence, and the sacrifice they made. Their
dreams, their hopes, their aspirations, relegated to what could have
been. And for what? A war, Americaʼs leaders now say, shouldn't
The memory of these people should not be forgotten.
it didnʼt have to
happen, this rice field
devoured by pests
In Vietnam, veneration of the elderly is a way of life. It's ingrained
in the culture. Showing respect to those older than themselves is a
time honored tradition. Disrespect is taboo, even to an older brother or
Heavily armed American soldiers, barely out of high school, often
went into South Vietnamese villages. Sometimes they were passing
through. Other times, they were searching for the enemy. Older people
were ordered around by many of these young men. Disrespect was
rampant. My country was supposedly in South Vietnam because we
cared about the nationʼs well-being. In reality, we were there to protect
our economic interests. We knew little or nothing about the people we
were charged to protect. Our treatment of South Vietnamese civilians
furthered the cause of Communism and helped bring about the fall of
the South Vietnamese Government.
I liken this disrespect to the pests that devour a rice field. Once a
pest is introduced to a rice paddy, unless it's eradicated immediately,
it will reek havoc to the planted rice, and destroy the crop. Had we
supplemented our warrior spirit with love, caring, and respect, maybe
the war would have ended differently. This is the first war the United
States lost. So many servicemen died. It didnʼt have to happen.
summer night --
a headless soldier
on the beach
A soldier stationed on our base in Dong Tam snuck across the
canal bordering our facility to have sex with one of the local
girls living on the canalʼs banks. This was an unsecured area
known to harbor Viet Cong and was off limits to Base personnel.
He did not return to his bunk that night. In the morning,
a Navy patrol boat saw what was left of the soldier laying on a
beach beside the canal. He had been decapitated. His head was
placed in a slit in his stomach along with his genitals. Whether
or not the grizzly scene was the work of a disgruntled parent or
the Viet Cong, was never answered.
bamboo stakes, dipped in excrement,
wait for brown boots
Boobytraps killed and maimed thousands of American servicemen
during the Vietnam War. The Viet Cong had limited supplies and
money. One thing they didnʼt lack in, however, was ingenuity. They
were able to fashion boobytraps out of almost anything. One of
the most lethal of their boobytraps was the punji stake. Concealed
underwater in rice paddies and beneath jungle foliage, they were
crudely made bamboo stakes dipped in animal excrement. When
an unsuspecting soldier stepped on one, the razor sharp point of the
bamboo stake would pierce his foot. The animal excrement guaranteed
immediate infection. Soldiers on patrol in the jungle were
far from hospitals and infi rmaries. Especially those deep in enemy
territory, experiencing day to day combat. If improperly treated,
gangegreen would set in, eventually necessitating the removal of the
infected soldierʼs foot or leg. The pain from the wounds were excruciating.
They were the lucky ones. When fired at by the enemy in a
boobytrapped rice paddy, soldiers instinctively dove for cover. Some
of them landed on punji stakes, ripping open their stomachs, chests,
or bowels. Death soon followed.
forced to shoot
others this manchild, one year
a thousand summers
Nothing changes a young teenager quicker than when he is forced to
kill another human being. Young boys were drafted into the Vietnam
War right after graduation from high school. At eighteen, their lives
had centered around going to school, playing sports, courting girls,
helping out at home, and other youthful pursuits. Overnight, they
were transported across the ocean to a foreign land where they were
armed with automatic rifles (machine guns) and told to shoot the
enemy if attacked. I had a friend who was forced to shoot a nine year
old girl who charged at him with a hand grenade. He told me it was
the most horrible thing he ever had to do, killing a little child. But
as he told me, “What else could I do? It was kill or be killed.”
The taking of a human life changes a person forever. Gone is the
innocence of youth, the naivete of adolescence. Some soldiers had to
kill others on a daily basis, witnessing some of the most gruesome
sights imaginable. Psychologically, of course, it took its toll. Some
of my friends had glazed over eyes. Others drunk or drugged
themselves to oblivion on a nightly basis. Others I know are plagued
even today by horrendous dreams of what they experienced and
saw during their stay in South Vietnam. This includes me.
The sad thing is, when we returned stateside, after completing our
tour of duty, few of us received counseling. After discharge, we were
sent back into the civilian world, emotionally dysfunctional. Drug
addiction, alcoholism, and post traumatic syndrome laid waste to
many of my fellow servicemen. I too, went through hell and back. It
was only through years of counseling and spiritual journeying that I
was able to rise up from the chasm of self destruction and reoccurring
spectres to a headspace today that gives me peace of mind and
summer has ended --
what are they to you, these people
in the dragonʼs belly?
More than once, I was invited to have supper with a South Vietnamese
family. The families I dined with were not rich. Most barely eked out a living.
The meals they served my friends and I, however, were second to none,
usually consisting of rice, shrimp, a kale-like vegetable, and dessert. The
meals were delicious and abundant. Better than the food, however, was the
hospitality. Our hosts treated us like visiting royalty, insisting we eat more,
giving us the best seats, continually asking us if we wanted refi lls for our
sodas. The South Vietnamese people are some of the nicest, most considerate
people on this planet.
The Viet Cong were everywhere, especially in the Mekong Delta region
where I was stationed. Those who offered hospitality to American servicemen,
paid a high price for their generosity. Sooner or later, they would be
tortured, killed, or forced to serve as spies by the VC. The Communists were
merciless with those who sympathized with the American war effort. I have
seen their handiwork first hand. Backs with burn marks and horrible bruises.
Backs that had been brutally beat. And that wasnʼt the worst.
Our guests gave to us and asked for nothing in return. Never once did they
pump us for information. They gave because that was who they were...
generous, giving people. We, supposedly, were in South Vietnam to help and
protect the people from the evils of Communism. Our presence in the war
gave many a false hope. A hope for a day when they too could be free from
war and poverty.
The United States left Vietnam in 1975, withdrawing from a war that
claimed an excessive amount of human lives. The Republic of South Vietnam's
government was toppled instantaneously by the North Vietnamese armed
forces. What happened next to those who helped the American war
effort was not a pretty scene. Thousands were killed. Thousands were tortured.
Others were forced to attend reeducation camps. A Vietnamese friend
of mine who later managed to escape from Vietnam as a boat person with his
extended family, told me of former South Vietnamese policemen who were
tied spread eagle in his villageʼs square and hideously tortured as an example
for all to see.
Do we, who served in the Vietnam War, ever think about our hosts today?
Are we concerned about the welfare of the Vietnamese people we were formerly
charged to protect?
That's all for now. Enjoy!