November Eleventh voices were reading names
Over the radio--over fifty thousand drafted,
Now inscribed granite--and a faceless
President interrupted with conclusions off
The wall. I put down my reading and thought
Of a tall, dark-haired boy, Todd Swanson--
A name I wouldn't likely hear. What stone
Rage I felt remembering my deferment,
And quiet ones like Todd went off and died.
I couldn't defer his face, no matter
How I tried: silent he sat in my high-school
Class, his legs already too long for blond
Desks. The names read then don't prepare me
Anymore, interrupt inconclusions.
from Searchings For Modesto (1993),
first published in Calapooya Collage/10 (Summer, 1986)
A Draft for Vietnam
First they sent me a white card
Big enough to fit into my wallet,
The number and letter reassured me:
"It's cool. Stay in school."
Then the shooting got real bad
And someone said it might be better
To make a choice. The Marines
Were Looking For A Few Good Men.
As marches arrived, I had a year left.
My card burned on in my pocket.
"What's wrong with alternative
Service?" my conscience objected.
In '68 the heat was really on.
Winters in Canada looked better and better.
Voices shouted it was right to go to jail
When skulls were cracked in Chicago.
In '69 the letter finally came:
"You're reclassified. Appear for physical."
By then I shook with rage. (Or fear?)
No one could tell me what to do!
But I appeared as ordered, was tested
For intelligence, shown a list
Of organizations to which they hoped
I did not then nor never had belong(ed).
A report from the doctor ends this tale:
I flunked--a lucky one, thanks to
Asthma too long into my teens.
Today I think back, consumed by memory,
And shake some more. from A Hollow of Waves (1983)
Early Morning Culture Shock
It starts on a day like this one:
clear, bright spring weather,
people still adjusting to daylight savings,
Garo's Cafe ready to open,
and somehow I get into a discussion
about the tundra in Alaska,
how ptarmigan eggs are delicacies
at Christmas among certain natives
according to a man my age
who's been there.
And his memory shifts to Vietnam--
how he shot a rat
and the kids picked it up
and used it to play catch;
how he was standing
in a line at a store
and, smelling sulfur, turned around
and saw a local woman
eating a rotten egg.
Sensing his disgust,
she poked it toward his nose,
grimaced and said: "G. I. no like eat?"
Finally awake, ready to flee
the draft again, resign myself
to any humdrum day,
I walk straight out the door,
grasping a little tighter
my paper cup of coffee,
though I never get to travel
to certain exotic places,
I still know when I've been there.