Vietnam Memorial


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


    for Roger

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.

                                                 Beyond Modesto