"...Again on patrol..."
I condition for night raids
running three miles around
Nha Be support base in the 114 heat.
Bravo squad thinks I've cracked,
if I ready my head before I fight.
We lift off to Chou Duc then Cambodia,
Black Berets sent to raid a POW camp,
the sharp edges of fear
slip through our fingers like rope
we snake down, cold sweat, a vertical drop.
Our heads, bounties, the Viet Cong wait in ambush for.
I rappel through the door of the gunship
thinking about someone to love.
Again on patrol, I am a hunter in the blackness
dozing off, hardened, tired of danger.
I sight the enemy, belly-wet, deep in Rungsat,
yellow muscular legs standing executioner quiet,
black-green smudge & sweat curled on lip.
A snake stops me. I wade ahead
fall through myself like a stone
enemy voices passing only a few meters away
the backdrop of dark, life's death.
Speed-eyed, gut knotted in fear
I scan the horizon for movement,
count the bodies cross the canal
wait until they slip into the mud...
My memory is a red brown blur
a gauze for the wounded we torture.
What is happening seems not true...
All around us, screams of wounded brothers
invade like a North Vietnamese Army.
Two hours before dawn the next day, we insert
by chopper, on some Viet Cong farmer's land
to interrogate VC sympathizers
search for the mortar tubes the NVA shell us with.
We demand revenge on his turf
the smell of rice at the jungle top,
lazy orange mist shifting like smoke.
In low silhouette, we patrol to ambush
our bodies surrounded by dark
the shadow of surprise suspended in us
like the thunder of an outlining storm.
Across the trail, wind rips nipperpalm
fear crawling at our feet, a wounded man.
During the ambush, we radio in an air strike
the wounded lie with the dying
burning flesh smelling rank;
dragged bodies, hurried away
disappear into branches of bamboo
where an arm & a head lie.
Along the river--erratic blood trails
mark a company retreat
bombed-out bunkers abandoned
shallow graves dug quickly
brown-uniformed & black-pajama bodies
rice bowls & fish heads
children half-buried in dirt.
Slowly the trail snakes left then right;
heads bob & duck through nipperpalm;
red ants bite on the back, neck & arms.
We shake & brush them off with some noise
as the pointman dips behind dark shapes & disappears.
Are we close to the end?
I'm a man half in the water, half out;
my legs suck into the mud;
my arms old my head outstretched
hasten to deliver me among the dead.
I find an inward breaking a circumstance,
a consequence impossible to abandon
to a determined enemy--irrefutable snipers
ghosts we were up against.
July 23rd is the first time I imagine I can die.
We'd always been cocky, but this time we ask for it
We send out a listening post of two;
booby traps blow them up like confetti.
How absurd the ten of us taking on two hundred.
Flash! A direct hit ...blackness deepening with red
I flip...through the air...in...slow...motion...
trip wire to booby trap... I land inches from
christ that was close lugging pointman
out from the canal he was blown in
mudbleedinglimbs am I ok he asks
yes I say bandaging him
injecting morphine/never cut his pain.
I carry him saddle back through mud & the fire of napalm.
Preston H. Hood, III