Copyright (c) 1998 First Things 85 (August/September 1998):.
We prowled that part of the base at midnight,
high on crowbars and beer. We smashed car lights
and ripped the chrome off doors. Nothing beat
being drunk enough to die when bar girls screamed
and rockets fell like stars, one more
Cadillac dismantled upside down. We swore
whoever owned such cars were black-market heads
or Vietcong cousins who wanted us dead,
boys whose war crashed down in darkness, the rage
of VC mortars and rockets fired at the base.
When Iwas ten, we met each other’s boasts
with knives, how near we could throw at toes
without flinching. One time I pitched too close,
and Joe Bob cursed and hurled the knife at me.
From then on, blades stayed closed and in our jeans.
Talk turned to girls and what to do
if we made somebody bleed. Roaring tunes
with country and western words in Saigon,
trying to ignore all falling fire, we staggered
back to sandbagged bunkers, daring the blare
of sirens to kill us, swearing we didn’t care.
"Christ plays in ten thousand places"—G. M. Hopkins
Lying here on the short grass, I am
a bowl for sunlight.
Silence. A bee. The lip of water
over stones. The swish and slap, hollow
under the dock. Down-shore
a man sawing wood.
Christ in the sunshine laughing
through the green translucent wings
of maple seeds. A bird
resting its song on two notes.
A house alongside the road
has been gutted; a few remains
of the furnishings—wallpaper, toasters, beams—
peak out amid the empty wounds
where the building gave up its ghost
like an old man opening wide for one last breath—
only the fire here opened
every mouth, all over the body
a gash in the knee, a sick smile in the gut
a fantastic crying in the roof—
I knew this house—much of a muchness
with the others hutched along its stretch
of road I must have passed
its yellow teeth (pleasantly hid
behind blank window glass) like a smile on a bus
conductress’s usual route: then gone.
We do not know when things will come
to an end. The up escalator
stops abruptly—and the figures at the head
disappear from sight—like cigarette ash
tipped, without warning by the intook breath
lurch of a hand—nothing survives of us but roads
taken every day without the sight of love
and a few small effects gathered by the lovers we have calmed.