Friday, March 10, 2017

I woke up this morning to a street full of fire trucks and flashing lights and idling diesel engines and fire fighters standing around in fire suits chit-chatting and staring at the house across from ours, which, from the outside, looked much as usual. Then, after all a while, for no discernible reason, the guys got into their trucks and the trucks drove away, and everything across the street looks just the same as it always has, except that now the cellar door is open.

As a result of the uproar, the cat decided against going outside for his morning constitutional, which is not breaking my heart, as I do not have much fun wrestling him into a harness and then standing around in the cold waiting until he tries, again, to slither under the neighbor's porch (I yank him out), or under my car (I yank him out), or inside a drainpipe (I yank him out). Taking a cat for a walk really means taking a cat for a lurk. And lurking is difficult with a leash.

Anyway, in a few hours, I'll be heading north for this afternoon's gig at the Squaw Mountain Music Festival, so the cat will have to do today's lurking entirely indoors. I've got my bag of cough drops and my bottle of ibuprofen and the remaining few pills in my penicillin dosage. I am determined to make it through all of my songs without choking. Afterward I'll spend the night with my friends who live off the grid . . . dark skies, cold air, candles, and a backhouse (aka a well-designed outhouse attached to the house so you don't have to go outside to use it: an amazing boon on a below-zero night). I love to be there.

I've starting collecting my Vietnam materials. The Portland Public Library's choices are not that broad, so I'm stuck with Stanley Karnow's 1983 history of the war, which seems both dry and dated. But at least it will help me out with the facts. The library did offer me Lorrie Goldensohn's edited anthology, American War Poetry, which is both excellent as far as content goes and a beautifully designed physical object (with the exception of a couple of misplaced footnotes). It includes poems from the colonial period through the Persian Gulf wars, but so far I've only been reading the Vietnam-era pieces. And I am interested by her introduction of them:
With the exception of the Civil War, no other war divided the American public so virulently and for so long a time--and yet the divisions that these war poems reflect is not one of politics, or of a division between support or lack of support for the war. In fact, no sophisticated or interesting prowar poetry has yet emerged from this period. Even the division in the poems between home front and battlefield ultimately gave way to a consensus of hearts and minds about stopping a war seen by nearly all those who chose to write poems as senseless and immoral.
So Vietnam has no version of Walt Whitman's "O Captain! My Captain!" Or Alan Seeger's "I Have a Rendezvous with Death." No Karl Shapiro's "Troop Train."

What it has is version after version of Doug Anderson's "Infantry Assault:
The way he made that corpse dance
by emptying one magazine after another into it
and the way the corpse's face began to peel off
like a mask because the skull had been shattered, brains
spilled out, but he couldn't stop killing that corpse,
wanted to make damn sure, I thought maybe
he was killing all the ones he'd missed . . .


Carlene said...


I'm sure you know Dien Cai Dau as a collection (Komunyakaa), but there's a few poems in that collection that haunt me. One is "Toys in a Field", another is "Fragging", and yet another is "We Never Know"...and, the narrative poem piece "The One-Legged Stool" makes me shudder.

There's a whole lot of work written about the Vietnam War I haven't read, but the few pieces I am familiar with are hard enough to wrap my emotions around. Another thing to see is a documentary called "Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam" (1987) which is really good, I think. I used to use it in my film/lit class.

Take care, feel well, and we'll talk soon!

David (n of 49) said...

Didn't know "Troop Train", grateful that you put it up here:

Here is a deck of cards; out of this hand
Dealer, deal me my luck, a pair of bulls,
The right draw to a flush, the one-eyed jack.

“You could be in the most protected space in Vietnam and still know that your safety was provisional, that early death, blindness, loss of legs, arms or balls, major and lasting disfigurement — the whole rotten deal — could come in on the freaky-fluky as easily as in the so-called expected ways, you heard so many of these stories it was a wonder anyone was left alive to die in firefights and mortar-rocket attacks.”
– Michael Herr, Dispatches

Grateful also that you are launching into it.

“In Saigon a North Vietnamese infantryman, captured in the south and then freed, had sat in my room at the Hotel Continental—room 53—describing the months his company had walked down the Ho Chi Minh trail. Viet Cong, the Americans called them all, VC, or Charlie when they were fighting them. On the field radios they called the enemy Victor Charlie, or just Charlie. Now Charlie is the name of a perfume by Revlon, but no one seems to mind or even notice, any more than they object to a perfume called Ambush.”
- Gloria Emerson, Winners and Losers: Battles, Retreats, Gains, Losses, and Ruins from the Vietnam War, 1976