I. BackPage 68

Another troubled night falls.
Triple-canopy darkness
closes around me, like a body bag
zipped slowly shut.

In the mist-filled darkness,
the jungle breathes, a living thing,
& I sense the ghostly company
of things that roam late.

From the corner of my eye,
glimpses of shifting shadows
that freeze in place whenever
I turn my head to stare.

Five months in-country, & still uneasy
with the weight of the rifle in my hands.
Still looking back toward old rules
that no longer hold, & old order
that has spilled over into chaos.

A strange storm, just before sundown,
seemed to bring some terrible omen
from the highlands. How much longer
can angels steer these weary boot steps?

Streams of sweat, find trails
down the center of my back.
My dexedrine-charged heart slams,
like a ten pound hammer, against my chest.

How much more mad input,
before this heart is stopped
for good?

How many more

blinding-white days,
& bullet-torn nights
until I reach
the cold understanding

that the best part of me
already lies twisted & rotting
in the dense, tangled green.

II. body count

36 bodies,
strung from the
perimeter wire
to the tree line

with one --

all by himself
half in & half out
of the bush – inches
from a clean getaway

the searching
sound of an m-16
on full automatic, going
through clip after clip – cleaning up

whenever a body
is hit, it shudders,
as if offering up a last
pitiful denial of the facts

a few lie so close
together, they seem
to be holding
each other…

i look out into
the mist-torn morning
balanced on a ledge
of indifference,

making a vain
attempt at stamping
some meaning on this
"attrition competition"

the pointless game
of a thousand cuts,
where the only difference
is who gets the grease --

& that’s no difference at all

III. hearts & minds

joined by a rope
& circumstance
they’re dragged, stumbling
across the compound

sacks over their heads
stick-thin in black silk --
bent figures
that will not be broken

heels to the face
arms twisted
to impossible angles

.45s across wasted skulls –
like rain in the distance

watching, i wonder --
is it crazy courage
that holds their tongues,
or simple ignorance

could any of them
give up anything
worth this much pain --
one precious prisoner,

under a hood, swallowing
the blood-spattered key
to the hearts
& minds of the people

another unforgiving day --

the burning eye
of the sun
beats down
like judgment

IV. street soldiers

last night,
i saw you walk
out of the
moon-driven dark

gray beret
crazy bluebird tattoo
across your neck
Tu Do street, 1968

changed, but somehow
still the same
you looked happy
to be alive again

as if an angel
had rolled back
the stone
from the alley of the lost

& pulled you out
clean –

seeing your face,
triggered a sadness
i couldn’t locate --
like an address book

with a missing page
yesterday’s names
& places
lost forever

but i’m still here
covering your tracks
forever in love
with the suffering

addicted to the weakness --
relaxed by the fact
of never having to be
strong again

so i wasn’t ashamed
when you walked by
not to know me

i just re-aimed
my dead eyes to a place
over your left shoulder,
held out my hand

& asked if you could buy
an old "soldier of the street"
a bottle –
to help cheat the cold

© Donnie Cox