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Nobody Gets Off the Bus:
The Viet Nam Generation Big Book

Volume 5 Number 1-4
March 1994

Texts made available by the Sixties Project, are generally copyrighted by the Author or by Viet Nam Generation, Inc., all rights reserved. These texts may be used, printed, and archived in accordance with the Fair Use provisions of U.S. Copyright law. These texts may not be archived, printed, or redistributed in any form for a fee, without the consent of the copyright holder. This notice must accompany any redistribution of the text. A few of the texts we publish are in the public domain. For information on a specific text, contact Kalí Tal. The Sixties Project, sponsored by Viet Nam Generation Inc. and the Institute of Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, is dedicated to using electronic resources to provide routes of collaboration and make available primary and secondary sources for researchers, students, teachers, writers and librarians interested in the 1960s.

Poetry by David L. Erben

my primordial tongue athirst

a water-rat alarmed
by the drying up of his streambed.

So, too, the fowl, in flocks,
swoop down, to be disappointed.
termites and ants
wipe their mandibles
and cracked seeds
for edible meats
choked with moisture.

I find a cave
beneath a wooded hill.
inside, I breathe polluted air
made foul from dust
stirred up by bats,
disturbed by lizards
with horny plates along their backs,
emitting fire from ghastly
forked tongues and the wild eyes
of medusas.

I would squat on the curb

and whittle a blunt stick
until it was sharp
enough to fell a buffalo.
shattered bricks underfoot,
yellowish-orange, laid by white men
my father wanted me to be like.

on hot july days the cartilage
of tar that cushioned those bricks
would break out in boils.
you could smear yourself,
come back years later
and point to the whorls.
after dark, when the air was cool
I'd go down on my knees,
to borrow the bricks' warmth,
trying to take it into by cold body,
secretly harboring it
for times I knew would come.


I am not going far.
The train pulls into the station,
me by the track, with the others,
hauling carryalls,
pocketbooks with six zippers.
I climb the train steps
boarding my journey like a letter
I will deliver in person.

The land leaps now,
valley, village, secretive streams,
a backyard garden where
a woman looks up.
She waves.

Nothing I do answers.
I am finally left
among everyone else's friends
as I walk the streets
of another city in my same old life
wearing my faces, and
not waving.

Covering My Feet Again

I have covered my feet with rags and walk
the cold grass of winter.

Listen, I tell you that dreams are rubbish,
the residue of hope.

My mother was a dreamer, enclosed in her garden
braiding trite realities into traditional patterns.
She mended my rags, knitted sweaters
edged them with white dickeys and roped
charms about my neck.

Moving her lips and blinking through trusting eyes
she dealt out advice but never heard her own words.
I returned to her one day for no good reason,
to find old clothes clean and pressed,
rags in piles upon her floor.
She did not leave her insipid dreams but died and
took them in her woolly bag.

A Grand Laying of Hands

I have seen but not believed.
summer might as well
not have been. strangely,
autumn follows spring.

a child's song edges
into cries of the kestrel.
voices within the sea's heaving chrysalis
mount to a dirge lifting on the wind.
at last, a grand laying on of hands
reaches me, wandering
fallen buildings.

I place this broken spirit
on an ancient altar of stone,
and press my face.


There is a clarity to it,
A precision
More of body than sight,
The universal grain
Of everything even
As the pores of your skin.
It is the fulfilled
Exhaustion of the body,
Not the mind repeating
Its one endless exercise,
The pool of blood in the ear.

David L. Erben is in the Ph.D. program at University of South Florida, in the English Department. He is a card-carrying member of the American Indian Movement. David did a stint in the service, and is considered a Vietnam Era vet because he slipped into the military in '74--his experience with Southeast Asia was in Thailand, at an NSA site. David is also the listowner of the DERRIDA electronic discussion list (derrida@cfrvm.usf.edu).

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