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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 Dennis Fritzinger

army haiku

when i went in the
army, first thing they did was
cut off all my hair

then, every morning,
they'd roust us out of the sack
for a 5 mile run

some couldn't make it--
they were the "tubs of lard" who
kept holding us back

when they tested us
we knew some couldn't pass, so we
cheated on the tests

company average:
we were in competition
with everyone else

remember the day
we faced the obstacle course,
got through it alive?

radio training:
cooped up in a little shack
in the rainy woods

fed on stale meatballs
& bread by other trainees
bad off as ourselves

i feel sorry for
cooks & bakers, when they had
to play the war game

fortunately i
never had to pass that test--
i would not have passed


dragon ring

if i had bought
the gold ring i looked at
the one with the dragon
on the side
and a yellow stone
and glittering
if i had bought
from the slim darkfaced
man in white shirt
with short sleeves talking
to another man
in white short sleeves--
but the price he was asking
i thought too high
and the glass case
was such an anomaly
because i was used to
piles of fruit
on the dirt sidewalk
piles of dried shrimp
and fish
because i was used
to the shaved ice man
the bolts of colored silk
from thailand
suits from hong kong
prints from india
because because
and it wasn't raining hadn't rained
the world was becoming dust again
my brain had obviously shrunk
inside my skull like a nut
inside its skull and i keep thinking
about the monkey tied up at
the motor pool grinning and cursing
till it finally broke its leash
and i saw it hopping and grinning
making its getaway
and the sun glinting on the rice paddies
as i finished my guard mount
outside the white painted headquarters
listening to radio static and gekkos
all night long


eating icecream

we walked into that freezer
he and i, the hottest day in
july, and it being vietnam,
stood there in zero degree
heat, eating chocolate
icecream a five gallon tub
till we shivered, then staggered
out into the sunshine,
the hundred plus degree weather,
and were so chocolated out
by that time, it didn't bother
us hardly at all.


the forests of annam

you see your friend
25 years later
& he's got kids
who are grown
a house & a wife
or he's divorced
it's just the same
as yesterday
nothing's happened
over 25 years
you even (in your fantasy)
each look the same
memories don't lie
only photographs do
meanwhile the very tough earth
has been spinning
annam inching closer
to china
tigers leaping
have vanished in mid-air
the word for "wholeness"
has also vanished
you ask your friend
with your eyes, who were we?
what were we then?
the earth's skin has been bruised
it is a dark purple
on the earth's arm
will it heal? will there ever
be tigers and monkey again
in the forests of annam?


he says, laughing

here's another story for you:
guy, training pf's,
notices they have a tendency
to load every bullet in the box
into their magazines;
which makes, sure as shit,
a fucking jam.
he coaches them:
throws away the first two
cartridges out of every box;
magazine loads nice & neat
& will not jam.
then, sure enough,
they do just as he says
(it was sign language all the way):
throw out the first two cartridges
from every box.
at least they got their weapons
to fire he says, laughing


kill ratio

yet another
incredible example
of war's stupidity:
spots thru binocs
a huge number
of vc or nva,
little men
in black pajamas
walking single file
up the trail,
calls in arty,
air support, everything,
thinking, oh boy!
our kill ratio's gonna
really improve!
they level two hills.
next everybody
goes out to check for bodies:
rock apes!
it turns out to be
rock apes
on one of their migrations!
500 rock apes.
two hills.


jimmy stuart's homecoming

sitting in the audience
of the play about
a soldier's homecoming

i felt quite alone
wearing cammies:
everyone else was dressed up

or else wearing
everyday clothes.
the veterans sat on one side

the teenagers
who were friends of the kid

in the play
sat on the other,
and clapped, sang,

whistled, or stomped their feet
in appreciation
or along with the music

or as part of a plot.
the plot was thin,
watery, like chicken soup

mother used to give you
when you were sick,
to get you well,

and perhaps we were meant
to get well,
to give each other

hugs and greetings:
welcome home!
job well done!

but i was still surprised
when the author grabbed me
gave me a big hug

and a handshake and said
welcome home!
welcome home jimmy stuart


leopard cats

we used to watch
the little leopard cats
climb into trees above us
when we were on ambush.
through our starlight scopes.
they looked green
with black spots.
they were bigger than housecats
and would lie
quietly on a branch
until a monkey
ran incautiously below.
then they would drop,
grabbing monkey on the way down
to a yet lower branch.
by the time they landed
monkey would be catfood,
shredded, raw.
beautiful little cats
with long tails,
we used to watch them
all the time
and charlie could've snuck up
any time at all
and put his paw on us.
we didn't care.
we watched anyway.


nightmare revisited

now that the nightmare
has been called up,
it can be exorcised;

now that the demon
has been called up,
it can be slain.

but the field
of this demon's appearance
is different than mine:

mine was green
and black, green
and gold.

this field
is mostly sun-colored,
mostly gold,

even at night
gold spots
linger in the eyes.

i can feel myself
lying down now,
in sand,

like i did the time
my parents stopped
at a motel on a cliff

above a beach
off highway 1
after driving real late

the winding, scary
road; we got a room
with an extra mattress

that had just one sheet.
i awoke the next morning
feeling sand next to

my skin. i can hear them
now, the planes,
trucks, tanks,

smell the smell of oil
burning or not.
i can hear the tapedecks

playing, kibitz
the chess games, riffle
the pages of stacks of books;

and i can listen to the wind.
once having been to
war, one is always at

war; or else,
waiting to go back.
my whole life since i

got discharged, i've been
waiting around,
i just realized.

so this is how the nightmare
is exorcised: simply
by joining it again,

and you don't slay
demons, you just ask them
for another dance.


salt rain

over there, of course,
it was so hot
an ice cube'd melt
on its way from the tray
to the glass.
your first days in country
you spent getting used to it.
i had the advantage
having lived in texas
and new mexico;
100 degree dusks
weren't an impossibility
to one who'd lived with cactus
and raspberry sherbet sunsets.
the worst part was the humidity
but i'd been in louisiana
and seen that too.
by the third day you could say
i was already a veteran,
moving with grace and ease
between the sweat drops,
the salt rain
of my uncloudlike body.


this world of water

tonight it's raining
hard--rain lashing
me like i'd done something
wrong, but
i ain't done nothin'
but my duty. dark
and cold as well,
lightning bolts
shiver the skies
followed by thunder.
around around around
trudging in a muddy circle
rifle poncho helmet
eyes cowering underneath
the whole world is water
except where i'm walking
and it's going.

work detail

a hole in the brain needs
why are these men smiling?
black dirty teeth
in a mouth the side of
a face
needs testing,
sun traces the
forms of
men going into
it to destroy.
and why do
flowers, minding
their own business
get blown up?
moss green
pieces of crystal
the faint rays
of sun.
bubbling in a
over a fire
of plastic explosive.
plastic canteens
plastic sandbags
green woven plastic
and the sun
bubbling out of the top of
your head.
a wire
around the perimeter
children sometimes
snuck through
old mamasans
selling cokes
on the other side of.
the cokes
were warm.
you worked.
as you filled sandbags
piling them
around foxholes
it was very hot.
your arms melted
with the heat
your face melted
till there were only
your eyes left
black pools
shrunk by the invisible sun
on your hands and feet
the air like acid
searing you
to force you to
sit down
in the shade somewhere
and drink your coke.
water all gone
in your canteen
mouth dry
like cotton
lips dry
blistered from dryness.
soul dry.
gone hard
as rock
in the midday sun.
once you were somewhere
else, you try
to remember where?
but the thought sticks in your
head like a
stuck in the dry
now you are only
your hands reach down
as your arms hang limply
at your side.
you sit in the
shade of the sandbags
for another minute,
groan, get up,
walk over to the pile of
empty bags
pick up a shovel
start filling them.
no birds
to sing for you
no color tv
but someone has a radio
bless him.
another day of this.
time goes by slowly
like another bird
this is another day.
you watch.
children playing
on a mud pile
the other side of
the fence.
king of the mountain.
you think of
black virgin
nui ba den
fairy ferns falling
from its side
in the morning mist.
dawn beckons
calls at you
from all mornings.
first light.
sounds of birds. lizards.
sound of walking.
you think of this
and it fills a hole
built up inside of you
black empty
a hole.
you need a
tunnel rat
to go into
to probe its
secret windings
a hole
inside of you.
more thoughts now.
they are like wings of birds
before early morning
brings its first light
to wipe out the stars
and you are standing there
fists clenched
teeth clenched
mind like a narrow
over a raging
hidden in the mist
far below.

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