Nobody Gets Off the Bus:
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The Lifeguard at Eagle Beach
(North of Hue, 1969)
Someone in clean starched fatigues
is repainting the latrine.
Its walls are covered
with the graffiti of survivors,
mostly "You have not lived
until you have almost died."
Many from our Company have died.
Last night, Metsu and I
strung claymore mines
along the edge of the shore.
We scared off three GIs
looking for a quiet place
to blow their dew.
They didn't know,
that pulling guard on paradise,
the guards smoke dope too.
The salt in the sea
cleanses our cuts,
somehow stopping the jungle rot.
We're not allowed in
without a lifeguard around.
It's surprising how many cannot swim.
There's a golf course here.
Officers and noncoms
have the advice of a pro,
not twenty miles from where
Doc John died disemboweled.
There's plenty of good hot food.
We drink cold, cold beer
and fill sandbags with fine white sand,
watching the lifeguard at Eagle Beach
work on his tan.
Almost twenty years after the last helicopter
fled Saigon, nearly two decades after
the last domino fell,
John Balaban reports,
"Whatever we left, nothing remains."
Try to imagine the countryside
without gunships overhead.
The bomb craters have been filled,
planted with eucalyptus and bamboo.
No free fire zones remain.
Forget the chopper pads,
the guardtowers, the sandbag bunkers,
and the foo gas drums
behind the concertina wire.
All perimeters have been breached,
the jungle has reclaimed LZ Bongo
and Ap Bai Mountain is green again.
Unlearn the stench
of human shit burning in diesel.
The afterimages of tracers
should fade from your eyes;
Puff no longer pumps death
from the night time sky.
All that are left are statistics,
letters, photographs, unread books,
television clichés and memories
that howl on sleepless nights.
The American dead are only names
on a long black wall in Washington.
Your friends who survived
are fat and forty, balding and soft,
drink too much in the Legion,
fly POW/MIA flags,
and dwell in their pasts.
What you knew has no juice left
and is as dry
as the white sand dunes of Eagle Beach,
as dry as the pages of history texts.
The spilled blood did not compress
as hard as coal nor as black as oil,
it turned to dust or joined
the dioxin in the soil.
Don't trust your memory,
it plays tricks on you.
"Whatever we left,
See Bill Shields' review of Jon Forrest Glade's Photographs of the Jungle in the Reviews section of Volume 3, #3.