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Poetry by B.D. Trail
- The ARVN Major beat the boy
- with the captured rifle sling
- glancing proudly at us,
- his American advisors.
- An uninteresting event to everyone
- except the boy who silently cringed
- and shook from blow to blow.
- In the madness of the war
- today was near-to-normal.
- There had been the usual dance to snipers,
- the suck-up in the chest,
- the dash across manioc fields,
- the crack and whip of bullets
- in time with running feet.
- Looking at the photos now,
- the sand is light like snow.
- But then, the sand was griddle-hot
- and hard to run across.
- And there had been the usual harassment
- of the villagers,
- the pig killings and gold tooth grinnings
- of the chicken thieves,
- the stolen rice boiling in black cauldrons.
- In our little corner of the war
- the major beat the boy,
- we Americans smoked cigarettes,
- the Vietnamese village women cooked rice
- for ARVNs down on the ground
- spread out in casual circles.
- The stick grenade was lobbed out of a bunker
- with all the surety and disguised slowness
- of a softball. And it seemed to move towards
- a cookfire with measured, casual directness.
- A village woman heavy in her pregnancy
- caught the rolling blast of the grenade.
- The fragments plunged into the soldiers.
- For her the blast was a sonic scalpel
- slicing, filleting, cutting
- deep, deep into her belly.
- Something clicks in time of crisis,
- a switch to surreal slow motion.
- We Americans froze in place
- while the Vietnamese,
- as if coming up for air,
- floundered and fumbled.
- Still half-frame, the image slowed
- to show her baby,
- her corded baby,
- ease ooze
- from her fish-gutted belly
- and fall into the fire.
- The madness was not just the fetus in the fire.
- No, that was just a novelty-of-horrors.
- to men who had seen minings and other mutilations.
- The madness was the mother was still alive.
- Split from throat to crotch,
- the mother was alive and
- screaming screaming screaming
- I didn't shoot her and I don't know why.
- No one shot her. And she kept on
- screaming screaming screaming.
- Dragged over the white-hot sand
- on a red-wet poncho,
- she screamed for two hours on the landing zone.
- She died before a helicopter came.
- I died back at the fire.
Bernard Doss Trail died on January 1 of this year. He was called "Ben" and signed his work "B.D. Trail." He was the son of Col. Charles D. Trail, USAF (retired and deceased) and Dr. Billie Marburger Trail. He was born August 3, 1940 in Bryan, TX, and raised in Japan, England, Nebraska, and Texas. He earned a B.A. in English and a U.S. Army commission at Texas A & M in May 1962. In seven years of service he reached the rank of Captain, Military Intelligence. He served in Europe, and finished two tours in the Republic of Viet Nam. In Quang Tin Province he earned the Bronze Star and the Combat Infantryman's Badge. He returned to A & M in 1969 for a Masters of Education degree. He worked at I.M. Terrell High School and Dunbar High School in Fort Worth. In 1973, he joined the faculty at Tarrant County Junior College where he taught literature and writing for 18 years. He began publishing poetry in 1962. He published 200 poems, of about 300 known to exist. He is survived by his mother, two sisters (Charlotte and Anne), their children, and other family.
Trail's work has earned him respect among those who know vet poetry. His perspective is unusual: Trail writes as the officer son of an officer, who meant to stay for a career but left the Army after Viet Nam service, who now teaches English Literature to college students who don't care for it. Sadly, he died before seeing a book into print to establish his reputation and leave a durable resource for future readers. But Trail was so fortunate as to have a friend, Docke Burke, who has assembled a Complete Poems on disk, with a bibliography of publications. Vietnam Generation will publish the bibliography, with a biographical note, some critical essays, and a brief selection of poems, when we can afford to. We are arranging to have disks and typescripts of Burke's compilation placed on deposit at John Baky's collection of Imaginative Representations of the Viet Nam War at La Salle University, and at David Willson's collection at the Holman Library, Green River Community College, Auburn, WA. Baky will see to it that the archive is cited in all the relevant indices and databases.
A note by Trail to David Willson dated 22 Jan 91, accompanying a selection of his work, points to "The Grenading," from the chapbook Flesh Wounds (Samisdat, Volume 54, #4, 216th release, ISSN 0226-840x, Box 129, Richford, VT, 05476) as "my best war poem."