Vietnam

There will always be a jungle
where an old man sits on a mat
and buries the day in opium sleep,
and a young mother searches
among the dead for her own.

There will always be a wind
that blows through the village,
sweeping the clouds from the moon
and the incense from the temple,
the rude rekindling of war.

We will always be coming home from Vietnam.
The dead came first in caskets,
making the long flight, churning the least inside.
And the whole, or nearly whole, and the wounded.
And even those who never went.

For the war was brought home from the start,
fought in hearts and minds, on campus,
in the news, everywhere you went;
on every street in America was a corner of Vietnam.
Everyone saw the images and heard the names.

Those who went can say how the closeness was,
how it tasted, felt, poured into their lives,
played along their nerves, struck their bodies,
or hardly touched them at all—
inasmuch as one can say these things.

They would say, and have said,
how the war was hell and they survived,
that they fought for freedom, for something,
and were damned proud, or liked it;
or they hit a mine inside that was their war.

Those who didn’t go too have a tale to tell:
how they sensed the poison and said hell no,
sat beneath clubs and rifle butts,
beneath a greater threat, and spoke out,
sang to the soldiers, their brothers, and were glad.

And they would say, and will say,
though the times have changed and they have changed,
that they fought their own war their own way,
sought out danger to prove themselves,
or it hardly touched them at all.

We will always be coming home,
for there will always be a bar
where the choice not made will stir the drink
and the conversation comes from strangers
busy with their lives while you were gone.

We will always be coming home
to that place that stopped when we left,
searching for that country of the soul
where what we were and wanted and did
is found on a local street, some manhood map.

So we will always be returning
to the neighborhood before it changed,
to cheap jeans and short lines,
to our senior or junior year,
to our own geography and confusion.

We will always be coming home
to a story and to America,
to the eddy of violence from never losing,
and always losing something to change;
to our own first dreams and violences.

Remains are coming home,
forensically given their dog tags, it is hoped.
As the leaders who gave the orders came back
to sell their memoirs for millions
and be washed in the glow of stardom.

The missing will also be coming home,
whispered by the dead at rest in their wall.
And soldiers will always be going out,
and the great chants will always echo.
But we will have come home, some place like home.

From The Endless Evolving Trilogy – A Poem
Cycle published in 2000 by Hudson Owen

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