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Erebus


ISSUE:  Autumn 1996

You have the dream again: monsoon season, jungle,
a muddy village road; you are naked,
stumbling along a paddy dike across an open field
toward the village where C. W. killed all the pigs
but once into the trees
there is only thickening jungle,
canopy hung with smoldering flares.
You stumble into an open field,
cupping your balls,
and from the next treeline
you hear music, Motown, Aretha
who used to throb from the mortar pits
where the brothers slung round after round down the tubes,
a little respect,
and when you enter the village, ashamed,
you see men you tagged dead
and choppered out like sides of beef,
grinning at you from around a fire,
and the old women, the children
who didn’t move quick enough, all the Cong,
they are there too,
and the ones from the day so many died
you tore up your own clothes for bandages,
all there and singing, lit amber by the fire.
What took you so long, Doc, they say.
They ask you where you’ve been and you can’t tell them.
Over twenty years since you got lost coming home,
and now you’re back here in the stinking silt and hedgerows,
shin deep in pigs, but this time
naked and without a weapon.
And so you sit down with the dead.
Reese with the white eyebrows
wraps a poncho around your shoulders,
tells you what it was like when he was dying,
treeline crackling with machinegun fire
you pounding on his chest to start his heart
and him thinking, Easy, it’s so quiet where I am,
quiet and fine, and Ballard,
blue black and thick-shouldered, telling you
he watched you working on his body from above,
how you were white and sweat-soaked,
your chest heaving, trying to find the exit wound
and keep from being hit
and how he wanted to tell you it was all right,
it was fine, and Price, arms so long
he could fold a sheet by himself,
whom you crawled down into the stream bed
to drag out by the heels, who lived to go home,
to be killed in a dope deal two years later.
All of us are here, he says, sit down,
we’ll get you some clothes,
you’re home now, easy,
remember what you used to say?
You’re going to be fine, my man,
you’re going home,
just don’t fade out on me,
hey, what’s your mother’s maiden name?

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