And one blue morning suddenly besieged
And started blowing us out of the air.
We lost a dozen birds trying to resupply
And medivac the ground-pounders,
Finally left them to knock it out and rot.
My co-pilot lost his head
To a 50-cal tracer.
But TNT was on our side.
Three weeks later I fly into what’s left
Of Dak Sieng to pick up GI bodies.
They load me three.
Body bags aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.
Doors open, I fly the Huey sideways,
Smoking Marlboros like crazy.
I sing to you of putrefaction—
I fly the living and the dead,
And once I was one of six Hueys
That assaulted a landing zone
Behind the Pleiku Steam Bath,
Landing in echelon
For brief sessions
With sweet illiterate black-haired girls.
And that was Nam, Mom.
One wet monsoon morning when strings
Of fog lingered deep in jungle valleys
I fly along in a chopper armada:
Sixty green, thudding, bobbing
Flying exoskeletons full of
Puking GI’s and wisecracking GI’s
On our way to assault something or other
Apparently in need of another assault,
When up ahead the main rotor of a Huey
Spins upwards, toplike, independent,
Thrashing sunlight, then tilts and falls,
And meanwhile its Huey drops like a green boulder,
Bashes through the triple canopy without a puff.
On the mountain top above it
Sat an abandoned fire-base
That looked a lot like the excavations
For malls and movie theaters appearing everywhere
Here in the Blue Ridge where I now live,
Down in a gully of a valley that hazes up
From my woodstove.
My dog’s food comes in 50-pound sacks.
Some nights are blessed with snow dreams.
While waiting for discharge after Nam
I flew for the Army War College
In the Pennsylvania town where Jim Thorpe
Lies in the ground.
I flew with another guy from Nam named Lloyd
Whose mustache parenthesized his mouth
And the regs regarding facial hair.
Our job was to ferry brass from the Pentagon
And meant low-leveling the Potomac in D. C.
To avoid the commercial jets.
We reveled in not being shot at,
In passing marble Lincoln and Jefferson
At eye level, and when empty
We’d wop the blades in salute
And laugh our silly asses off,
Try to scare commuters on the bridges,
Neither of us 21.
One day the boss of NATO was on board,
And some civilian, the Director
Of the Selective Service.
On the way north they asked to fly
Low and slow over Gettysburg.
I could see the General
Shouting in the Draft King’s ear
And pointing out the Huey’s window.
Down below snow was still trapped
In the hedgerows
And huge puddles gleamed in the fields.
Lloyd, rooting in his flight-suit pockets
Had found a joint left over from Nam.
Through the intercom I called him an asshole.
He smiled, slipped it in his mouth,
And chewed for a long time.
The General tapped my shoulder,
His lips forming a thank you,
And jerked his thumb upwards.
So I pulled pitch
Surging us higher,
The rotor shivering through the seat,
And as happened now and then,
I was back there
Pushing the turbine
To get my ass above
Tracer burn-out altitude
So the 50 cals couldn’t draw a bead
The door gunners’ machine guns
Ripping lead into the jungle
To keep their heads down.
I tear my eyes off the altimeter
And look back at the battlefield turned park,
Try to shed this fear,
But a single B-52,
Its bomb pattern larger
Than all Gettysburg’s fields,
Drops a long slow load.