Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Will The Last Living Saint Please Stand Up

It was only after my brother-in-law's visit,
two years past his time in that slaughterhouse
we called Vietnam, that I saw how the war
had affected my first husband,
safely riding out his own two year bloodbath
in a supply ship off the corpse
free green waters of this once beautiful,
but troubled, land we were sent to burn, tame,
napalm and slaughter.

God Bless America, land of the free!
Teach the young our enemies are subhuman
then send them frollicking on their way
.

My brother-in-law spoke of sheared-off ears strung on belts,
Cong flung like basketballs or mortars
from our copters,
the rapes,
the heads on posts,
the torture.

Oh dear God, I had to leave the room.

From the kitchen, I heard them both laugh
about one gook who begged for his life,
his screams like those of a dying hyena.

These stories brought more hysteria
than Carson
or sock it to me Hawn on Laugh In.

Civilian or Cong? If dead, he was Cong.
That was the rule.
Women clutching their babies, stabbed
raped, and shot counted as ten, no make it a hundred...
ten counts for each of the ten men who raped her.
These counts, 'proof' of our
successes in taming these noble savages.

Count 'em.
Count 'em double.
Count 'em triple.
That was the unofficial official word given these teens,
some still not needing a shave every day,
some with their mother's mailed cookies still
stowed in their rucksack.

My husband's spirit had fled along with his brother's.
This explained his long silences, the indifference
that had crept like a dark shadow over
our young marriage.

His friend, best man at our Pearl Harbor wedding,
raped me one night.
Out of the navy by then, too.
Me sleeping on their sofa
enroute to a meeting.
Told his wife, my close friend,
it was consensual.
Maybe he was dreaming I was a bar girl
waiting for him in Saigon again,
legs spread wide for a dolla'.

This was the war we were to learn from.
the war more men died by their own hand
from, than were killed by the Cong in those
searing, orange-coated, gateways to hell.

The bones of the dead rise in my dreams,
dress in their cast away coats of skin.
They are us, they say, and we, them.
They pull on their faces and it's my face I see.
May those without sin cast the first stone,
they chant.

Glass houses weren't safe havens, anyway.
No more than battlefields, home fronts,
or shivering behind the backs of wannabe
saints claiming they would've never done the same thing.

I'm still waiting for the real saints to rise up.

Turn on the house lights.
Toss away the crosses.
Sing hymns of praise.
Feather the ground with rose petals.

Perhaps glass houses will yet
be habitable again in our lifetime
and condoms, not war,
the preferred way to manage
our burgeoning population overload.

17 comments:

Helen Losse said...

Powerful poem, Pris. I like it. I don't know if it's publsihed or not. If not, have you thought about eliminating the final stanza?

Pris said...

Hi Helen
I just finished writing this one and so haven't submitted it, tho it will likely go into a chapbook S.A. Griffin and his publishing partner are planning of some of my poems and one other woman's in the same book.

I hadn't thought about leaving off the last stanza. I can see why you ask the question. The statement is in one sense redundant, but yet I don't feel closure with the one before and I like the contrast between war and condoms...hmmmm will give that some thought, though. I always appreciate ideas in working with my poems.

RachelChisholm2006 said...

Hi Pris! Looks like you might be feeling better since you're writin g and blogging again. Hope that means you're free of pain!!
Excellent poem.

RachelChisholm2006 said...

Hi Pris!
Looks like you're feeling better since you're back writing and blogging! Hope that means you're free of pain!
Excellent poem.

Pris said...

Hi Rachel
Thanks. Not free of pain yet, but a friend gave me his antique laptop that has enough power to run Word, so I can work on poems on it, but not do much via internet postings yet (since I can only be on this one for a few minutes at the time). Glad I can do that much.

pepektheassassin said...

So glad you are back! Missed you.

Lyle Daggett said...

Really powerful moving poem, Pris. many of the things you describe from Vietnam unfortunately are familiar to me from some of the vets I've known who were over there.

I know a guy who (like your first husband, as you say in the poem) was stationed on a ship off the coast of Vietnam, never saw any of the violence "close-up," and after all these years still is dealing with the shock of the aftereffects, what's now called post-traumatic stress. In his case, he's been active for a number of years in the local chapter of Veterans for Peace.

Thanks so much for posting this. And hope you do feel better.

Pris said...

Hi Lyle
Being a psychologist, the irony of it was that I was aware of post traumatic stress syndrome and knew it was operating in my brother-in-law, but it just never occured to me that it was with my husband. Once, the pipelines from shore to ship broke and the ship went upriver to make the delivery. Suddenly they were shelled. Two men were killed and the officers dining area (my husband had gone to OCS and was a junior officer) and a huge hole rent in it by a shell. I still remember the letter my husband wrote saying..'they were trying to kill me...they were trying to kill me..' and running all over deck not knowing where was safe and defenseless until the planes started bombing the source of the shells.

I can't believe I was so dumb as to not realize what a profound and lasting effect this had since he was 'safe' the rest of the time.(They never went up that river again). He never talked about that day again with me. That's why I was so surprised to hear their discussion. I had already been surprised when only two months after we married (and according to his ongoing letters I was still the love of his life) he told me that he didnt want anybody in his space but he'd made a vow and would keep it. No, not surprised. Stunned. I never connected it to Vietnam. He apologized profusely when the ship went back for its second tour, but behaved the same when he came back. I lasted it out for five more years, but he never let me in again so I finally left.

Thanks for sharing about the other supply ship officer. It corroborates what I'd finally realized. My husband's reaction was the opposite. He had friends but let no-one inside and, once a lawyer, became quite selfish for a long time, too.

And thanks for your good wishes. I'm struggling with the back again today, but it can't go on forever.

Michael Parker said...

Very powerful, Pris! Extraordinary poem.

(I read Helen's note above and I like her suggestion regarding the last stanza. The second to last stanza would make an excellent ending.)

Hope you are well. Hope the pain had decreased.

Pris said...

Hi Michael
Thanks. I haven't been able to let that last stanza go. I think I need to sit on the poem for a while. sometimes when i get a suggestion, i can't 'see' it then, but can when the poem becomes a stranger to me again. So, I'll see:-)

I'll send you a note. I'm still struggling with pain and am wondering how you are.

nmj said...

Hey there, I tried to comment before, but it zapped into nothingness, hope this is more successful! Just to say, I came across your blog in Jennie Spotila's article and I am always refreshed to discover ME/CFS bloggers who blog about diverse issues, not just their illness, I will certainly visit you again! (I am writer of velo-gubbed legs.)

Pris said...

Didn't she do a great job on that article?? While I'll post when I'm going through a rough time (and hence, disappear for a bit) I blog to forget about CFIDS. We all have our different ways dealing with the DD and that just happens to be mine. Hope you pop back for a visit. I took a look at your blog and found your honestly there very refreshing. I didn't comment yet. Can't sit much and need to go get prone.

nmj said...

What interests me is that so many people with this illness have turned to writing or other creative outlets. I suppose I blog to forget, in a sense, but it is always there like the devil, but after 23 years I don't like to mention it too much, there are so many other things that need mentioning! Your image of 'sheared-off ears strung on belts' is quite arresting, will stay with me for a while.

Pris said...

It's always there, for sure!! I'm sitting here bleary eyed right now, trying to get my brain to work.

And the things I described, though in my language, are accurate in terms of what happened there. The heads on posts was ordered stopped when journalizts got too curious, but some footage I've seen, in addition to descripion, is truly horrifying (on both sides)...as is all war.

Ellen M Johns said...

Stunning writing Pris...for some reason I think the last stanza could be the first. Just my humble opinion for what it's worth...

Pris said...

Thanks, Ellen...I'll keep your suggestion in mind. Unless we're talking minor rewording or typos I don't make a major change in a poem anymore until I've sat on it for a while (and esp when my head's clogged with a cold:-)

I appreciate.

Pris said...

Okaaay...on the last stanza question raised here, but not on the MySpace posting of it, I still strongly felt the last stanza worked as it was. I decided to write a long time poet friend of mine who not only knows my writing well, but has training in poetry as well. Gave him an alternative version that let the poem end on the second to last stanza. This was his reply:

I want the "Perhaps glass houses will yet" stanza at the end. Having the "population overload" statement finish the poem provides needed closure to the journey you've taken the reader on throughout the poem. Therefore, I strongly prefer your original version. Another reason is structural. The houselights stanza has a shorter meter (as in sets of unaccented/accented syllables) and therefore reads "lighter" (think bouncing rubber ball versus cannon ball aimed for the audience). Having the houselights stanza end the poem, rather than the "heavier" glass houses (in terms of meter), would sacrifice a lot of potential elegance the poem is capable of. In other words, putting it less gently, the second version risks being trite because the last thought and syllable structure it leaves the reader with is less powerful than the previous stanzas...the ones you wanted to put on the end. In other words, go with your instincts, they're good.