FOR, BUT NOT NECESSARILY TO, THE WRITERS
OF OUR WAR IN VIET NAM AT THE POINT OF MY JUBILEE--
ANOTHER EXPLORATORY MEDITATION
First of all, thanks. It wasn't always me who found you.
So many of you were put in my hands by someone else,
so in a sense, you'd already been screened, my friends
had said, I think there's something here for my friend.
You didn't come in any order.
your name just came up, and comes up first.
Barry put Facing It in my hands,
and Joan brought us together at Hugo House.
Your elegant hands hold all that will not fall.
I've followed you in poem and story and music,
I, too, find life in the blues, and follow you
into crevice and songline. In your distance
you are never far away. It is your face
I see when I greet my friends. You are the one
I find reading the ancient poets of China.
It doesn't matter what you say.
You swing in generosity.
Larry Heinemann you are the solitary survivor in us all.
You are Paco. Letters from Viet Nam
helped me find out people after the evacuation.
In Seattle on the stage of conscience, we sat, bumpershot.
Gloria Emerson, you are Jody Aliesan, loving in time of war.
Jonathan Shay you gave us Achilleus. You gave us Odysseus.
You have taken us all the way to moral injury.
This is a meditation in green.
Semper Fi, Marlantes. You give me the walk my friend made.
The friend who said, Keep your silver star. Your memoir?
I passed that on to my son-in-law who calls me Dad.
This is the sideways fuck. You didn't know about your own cancer?
This is the loss of Denis Johnson this past week. You are a voice
of the black GI. You are the voice of us all. I never tried to reach you.
You had that kind of beyond. The Monk's Insomnia,
that early poem. A mango salsa laced
with habaneros. Seconal drifts down
from the moon after Vespers. A boy sets out
thrown from the furnace of a star.
Tim O'Brien, you are the things we carried
and the things we carry. This is all warm-up to you.
The what. It is to you I turned back to.
You were there early.
I loved Cacciato, and I loved the way
he walked away. You weren't Robin Williams,
you weren't the deer hunter. Student Body President.
Because that's not supposed to happen,
that counts. I learned some geography,
I put stuff in your pack O'Brien. Too much.
Here's some of it. What you gave us in the carrying,
carried the generation. Each one a veteran of Vietnam.
I don't know you said that, but I did, early,
and said it in your name. I say it again.
And this: the unlikely voice. Minnesota.
Need more? Student body president.
How unlikely is that for 11B grunt,
Quang Tri Province, 1969. A couple
of interviews that stuck. One, domesticated
PTSD. Bringing it down from shellshock.
Bringing it home. Anyone who's been divorced
knows about PTSD. Your gift to our generation.
That and time. If the Jungians opened up
Tet and 1968 for me, your work helped me carry it
for another twenty years.
I was incountry
the year before you came. When it all came down.
We evacuated the guys you wrote about a year later
walking Binh Dinh Province.
I wouldn't have missed
your part with the Big Read in Ellensburg this fall,
both of us in our 70s. We talked some, and stood
with other vets for photos after lunch. That was good.
Thanks. The big surprise, however, came two days
earlier in your craft lecture. Phil and I walked in
a few minutes late. Parking. Found those
single open aisle seats and I took one up front.
[Phil was one of the ones waiting for me
in January, 1969. He gave me the Iliad and Homer.
When my son was born he called him Astyanax,
son of Hector. One of the vets I'm talking about.]
The craft lecture. About writing? This is why I came?
Turns out it was. Testimony and confession.
Witness to what happens to any public voice.
Coming in late, you tell me if I miss, and where.
Here's from my notebook:
Black blazer. Beige shirt. Skinny tie.
Red baseball cap, HENDRIX in black caps.
The Killers. Hemingway. I think first about my father.
Him handing me that book.
VFW. Father drinking in the VFW. Backgammon. Selling insurance.
The turkey capital in Minnesota.
Cat in the Rain. You'll come back to that one. What can't be said.
Hemingway's ice berg....Some things to say to my father. So he would stop drinking vodka.
That one binds us more than the nam. The war right there. A reader's own joys.
Bad and mediocre stories don't leave room for readers.
This isn't much of a craft lecture--but it's crafty like Odysseus.
That's from Phil in 1970.
Who in the audience understands the plot of his own life.
Yesterday, for example. There isn't always an explanation.
Fiction's job--not to explain. Deepen why.
How the misfit becomes the misfit. Stink of the half-truth.
Dislexics don't make serial killers
Dad placed Hemingway in my hands as a boy.
He wrote Cat in the Rain six decades ago.
Living below the water line I re-read those 650 pages of stories.
My father had his Hemingway.
A story completed by vanishing fathers.
My voice broke in an auditorium
when the young man approached me
about the Marine Corps, Now
I'm sure I'll be going.
Poor, dumb, useless fucker.
Smoke, watch, CNN. One man's torment is another man's...
Space break. April 12, 2016, turning 70.
(A year behind me in the war, too.}
Two young sons. There was no answer. There never is.
The Killers--his sons the same age he was when his dad
gave him Hemingway. "What about Oly?" "Oly is done running."
70 years old. It shows. I'm trying to be a good father.
We played those nine holes together.
None of us uttered the words, Nine more holes.
No longer the writer. I swore off writing sentences.
Gave up writing entirely in 2002.
No longer a writer. Work at being a father.
What had once been fun for me, hardened.
The confession. Father. Sons. Hemingway.
Five hours a day, not 12. Time for soccer.
My loathing for not making sentences
remains a big problem. I have memories
of Miss Beck, my 11th grade English teacher
and her breasts. Now, once in a while,
this is how it once was, some time ago.
Hemingway, he got there and he got there right.
Mailer said, Are you that Viet Nam writer?
We all stand one another's shoulder's.
I live with the rebuke in Mailer's voice.
Annoyance bordering on violence.
We build our spanking new houses on seized ground.
I wanted to express my own helplessness.
My own inability to utter no to a word I despise.
Mailer, Vonnegut, Hemingway.
My father's medals, my own homecoming
circle back to Harold Krebs. Wonderful reasons.
Never bad ones. Where's my son? Blown in a tree.
War comes out in the little moments.
Most people lock their doors at night.
That's it. I sit with it. The man I imagined. The man in the room.
The real war story is the one you tell today.
The one about craft that didn't happen.
That one. I came for the one in the iceberg.
The Big Read/The Notebook/Bonsai Garden
27 April 2017--3 June 2017