WHAT I KNEW BEFORE I WENT THROUGH THAT ARMY GATE
I knew Dylan. I knew my Dylan.
Free Wheeling. The year I graduated
from high school. I knew that
listening in my friend's bedroom.
I knew Dylan through the Ballad of the Thin Man.
Something's happening here,
and you don't know what it is,
Do you, Mr. Jones. I knew that
and knew that then.
I knew Dylan was the one.
I knew that when the green bus
went through the gate at Fort Ord
on 1 November 1965. Being on that bus
was the worst thing ever. I knew that.
KnowBody didn't have to tell me.
I knew Beckett. I knew Krapp's Last Tape.
Spool. I knew the meaning of the absurd.
Sitting in that classroom, listening to the sound
of spool, I knew that I could get this.
I didn't know the meaning of the absurd.
Brother David would teach me that later,
"a" without, "surdus," sound,
without sound, I can't hear it. He would show me that
after I came back from war.
I knew Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening.
From here I knew winter solstice
and how to break the iambics in reading.
I knew how to read it. I knew it was winter solstice.
That our work was just beginning.
I knew the lamb and the tyger.
I knew the Chimney Sweeper.
I knew Yossarian. I knew Catch 22.
I knew how many missions you had to fly.
I knew Doc Daneeka. I knew it was some catch.
I knew Philip Wylie's essay, Momism,
and I thought it was about me and my mother.
I knew Ray Charles. What'd I say? Every night, I
I knew about Birdland. And found it at 16,
before I knew how to shift and start on Seattle hills.
I knew how to say, This is it.
Take these chains from my heart. Each link
mapping my way to the world. Set me free.
I knew how to work.
I knew Goethe. I knew Sophocles.
I knew I didn't belong in the pulpit.
I knew about notebooks.
I knew about how fast the mind can change.
I knew Sinclair Lewis and Main Street and Elmer Gantry, and Babbitt.
And I knew, It Can't Happen Here.
I knew Mark Schorr's biography on Lewis, and I saw Lewis' town
with my grandmother in an Austin Healy Sprite.
I never knew high school. I knew that.
I knew that didn't fit.
That journalism teacher made a difference.
There were writers for the school paper
who knew things I didn't know. I wondered about that.
I knew I could work, and did. I knew 60 hour work weeks.
I worked every day of the Seattle World's Fair.
I knew about Martin Luther King.
I knew Joyce, but I didn't know it all.
I knew about segregation and knew which side was right.
I knew about leaving. I knew it cost. I couldn't see the price.
And I couldn't say it.
I knew about failing in school. I knew about Hurricane Betsy in New Orleans.
I knew the Fantastiks. I knew the song and I lived out the script.
Try to remember and walking away from Karen.
I knew Karen.
I knew Hemingway, John Dos Pasos, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
I knew You Can't Go Home Again.
I knew photosynthesis.
I didn't know about logic. I didn't know about syllogisms.
That this was beyond me, I was pretty certain.
I knew some history. Western Civilization. Men like Rasputin.
Where did they come from? Here, I knew,
one could question God. Some Shakespeare.
I knew Edward Bellamy and Looking Backwards.
I knew about all this, and I didn't.
I knew I could never be without this.
Could I do this, was the question I dared not ask,
but it was my question
I knew Barry Goldwater and I knew Governor George Wallace.
I didn't know what I believed on my own.
Barry Goldwater said, Look at what Johnson did:
He picked Hubert. Governor Wallace said,
Come down and see us. We got lots of cops and dogs.
I knew Black Like Me. Remember thinking, I could do this, too.
I knew these things when the bus went through the gate.
I knew I wanted to be a poet, but didn't have any poems.
I knew it was about civil rights, but didn't know how to get there.
I knew New Orleans. Betsy--the hurricane. Lake Pontchartrain.
I knew those recruiters in the French Quarter during the World Series.
I knew these things before that bus went through the gate.
READING LETTERS FROM THE VIET NAM WAR
FROM 50 YEARS AGO BETWEEN KAREN AND I,
I COME ACROSS THE LETTER TO KAREN, WRITTEN
THE DAY AFTER MARTIN LUTHER KING'S ASSASSINATION
Opening these letters I didn't know what I'd find.
This one, beginning 6 Apr 68, from a stenographer's
notebook, page torn from ring wire, inserted
upside down into typewriter, Hi love. Anything
here? I'm wondering, the date not triggering
the war mirroring ours, in America. I write
from the 85th Evacuation Hospital,
Qui Nhon, South China Sea: After Tet,
when we had our turn in Hell. Language
of the times, to Karen: ...terrible about
Martin Luther King. Last night I sat in
with four colored guys and on the radio
we listened to the eulogies and sorrow
expressed concerning the assassination.
These guys were hurt pretty hard and they
are not going to take it lying down. They
are young and militant and deserve
the rights that we have. They are going
to riot all over this summer. I don't know
how bad that it will be. I want you
to be very careful. We can do more
for civil rights by just being ourselves
to all of the people that we meet.
That's what the letter says. No changes
in spelling or punctuation. That's it.
Who I was at 22. In June, Bobby Kennedy
will be shot as we prepare to rotate home.
What's still to come
walking into November, 1967.
Not as many folks around as I ask
my question: Where were you in 1968?
Believe me, politicians emptying
the treasure chest for the powerful
know their numbers. So many touchstones.
I cite two every chance I get: Gary Snyder
in Mountains and Rivers Forever, this:
Then the white man will be gone.
His follow-up. White man is not
a racial designation, but a name
for a certain set of mind--when
we all become born-again natives
of Turtle Island. James Baldwin
before and after: No label, no slogan,
no skin color...The Price of the Ticket.
As long as you think you're white,
I'm going to be forced to think I'm black.
It is the unalterable truth. All men are brothers.
A painting of Coltrane hangs in my room,
inspired by A Love Supreme, painted
by the artist Rex DeLoney, given to me
when he went home to Little Rock.
A love supreme. Acknowledge it,
bright paint. When my friend dies,
what I send his son. When I'm alone,
what I listen to at night. Returning, then,
some of us didn't go back to that country.
15 November 2017
There was also this:
BUT WHAT TO DO?
I told the chaplain,
Get me out of this place.
I can't do this.
He wore Captain bars
Call me Chaplain.
What's going on?
I don't believe in this,
Get me out.
What don't you believe?
In any of this,
we did this.
I don't believe
in your basic training,
or your war.
The last week
and we believe.
Like it was a song.
There ain't nothing
you can do.
and that's how
Did that chaplain
to medical service?
Is that how
I got there?
I would never know.
haunted me then.
52 years later
it's still un-resolved.
It is the shadow
in every act
WHEN TRUTH SAYS NO
Pastor's voice says Yes
My No too soft to be heard
Exile's railroad walk
THE SCHOOL IN THE STEPPING STONES
Block by block through the Imperial City.
Tagged by medics when they were brought in,
the words for where, "...Near Hue,"
during a firefight. We were south,
in Qui Nhon, the evac hospital
that took GIs hit during this particular
Year of the Monkey. January 31, 1968.
I'm skiing in Japan on R&R
a resort called Zao, near
where Basho walked on his way
North. Ignorant of Basho,
ignorant of Hue, but those mortars
hitting the airfield on my return
remain with me still. Basho
where I walk, black pine, rock,
running water, book.
Ink in every book. I stood
on the citadel eight years ago,
returning, trying to imagine
revolution with modern weapons.
Impossible task. One who stood
with us in the rain, fell,
broke her ankle.
Tourist evac'd from the Sacred City.
My job in Qui Nhon.
Trying to imagine.
Moral injury is language
we use today, listening now
to casualties from all sides.
9 August 2017
LETTER TO MARK BOWDEN REMEMBERING
THE 85TH EVAC HOSPITAL IN QUI NHON,
DURING AND AFTER TET, 1968,
DURING AND AFTER READING HUE, 1968
At the dentist's this morning, nitrous oxide
and Bob Marley, loud, with headphones,
while receiving three internal fillings under gums
the day before my 72d, born the day
Fat Boy drops the bomb on Nagasaki,
I stop at the counter before a box of dark green
plastic soldiers. Toy soldiers. GIs.
Take your pick and remember our soldiers, the sign says.
Two choices: One about to throw a grenade,
the other with a machine gun. There's no medics here,
I say to the secretaries, who respond, They're out working.
I wasn't there but I was.
I was there, but I wasn't.
And now I'm there again
in all that immersion and intensity.
Beside myself yesterday after putting your book down.
I ran the evac section at the 85th Evac Hospital.
Not marines, but GIs. Book in hand
through the house. To bathroom, on the stool,
brushing teeth. Near Hue reverberates,
I couldn't have made that up.
Storyteller rides the helicopter.
Evacuation becoming skin one grows into.
War continues, and continues to move.
What part of me is made up?
What part of me is real?
Paperwork on each GI off chopper or plane,
one sentence what happened, one description of wound,
name, unit, DEROS--so we knew these kids
hadn't been here long enough to know where they were.
In and out of Incountry. Two week tours.
Fragments and fragmentation. Bang.
Over and over. Over and into our lives.
Get it right, get it down. Go look.
Talk with those who can talk. Find their next place.
Let them know, when and why. This way home.
50 years later. In Hue. With Hue. This way.
An Khe, Khe Sanh, Phu Bai.
Chu Lai, Pleiku, Cu Chi.
Like moments falling from the sky.
Where was he going? That man? That one against the sky?
Do you know Robinson's poem? Do you know Yusef's Facing it?
Taking pictures of paragraphs with my IPhone:
two paragraph descriptions of John Olson's photograph
on pages 511-12. That kind of writing.
Alvin Granthem's story. Boucoup thanks.
For the fuckups, For getting them right. God bless.
Clueless in the land of lost hope. Pick your context.
There it is: a primer on composition.
How and when to repeat. Hold back and let the reader in.
Echoes of Vonnegut. And so it goes.
Outline maps of the Citadel. Nobody's photo gets this one.
My wife took me back just after Barack's election.
From the bottom up. If I haven't lived this way,
there's no fish to talk about. The photo of Westmoreland
coming through the hospital. Did I carry
my short timer's stick on that salute? Did I make it up?
Why do you call him Westy?
Does your edge diminish your word? The only sliver
in 500 pages. The only one. I look up cordite.
Look at your sorry ass. Hold on to their belt. TFP.
God bless Big Ernie! I could do another
couple of hundred pages. Need to.
How I got here? I'm a lefty. It makes all the difference.
OMG as the kids say, the Abrams quote.
Poor bastards everywhere.
8 August 2017
P.S. The Mourning Headband wraps around the burning moon.
LINES FOR THE GINGER MAN, LINES FOR ETERNITY:
REMEMBERING SERGEANT MAJOR THOMAS PENDERGRASS
He flew to Seattle to be with me on my birthday.
50 years ago tomorrow. Career soldier.
The Ginger Man, Hemingway. James Jones.
Father, too. Like Writer-Dad.
Pendergrass by the Hemingway statue in Pamplona
in the black & white photo in my hand.
But before that. SFC Pendergrass,
already in Panama, when I arrived.
I was 20. And how lost?
Heaven help the ginger man.
He gave me that book.
The Ginger Man: I'm sick of people.
The less I have to do with them
for the rest of my life the better.
I don't care if I die. Had I found
that book? Pendergrass put it in my hand.
And then brought James Jones'
From Here to Eternity. Just months
before, in basic training, I was locked
into my uniform by Army chaplains,
saying, We believe in this war.
P-Grass, drinking 15 cent beers with me
in the Em Club while I learned
my way in the government hospital.
I hadn't only lost as a pacifist.
I'd lost Karen by being a fool.
I found myself in Robert E. Lee Pruitt, Jr.
Pendergrass cancelled his own writing
to listen to mine. I memorized Stevens
and Eliot, reciting; I found the difference
between triage and evacuation. Only way
to Karen went through Viet Nam.
We could drive. With orders, in a VW
through Central America--crossing
into Mexico from Guatemala on a Sunday.
Border closed until we paid la mordita.
Seeing Oaxaca from the South.
Where are we? The career soldier
would get us to Texas, where we
would both go home. But this soldier-
writer GI, would fly to Seattle,
50 years ago today, to be with me,
with Karen, with family on my birthday,
my 22d, born the day Fat Boy
dropped the bomb on Nagasaki,
making me sicker now than it did then.
Mom and Dad were at that dinner.
But it was the soldier who flew
with me to California to ride the 747
to war. Heaven help the Ginger Man.
Get out and push like the rest.
The war would come to us at Tet
at different places. Evacuation
would become sustaining marrow.
Evolving, organic. Hand carried,
hand delivered, by a soldier carrying books.
8 August 2017
HIKING NORTHERN LOOP TRAIL
COWICHE CANYON, 14 NOVEMBER 2017
I. Ears for What's Coming
During the day-to-day life,
not just hours on the trail
solid with your trekking poles,
There ain't no man righteous,
no not one, Dylan live
from 1979, in my head
heading out. Sunny,
cold and windy. Photograph
sage on top before descending
to Cowiche Creek. Intersecting
creek and trail in canyon,
eat just-picked Yakima apple
down to seed caves, then eat
the seeds, all of it, watching
two hawks circling sky
shelling peanuts into paper bag
before starting back up.
A Merton quote from one friend
exploring Chuang Tzu's letter to Wu:
One thing is necessary. Merton quoting,
What is your original face before you were born?
And then an advent poem from an old pastor friend,
with a line from Barth, with Jesus saying
the divine life is all, Without you
I do not care to be the Son of God.
Brilliant Barth. My defensive question
surfacing between steps, Did Barth
make it easier for professional clergy
to get rid of Bultmann? I don't know.
I call the hike a Van Walk for Morrison,
then after I unpack my lunch on a rock
above the canyon, change it, now
Van Sandwich. Sending an image
on my camera phone to a friend,
he writes back, Van Louse Stairway.
This every day music every day.
Below this rock
the bridge is out.
fresh ground peanut butter
and apricot jam sandwich.
II. 50 Years Ago This Day : The Battle of Dak To
I've been incountry at the 85th Evac Hospital
a quarter of a tour, 90 days
to prepare for November
and the 33-day battle of Dak To.
Torn-up eyes and uniforms
mirroring what can't be said
coming off stretcher after stretcher
from chopper and planes.
Intimate stuff. Kon Tum Province
in the Central Highlands
in a series of never-ending battles.
Initiated again, emotionally shut-down
nurses lead medical teams
through acts of love, passion
unleashed and without measure.
Training and practice
enters collective primitive.
3 Nov 23 Nov, 1967 then, starting then.
Intimate in the
Central Highlands of South Vietnam.
The 110-hour fight for Hill 875.
Border battles to distract American
and South Vietnamese forces away from cities
in preparation for the Tet Offensive.
Today it can be seen on the Internet.
Search and destroy.
4th Division where my friend was
and the 173d Airborne Brigade--
Westy's fire brigade shot up bad.
Intense fighting until the NVA
On one day November 23,
the day I would be married
the following year,
107 dead, 282 wounded.
The 4th Division too, my best friend's location.
So many different casualty counts--
here's one--208 dead, 645 wounded from the 173d.
Friendly fire alone killed 41 GIs on November 19th.
Earle Jackson, 173d medic who served on Hill 875:
"There is something gut-wrenching
about severely wounded men
that I will never forget.
It is that most become delirious and almost
always cry to their mothers."
All of this coming through us in men's eyes,
dead trees embedded in fear-filled faces,
torn and bloodied fragments of uniforms,
battle images that will make our country
one of the casualties. Wild terrain,
half the mosquitoes in the world
and a million leeches on sharp ridges covered with double
and sometimes triple canopy jungle
Dak To Vietnam photos,
Trees without limbs.
Tree trunks of a holocaust, a memorial in themselves.
The black and white photos in the museum in Saigon.
The dead journalists.
Reliable ferocity. Dante's 3d Circle of Hell.
Karen takes me back for our 40th Anniversary
ten years ago today, 50 years ago, too, from today.
These are facts, and some of them, partially mine,
partly collective, adhering to each of us,
counting 50 years from that day to this one,
on a hike, eating apples. The love those nurses
gave to those incredibly young men
passed through us that November,
some like me, accessing possibility
beyond anything we had been known.
Cost and blessing in clothes giving
themselves away each day
from hospital wards to sky flights,
up the Northern Loop Trail
of Cowiche Canyon.
14-15 November 2017
THE SUMMER OF LOVE--JUBILEE SUMMER
I made every mistake.
I walked into this.
I crossed into this on my own.
Every failure, mine.
To get to here.
What I didn't understand was everything.
"...local spirits--all the ghosts
of the unmourned--gathered
on the hilltops where no one
dared to go."
Levine, "Albion" from The Last Shift
Invite them all in,
every non-blessed one.
Listen up, Any who
want to leave,
now's a good time.
26 July 2017
JUBILEE, YEAR OF
YEAR, BEGINNING, on the Day of Atonement, every fiftieth year,
proclaiming nation-wide-release. Word.
Word "jubilee" comes from Hebrew, yobel,
ram's horn, for the sounding of the horn
signaling the beginning. RELATED: DEROR,
THE TEXT: LEVITICUS 25: 8-55:
Three features: Sabbath year. FIRST; Land to be fallow.
Don't farm. Eat natural foods. People and Land enjoy their release.
SECOND: Slaves go free. Pay debts. Treat kindly. All freed.
THIRD: Land reverts to original owner. TO ENSURE THAT,
no citizen would remain poor or slave forever.
WITH 2 THEOLOGICAL POINTS: The land belongs to the Lord;
it doesn't really belong to people. God's people are to remain free.
So here we are, Karen and I.
Blowing the horn I was given to blow.
We're fifty, and past 50.
Counting ways to be 50 for some time.
For some time. I'm in no hurry.
As I get the feel of things,
27 July 2017
ARE YOU READY TO GET OFF THE BOAT?
Not really. No. The boat's already
rocked me to sleep. The ferry
carried me. These poems--
these poems can write themselves.
They are. They're never going to end.
25 July 2017
SUMMER OF LOVE #1
Mr. Bodeen, back in the day,
were you a hippie?
Me? I was an Army Sergeant
27 July 2017
The word has glamour,
I know that. Say,
I worked Med Evac in Nam
and people hear chopper blades.
I was on the ground.
Three stripes. The only Non-specialist
MOS in Medical Service Corps.
Get things done. Blue collar
non-issue hat. Anonymous,
except for the word.
Becoming that one.
Like my mother gave it to me
at birth. Mine to wear.
Mine to be. Said or unsaid
in daily poems across 50 years,
rocks and trees. Found ones
lying anywhere. Picked up
and carried. Emptied,
emptied out. Buddhist practice
in a boy from North Dakota.
Round the clock practice.
My mother in deep dementia
has me pull the car over
singing Jesus loves me:
Jim, you belong to the school
that never closes. That comes up, too.
Like washing dishes, folding clothes.
Taking people to the next place.
Like Coltrane's reservoir,
fill and empty, over and over,
Stuck repetition maybe.
Final, without, Noself.
Seattle with Karen. Leaving conversation
on war in America. Where to, Karen?
The ferry, she says, leaving Vietnam
behind for sunshine. Sig used to buy a bag
of shrimp for us to eat on the ferry.
Want some now? No. We're leaving
the premier of Ken Burns'/Lynn Novick's film
Vietnam, ten years in the making.
The Ferry Tacoma. Walk-ons.
Oh, the ferry is moving. Jubilee again.
50 years from the summer of Love.
Our summer. Good morning, Vietnam.
We have these days.
We have these days.
Burns says it couldn't have been done before.
Ten years in the making. 18 hours of film.
I remember thinking as a kid, Karen says,
that I could swim to the island. It's not that far.
Karen was 12 that summer
she lived on Bainbridge. Six grade?
Seventh? I step out to buy a bag of popcorn
and a diet Coke. The mountain's out now
and Karen steps out to take a picture of Rainier.
This day, fifty years ago, we drove Seattle,
a honeymoon before marriage,
between Panama and Vietnam, July, 1967.
Summer of love, summer of leaving.
Both of us 22. These days, 72.
45 years ago, in Berkeley, Linda Ronstadt
opens for Jackson Brown I didn't know.
Ronstadt, no stone pony. Jackson singing,
My baby's feeling tired in the morning,
she's having trouble fitting into her jeans.
Walking out of the drug conference to hear
a song change my life. My son, 3, says,
Dad, don't buy me a book. I get him
two feet of Tootsie Roll. Karen's pregnant
with twin daughters. Tomorrow I'll buy her
the earth mother dress of many colors,
one that anticipates a silk kimona brought home
These days. Just what did Ken Burns say?
And Lynn Novick? We sit at table
with man and wife, Michael and Donna,
He tells me of the wound after Tet,
January, 1968. Where were you?
He asks. Qui Nhon. 85th Evac Hospital.
I was evacuated from there. You went
through me, I say, telling him about
the painted orange hat on the nail.
This way home. You wouldn't have seen that,
I say, we came and got you.
So good to meet you this time, he says. Thanks.
Enrique Cerna from Wapato, sits at table,
voice of PBS. We have these days.
Timothy Egan, dust bowl writer,
with that book on Edward Curtis, Shadow-Catcher,
asking Novick and Burns, What if JFK had lived?
What would he have done? Eagan asks.
We kept historians out, Novick says.
We listened to voices of those who were there.
I can't answer your question. Burns talks history
from top down, bottom up, and from all sides.
Triangulating. But we have these tapes
from the White House. Kennedy
controlled the on-off button.
Johnson and Nixon forgot the tape was running.
They knew they were there, because they put them there.
Because we have them, we're more sympathetic--
at least to Johnson. He agonizes. Nixon calculates.
Nixon and Kissinger ask one question,
What will this cost us?
After applause, photographs.
Nobody hurrying. I step to the side
of those with cell-phone cameras,
stand alone, until Burns looks at me.
We're meeting for the first time. Eye to eye.
I whisper, Thank you. Burns points at me,
whispers back. It's time to get off the ferry--
Karen tries to remember a Mexican place
with an Anglicized name. Her aunt and uncle
would drink there. And smoke.
She sees a public map, finds Hidden Cove,
Rolling Bay where her dad lived.
Where we went after Vietnam
Was your summer on the Island good?
No. Mom hated it. Sig's experiment.
What did you do? Did you make out with boys?
Jim, I was 12. I ate. Came home heavy.
Sig wanted to move up here. We rented
our house to a Russian couple.
The woman asked Mom, How
do you wash these windows from the outside?
Mom said, I don't. Jubilee images
tumbling from Karen's brain. Oh my gosh!
she says, It was Grey's Anatomy cast
on the beach! How do you know?
Facebook friends know these things.
Talking and walking in Winslow.
Back on the ferry, Karen says,
We were still in school when we moved here.
Sig and I would walk on the ferry, and walk off.
He'd go to Schwabacker's to work,
and I'd catch the city bus to Hamilton School.
By yourself? Alone in Seattle?
And you'd come back here at day's end--
meet up with Sig. Must have. Can't remember.
July is Jubilee all month. I leave
for Vietnam in two weeks. Each day
for the next year, 50 years. These days.
26 July--28 July 2017
THE END OF CONVERSATION BEGINS HERE,
HERE BEING THE VIETNAM WAR,
NOTES AND FRAGMENTS
FROM KEN BURNS, LYNN NOVICK, TIM EGAN,
KARL MARLANTES, ENRIQUE CERNA
AND TABLE TALK DURING THE PREMIER
OF VIETNAM, THE NOVICK-BURNS FILM
TEN YEARS IN THE MAKING
I. The Luncheon Conversation
We believe, Burns says, that America's
involvement in Vietnam is the most important event
in the second half of the Twentieth Century. Our
courageous conversation began in 2006.
The current White House is obsessed with leaks
like drunken sailors. History doesn't repeat itself,
but it certainly rhymes. This was a decade of agony.
It went on because it seemed easier to muddle through.
We hope to show you today, how we set the table.
Lynn Novick adds, Our country is awash
in un-processed trauma. Our efforts here
try to show there's no one truth in war.
Tim Egan, moderating asks about
grotesque inequality. He asks if this film
attempts to change the narrative of the country.
In a democracy one adds, you only have
so much time to win the war. New scholarship
over the past 40 years provides the distance
needed to have the conversation. We forget
that Ho Chi Minh was once a pastry chef in Boston.
Keep historians out. Talk to people involved.
You can find the evidence to find
what you want either way, Novick says.
The war took on a wisdom of its own.
Burns compliments. There was not
a governor on the engine of their enthusiasm.
Everything is available, Novick says.
Remember, Burns says,
There were three nations. Now there are two.
II. Conversation After the Film's Premier
Public Broadcasting convenes the conversation.
Investing in talk that makes us smarter as a nation.
Ken Burns confronts disunion, and lack of civility,
claiming it began with the Vietnam War.
He says, PBS has been his home for forty years.
But he's not that old!
Nine-Inch Nails and Yo Yo Ma
contribute to the music.
120 pieces of music in these 18 hours of film.
They ask the artists and the bands
for permission to use the music.
To an artist, every one said Yes.
Burns calls it the best music
in the history of the world.
Jimi Hendrix's family is in the audience tonight.
Is Burns excited about this?
Lock the doors, he says.
We're going to show all eighteen hours tonight.
You'll get out of here sometime tomorrow afternoon.
He outlines the format: 9 clips, 52 minutes.
Then Karl Marlantes with he and Novick,
Enrique Cerna asking questions.
We see Marlantes' unit on Hill 484.
We hear him talk about ghosts and ancestors.
Bring them out and embrace them.
Everyone in the theatre, my generation,
give or take, with crossover.
Many with wives, husbands.
Ones who came home.
A kind of synchronicity with anyone
sitting next to you.
Different than being at the Wall.
Something happening. Something to carry.
26-28 July 2017
TIMELINE ON VIETNAM FROM THE BROCHURE
WITH A NEW PARALLEL TRACK
July, 1945, In order to disarm the Japanese in Vietnam, the Allies divide the country in half at the 16th Parallel. Vietnam will once again become a French colony.
August, 1945: Ho Chi Minh occupies Hanoi and declares a provisional government
9 August 1945, I was born in Minot, North Dakota. The B-29 was known as Bockscar, and the atomic bomb was named "Fat Boy."
1951: General Vo Nguyen Giap, Viet Minh Commander, with 20,000 men, begins a series of attacks on fortified French positions from Hanoi to the Gulf of Tonkin.
In first grade, I played Frosty the Snowman in the Bowbells School Christmas program.
1954: The Geneva Accords divide Vietnam in half at the 17th parallel, with Ho Chi Minh ceded the North. The accords call for elections to be held within two years to unify the country. The U.S. opposes the proposed elections fearing a Ho Chi Minh victory.
1956: French troops leave Vietnam and an American Military Assistance Advisory Group (MACV), assumes responsibility for training South Vietnamese forces.
Our family leaves Bowbells, North Dakota because of Dad's illness dealing with Raynaud's Disease and cold weather, relocating in Seattle, Washington. Jim Bodeen enters sixth grade.
1957: Communist insurgent activity in South Vietnam begins.
I begin 7th grade and my English teacher, Mr. Case introduces our class to Walt Whitman and William Blake. The class studies, Whitman's poem, When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd, along with Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience.
1960: The National Liberation Front (aka Viet Cong) is formed.
President Kennedy establishes Special Forces (Green Berets), to conduct covert operations, against, and inside, North Vietnam.
I enroll as a sophomore at Ingraham High School in North Seattle.
1962: US Air Force begins using Agent Orange.
I begin working at Seattle World's Fair where I work every single day of the fair at Paul Bunyan's 25th Pound Fruit Cake Birthday.
1963: Diem overthrown, murdered.
President John Kennedy assassnated.
I graduate from Ingraham High School. I am 17 years old. Enroll at Everett Junior College.
1964: The U.S. enters the war after the Gulf of Tonkin Incident.
1965: The First combat troops arrive in Vietnam.
Attending Louisiana State University in New Orleans, I withdraw from school after Hurricane Betsy and enlist in the army, first returning to Seattle to reunite with Karen Benson.
1967: U.S. troop numbers in Vietnam rise to 500,000.
Stationed in Panama at the government-run Gorgas Hospital, Jim Bodeen puts in for re-assignment to Vietnam.
The Beatles release Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
I arrive in Vietnam August, 1967, assigned to 85th Evac Hospital, Qui Nhon, Binh Dinh Province as 22 year old sergeant in charge of med evac missions. Most of the casualties we evac during the Tet offensive will be 18 and 19 years old.
1968: Tet Offensive begins. My Lai Massacre. Paris Peace talks begins.
700+plus GIs evacuated each month from 85th Evac Hospital in round-the-clock evacuations. These conditions last until the bombing stops. Memory tells me these GIs were incountry a very short time.
Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy, slain in U.S.
I return to U.S. August 12, 1968. I enroll in an evening drama course at Bellevue College. The instructor, whose name I do not have, takes me out in the hall, and teaches me how to walk into a room. Karen Benson and I are married 23 November 1968,
1968: Where were you in 1968?
1968: Where were you in 1968?
1969: Ho Chi Minh dies.
President Nixon begins troop withdrawal as opposition to war continues.
1970: Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho begin secret peace talks in Paris.
1971: The New York Ties published the Pentagon Papers which reveals numerous lies told to the American public about the Vietnam War.
I begin teaching in an alternative high school in Yakima, WA.
1972: The Nixon Administration orders heavy bombing in and around Hanoi and Haiphong.
1973: End of draft and the last American troops leave Vietnam.
1974: Nixon resigns.
1975: South Vietnamese President Duong Van Minh delivers an unconditional surrender.
2008: Barack Obama elected President of the United States.
Karen and I return to Vietnam traveling from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi for our 40th anniversary.
2016: Donald Trump elected President of the United States.
Karen and I return to Vietnam traveling from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi for our 40th anniversary.
2016: Donald Trump elected President of the United States.
2017: Ken Burns and Lynn Novick premier their film, VietNam in Seattle on 25 July 2017.
The film was ten years in the making.
The film was ten years in the making.
Jim and Karen celebrate a year of Jubilee.
26-27 JULY 2017
I accept this word in formal ceremony
fifteen years ago, after long apprenticeship.
When the word is confirmed
I carry it in practice
for an additional two years.
Prior to this. I was given
Fighters. Or wrestlers. A kind of guerilla,
I give it away and give it away
even when it keeps coming back.
Those young Mexicans.
God, they are something to behold.
Then came the abrecaminos.
One who opens one door opens many.
All that, we open the doors
just to hear the clicks
and laugh at the locks.
Mi maestro, él que murío el año pasado,
él guia de Macchu Picchu,
when he says yes to Storypath/Cuentocamino,
nobody uses it but me. Nobody.
They don't laugh.
They don't ask.
Like it's some kind of ink
I dip small stones in liquid charcoal
when I need those sounds
no one can identify.
27 July 2017
FOR, BUT NOT NECESSARILY TO, THE WRITERS
OF OUR WAR IN VIET NAM AT THE POINT OF MY JUBILEE--
ANOTHER EXPLORATORY MEDITATION:
The story Tim O'Brien doesn't tell--
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,
too, from the world Cacciato walks.
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. The one in the iceberg.
The Big Read/The Notebook/Bonsai Garden
27 April 2017--3 June 2017
AND HOW WE LIVED OUR LIVES
He was student body president
at the university, and became the voice
I followed as he trailed Cacciato
in and out of the war. When the war
opened for me twenty years later
I looked again and wrote my poems,
this time wondering if.
ever cross stories?
The small college I returned to
after I came home in 1968,
was bringing him to town
for The Big Read. He had been
infantry, 11B in Quang Tri Province
in 69 and 70, had encountered
the ghosts of my time. His unit
had re-entered My Lai
before it had come out,
uncovered itself, government pinning guilt
on Lieutenant Calley
what was everywhere.
Qui Nhon, Binh Dinh Province,
bordering Quang Tri from the south
where two evac hospitals,
67th Evac and 85th Evac took casualties
round the clock, from January through July
when bombing stopped,
is where I was--at the 85th.
I write in Jubilee time
across 50 years, remembering
what got written on forms
for every casualty
who made it to us,
the narrative of what happened.
The narrative repeated hundreds
and hundreds of times each month,
repeating itself in numbers
that cannot be named,
named or numbered.
in chapter and verse.
Still trying to bring it down to size.
Still trying to see it was that big.
My time. What he wrote about.
When I was, well, earlier
JUBILEE, A SUITE
He found the letter he sent her from Panama. He had been promoted, he was coming home on the ribbonned highway. A soldier on 30-day leave before going to SE Asia. He hoped to see her. All of this happened. She had a new car, a Chevy II. It was 1967, the summer of love. They would listen to Van Morrison sing Brown-Eyed Girl on the car radio. And then he would go to Viet nam. He turned 22 the day before he left. He had rank. He would go as a hard sergeant. He would be assigned to the Evacuation Hospital in charge of medical evacuation. He was not a corps man.
When he arrived in-country he was sent to the 85th Evacuation Hospital in Qui Nhon, below Da Nang, on the South China Sea. Things were slow. He put in for R&R and went skiing in Japan. At Zao, close to where Basho walked. He rode the train and skied three days. He went to the baths. When he flew back to Tan San Nhut airbase, it was under attack. Tet had started. This was the Vietnamese New Year in the year that over-ran the senses. He was in it now. He would have to find a way to catch a plane back to Qui Nhon. He wanted to grow up. He wanted to write poems. This is what he said to himself. This is what he wrote in his letters.
Ram's Horn, seventh month, atonement. The consecrated day began yesterday. Releasing the ancestors, releasing the children begins a Jubilee that will run over a year and a half. He had been given this extension, this extra time. In this spring, he would place his small trees in Chinese pots.
You shall then sound a ram's horn abroad on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the day of atonement you shall sound a horn all through your land. You shall thus consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim a release through the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you.
Leviticus 25: 1-4, 8-10
LIKE THE MOON IN THE SKY
He found the letter he sent her from Panama.
He was coming home
on the ribboned highway
linking the Americas,
a gravel path for goats.
A soldier on 30 day leave
before going to SE Asia.
Post-marked 7 April 1967.
He hoped to see her.
He would work the evacuation
when the senses would be over-run.
He wanted to write poems.
Ram's horn, seventh month, atonement.
The consecrated day began yesterday.
Releasing the ancestors, releasing the children.
A 19th month Jubilee. He would evacuate
them all. There would be no distinctions.
Others would make decisions on triage.
He would get them in the air.
He would return from that
and they would marry. 1968.
Fifty years just like breaking news.
He would place his small trees in Chinese pots.
The day after the spring barbecue with friends
it was his mother's birthday.
She would be 93. The 9th of April.
His mother who had given him
her story, betting on him
to get it right. Mama,
All debts forgiven.
He had been taking care
of his daughter's dog.
His friend sent an April Fool's poem
in the wake of his own poem
on hope. False hope in the Paul Simon song?
Or the lottery from Orwell's Ministry of Plenty.
He wouldn't do that. He would only write
what is real. Only the real.
He prayed daily for that.
That which is real. It's either
all God or none of it is.
He would count each day
over this time, the Jubilee Time,
including this extra. His Jubilee
stretching into November, 2018,
to their marriage which stretches
from 1968. Where were you
in 1968? 1968 never died.
1968 gets airlifted every day.
FIVE STORIES: TIM O'BRIEN, CHILDREN'S BOOKS, JAMES BALDWIN,
BONSAI, ROBERT MOSES
WALKING THE YARD
Before I do anything (after waking)
Before I do anything
I walk the yard
Returning to the house
I sit for coffee
and write in the notebook
walking the yard
14 April-9 May 2017
DRESSED IN ORANGE BASEBALL CAP WITH BLACK LETTERS
READING HENDRIX IN ALL CAPS, BLACK BLAZER,
SLACKS, SHORT, JUST ABOUT SAME HEIGHT AS ME,
AND A SKINNY GREEN TIE WITH RED SPLOTS,
O'BRIEN HAS BEGUN WHEN I WALK IN TO TAKE MY SEAT
Vivid immediate bang, first words,
how the misfit became the misfit.
...the stink of a half-truth...
figure out the context
what he's trying to do, where he's going--
that'll tell you who he is
what I'm trying to do
where I'm going
who I am
What's that in the air
Just into his 70s arms wrapped
around Hemingway's ice berg
Explanation doesn't explain dyslexics don't become killers
Outside that hotel room, that cat in the rain
that woman, the man on the bed
Where the father comes into the story
Drinking at the VFW, drinking at the grain elevator,
Smart things to say so he'd stop drinking
Mother looking out the window
and the young wife and the cat in the rain
The craft of it, bad and mediocre telling
leave no room for the reader
Yesterday, for example,
Walking into this room
I gave my father the book and he told me
it was too much like real life
The other one had his Hemingway
Ice bergs and vanishing fathers
I gave up writing sentences
I committed myself to the sentence
What had once been fun for me hardened.
Where I tried to be me let up
Now once in a while
I walked out
this is how
it once was
it once was
how is this
this once was
this was once
This meditation in green
this sideways awful
What wants to be kept
and doesn't belong
young black girls boarding
the city bus
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