Friday, February 22, 2013

DEROS: My Soul


At times when I am calm
I remember
that even if you waited for it
nothing came as suddenly
as gunfire
and nothing (not even the Lieutenant)
seemed as stupid
as the silence that followed-

At such times I know also
that each of us
who fought in Vietnam
was spiritually captured by it
and that each remains
a prisoner
of his own war-

It is, therefore, not surprising
that for some (like for me)
the AfterNam emptiness
published no DEROS
for the soul…

Yet, in moments better known to me
when reason drifts
and whole worlds are illuminated with Platonic images
dancing against the cave-walls
of my mind
lit by a single candle
borrowed from a twilight wish,
I take the stairs two at a time
and wait in the second-floor window
of my days
hoping that Someday will come next morning
and that I’ll recognize the soul
of a much younger me
come diddily-bopping up the street
eating a Sky Bar
and hefting a duffle bag
filled with new and more believable myths
that I might live by
(not to mention back pay)
while humming something (in a nasal sort of way)
about going to San Francisco
and something else I can’t make out
about a flower in somebody’s hair-

Frankly, I don’t know if I’d throw flowers
or run down stairs, meet him at the curb
and beat Hell out of him-
leaving me the way he did!

You know, there never was any great debate
(between my soul and me)
ending in a mutually agreed upon
existential parting of the ways.

I mean it’s not like my damned soul
dressed up like a teensy-weensy
Jennifer Jones in drag
and waved farewell with a lace hanky
from the base of a bonsai plant
in a Tu do Street floral shop
while I dreamt too soundly
on Ba Muy Ba beer and woke next morning
to discover I couldn’t cry anymore
or laugh like before
or give a shit period-

And my soul didn’t just go berserk
under the too bright light
of a Government Moon
and go roaring down Highway 1
doing a wheely on a cycilo
like James Dean in a steel pot
and flak jacket
laughing a Red Baron kind of laugh
and quoting Kipling’s Barrack-Room Ballads-


My soul just did
what most souls did.
Just disappeared one afternoon
when I was in a firefight.
Just “walked away” in the scuffle
like a Dunhill lighter
off the deck of a redneck bar…


A man can lose his money
his woman
(even his mind)
and still he can come back,
but if he loses his courage
or his pride
it is over…

And what of a lost soul?
(I ask myself)
when madness invades
scattering today’s headlines
like March Hares
leaving nothing at the table
of my reason
beyond one crumb of truth
and the enormous bloodstain
on the white cloth of my youth-
(if you come ‘round this side
of the table & cock your head
just so)
like a distorted lunar projection
of Vietnam-
And careful!  Don’t strike your knee
against that table leg!
‘Cause then it jumps alive-
like somebody flunked
the inkblot test
and knocking over the candelabra
dives out the window of my sanity
to run naked down the street
lined on both sides by
Vietnam Vets
who couldn’t sleep either
and just followed the blood trail
like mute somnambulist
in a black and white foreign film
because they heard that tonight
their shared nightmare
(with Vietnamese subtitles)
had called a muster of lost souls
to be followed by Nam,
Blood Nam,
leading a one-man parade
and twirling a baton
that looked like nobody’s penis
I ever saw
and probably belonged
to the guy in back of me
(poor bastard)-

Geez, it gets scary in here sometimes,
do not Brutha?
And oooh, Sister!  Do you have songs to sing?!
About war without glory
and love beyond reward…

Maybe someday God will mint a medal
so beautiful, no words are printed on it
and all of our sisters
who were there with us
would get one
and everyone, everywhere, who saw it
would know just what it was
and would find a “thoughtful place”
to go sit down in for a week-

And then maybe God would let us have
a picnic (bigger than the moon)
and all the boys and girls
of daddies whose lives they saved
could hold hands
to make a daisy chain for the sun.
And when it was all done
the big people
would make God a prayer-promise
never, never to do anything like Nam
And when the cheers died down
the sun would bow his head
(ever so slightly)
so the children might wish their necklace
‘round his head
and when it was in place,
all of a sudden-
faster, even than gunfire,
everybody’s lost soul
would just come floating down
like a bright balloon
on a string
and mine
(the smart-assed red one)
would wink at yours
and pretend not to see me
and when everyone got his,
All the children would sing
Happy Birthday!  Happy Birthday!
over and over and over again
until all the ice melted
and all
our hearts…

By Steve Mason - from Johnny's Song
Steve was the Poet Laureate of Vietnam Veterans of America
He served as a Captain in the U.S. Army (Infantry) in The Republic of South Vietnam 
He died in 2005, at age 65, of lung cancer attributed to exposure to Agent Orange


  1. Beautiful post, Bert. It is material like this that adds a whole new dimension to the Nam experience for those of us who lived during that time but not in that place.

  2. Stephen,
    Your comment, which btw is beautifully poetic, means more to me than you can know.

  3. Still waiting for that date to be published.

  4. Well said. Clearly we lost Steve Mason too soon.