Category Archives: Authors

Kill Zone

by Rich “Doc” Raitano

Most of my friends and family know how I feel about weapons, especially military style weapons with the capability of firing high velocity ammo designed to tumble into the flesh, and to rip and tear the innards. I own a 7mm hunting rifle. I have no intentions to get rid of it, or to hunt with it at this time. I do not have a problem with hunting rifles and handguns in the hands of responsible and well trained individuals. But, I do get the fascination with guns. I truly understand the rush of power that comes from unloading round after round, the butt-stock kicking into your shoulder, and the smell of cordite hanging around your head. I didn’t grow up around guns, but, as a kid I played all the cowboy and army games. My dad, a Marine veteran wounded in the invasion of Okinawa in 1945, had no desire to have a workable weapon in the house. He did own a Japanese Arisaka, bolt action infantry rifle that he kept in his closet. Sometimes I would take it out while he was at work, and like any kid, pretended at war games.

I asked him once if he would take me rabbit or pheasant hunting. He declined gently. When I asked why, he told me that he “hunted once, long ago,” and did not feel the need to do so again. I didn’t understand at first, but I knew he was serious. It was years later that I came to understand why he chose not to shoot anything.
Once I entered the service in 1965 and issued an M-14, time spent at the rifle range to zero our rifles and shoot at head-and-torso targets was fun, earning myself a Sharpshooters Badge with Rifle clasp, and later when issued an M-16, an Auto-Rifle clasp. During training at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, Medics always traveled with infantry companies as they trained. On one particular day, the M-60 gunners were going out to qualify. The 60’s chattered loudly as the gunner sent rounds chewing up target and dirt; the assistant gunner feeding ammo and directing the gunner.

After lunch break, the platoon leader asked if I wanted to shoot. Hell yes I did! I settled in alongside the 60, the gunner talking me through the moves; get a mental picture of the area and shoot in bursts. Once I began firing, the only thing heard above the thunder of the 60, was the gunner yelling in my ear: UP! Left! Good! Good! Down! Right! Good! Good! In recollection, it seemed to go on for a long time. But once finished, the gunner tapped my back, and I rose to hoots and hollers from the guys. My “assistant”, a huge grin on his face, leaned in, “Holy shit, doc! You’re a killer!”

I have to tell you true…it felt good. Powerful. Like I said, I understand why many I know are keen on owning and shooting an AR-15. I get it. But, it’s not where I come from any longer. I speak only for myself, although I know of many others who have served in combat who feel the same way, and like me, they are gun owners.

All of us got to witness first hand and up close the devastating damage such weapons inflict upon the human body. As a combat field medic, and later as a Casualty Reporter, I’ve dealt with the resulting mutilation from mass shootings and other weapons of war. I’ve tended to injuries caused by these weapons. I’ve watched young men die from these wounds. I’ve watched helplessly as the life faded from their eyes and the last shallow breath passed from their lips.

These things stay with you, haunt you.

This is my opinion, and it will not change. If someone chooses to break away from a friendship because of this, it is on them. And, while it may seem absurd and foolish, I maintain that the military is available, and in need of live bodies to handle weapons of war. They will not turn you down, with the exception of physical ability, health, and social / mental disabilities. If none of these trouble you…go try it on for size. Squeeze a few rounds towards a target that shoots back. Tend to a friend who has been wounded or is dying. Then, come home and let’s talk.

Richard Boes Memorial Award-Winning Book 2015

When a Red Bird Flies
When a Red Bird Flies

The 2015 Richard Boes Memorial Award goes to Karen Evancic for her book  A When A Red Bird Flies  (ISBN 978-0-98559699-6).  The award is a $100 cash prize for best debut book by a veteran (fiction or memoir) and is sponsored by Modern History Press. The contest is administered by Reader Views Inc., which includes a general book award contest as well.

Sheri Hoyte’s review at Reader Views noted: “Readers will definitely walk away from the experience in awe of the inner strength and character of these two beautiful women..”

Richard Boes (R.I.P.)
Richard Boes (R.I.P.)

Richard Boes enlisted into the US Army and served in Vietnam in 1969 – 1970 with the First Air Cav. He is the author of two books, The Last Dead Soldier Left Alive (2007) a firsthand inquiry into why thousands of Vietnam veterans have committed suicide and Last Train Out (2008). Right up to his death Richard was writing a third, In the Valley of Dry Bones. He passed away on Feb 21st, 2009 at the VA Hospital in Albany, NY.

Past winners of the Richard Boes Memorial Award

Burger Bars and Southern Belles

mtam_20047 years ago today I left Vietnam. It’s an anniversary date, one that will never be forgotten.

Burger Bars and Southern Belles
September 15, 1968 / Cam Ranh Bay RVN
Stepping off the C-130 that carried us from Chu Lai, we were herded  into a waiting deuce-and-a-half and made our way through the compound. Cam Rahn was another large military installation filled with “rear area” activity. It was a bustling city filled with officers and EM in clean, starched fatigues and polished boots…and the always present Vietnamese locals. Those of us who were here to make our way back home stood out like folks from across the tracks; our fatigues and boots bore the wear and tear of red dirt and lack of spit and polish from places other than the rear. It was like the war was somewhere else or maybe hadn’t existed at all.

The deuce-and-a-half delivered us to the holdover quarters where we would wait until our Freedom Bird flight left for the World. We were met by a spit and polish staff sergeant whose last assignment must have been one that had him greet new recruits into army life. He barked out orders like an eager DI and directed us toward the building that would house us until it was time to leave. No one paid attention to him, and he seemed to pay no notice to us. He was content to pretend he was important. Once inside, he informed us that our flight was due to leave around eight p.m. that night, and that he’d return in a half hour to put us on a police detail. Police detail!?
Our jaws dropped as we watched this REMF NCO swagger out the door. We stared in disbelief at one another. You gotta be fuckin’ kidding me! Did we hear that right…police the goddam area? Bullshit…there was no way in hell we were we going to clean this guys area of paper and cigarette butts. We didn’t expect, or want, preferential treatment. Maybe a little respect for having spent time outside the wire-we just wanted to leave Vietnam-and the sooner the better. And no police detail.

We took a quick vote and six of us decided to take off to go find something to eat. It was after 10:00 in the morning and most of us hadn’t eaten since the night before. So, with orders in hand we walked out the door and headed in the direction of the PX.
We found a Burger Bar. I mean an actual Burger Bar! All that was missing were the sweet teenaged girls behind the counter flashing their sweet teenaged smiles. What we got instead were the grumpy, unsmiling privates in green fatigues. But, we did get a good hamburger…with fries and a Coke, or maybe it was a Pepsi. No matter, it had been a long time since our last journey to a burger joint. For all we knew, the meal was the worst ever.

After wandering around for a couple of hours and assuming that the “detail” was done, we made our way back to the holdover hooch. It seems that after we left a few others decided to escape the detail also, and those that remained confirmed that the NCO did return and have them police the area. Our stomachs satisfied, we stretched out on the cots and waited for our ride to the airstrip later that evening. We might have caught some Z’s. Don’t recall. When the long-awaited ride did come, it was another NCO, just as spit and shine, but much more cheerful, who gathered us up, loaded us up, and wished us well. Nice.

We were giddy with restrained excitement and disbelief as the deuce rumbled through the compound and made its way to the airstrip. We were that much closer to going home…but we weren’t out of Vietnam yet.

The deuce stopped and we were guided into a small Quonset hut where others were waiting for their trip home. What came next was our “debriefing.” An officer entered, smiled, and welcomed us. He then began to tell us that once we get home we would find things “different.” Different!? God, I hope so. Although, with the Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy assassinations just a few months earlier, the joke was we’d be allowed to take our weapons with us so that we could fight our way home if necessary. However, those killings did leave so many of us with doubts of what “home” really was. Violent and deliberate death is an everyday event in a war zone. You accept that. You live with that reality moment to moment and you find a way to deal with it. Home was supposed to be the refuge away from that reality. Home was the safe zone. Home was the “world” where our lives would resume; pick up where we left off.
The debriefing lasted around thirty minutes of which maybe five were heard. Our thoughts and attention were not on the officer lecturing us. Blah-blah-blah…good luck men. Dismissed. That was it. Thirty minutes and we were ready to live our normal lives again. It was that easy. So they thought. And, so we thought as we marched to the hut that served as terminal, show your orders, receive a flight voucher and head out to the flight line and the waiting Freedom Bird.

We made our way up the portable passenger stairs and boarded the plane that had come to take us home. It was a civilian plane, Central Airlines I think. The image of that plane sitting on the runway is stuck in my memory like an old rumpled photograph I carry around in my wallet and I just can’t find the heart to toss it.
It was around nine p.m. The stewardesses were all young, beautiful southern belles with soft, lacey “y’all” accents. They looked so good to us and smelled just as nice. Other than the nurses and the occasional visits from the Red Cross “donut dollies,” these lovely and graceful ladies were the first non-military American women we had seen in a very long time.

You would think that being in the presence of those lovely ladies would have turned us into drooling, silly seventh grade boys. But that was not the case. We shared a common, ever present thought that stayed with us our entire tour: would we live to see this day? We were more concerned about getting off the ground and into the air.

We knew we weren’t safe yet. There were many incidences of mortar or rocket rounds killing troops who were homeward bound. To have survived your tour only to be killed on the way out was the final insane absurdity delivered by the beast. Working hurriedly, but gently, they got us seated; they didn’t want to hang around any longer than we did. We were just as anxious as they to leave that goddamned place with all its death and misery.

With everyone belted in, the plane taxied into position. Given final clearance for take off, the plane lurched forward pushing us back into our seats. I had a window seat and watched as the runway lights raced past, faster and faster. The plane rotated upwards and we left the ground…Vietnam was now rapidly slipping away under us.
I’ve heard stories of flights that erupted into roaring cheers when the plane left the ground, but not this one…not this time. It was stone quiet as we climbed higher and higher into the black night.
Through the window I saw explosive flashes and lines of tracers arcing through the void. Down there the war still raged. Down there someone was still dying. And we were on our way home. The plane banked and we headed out to sea. We had survived our tours and were headed back to the world. I leaned back into my seat and let silent tears fall as Vietnam disappeared.

Doc Rich R

Richard Boes Memorial Award-Winning Book 2014

A Country Doctor Goes to War
A Country Doctor Goes to War

The 2014 Richard Boes Memorial Award goes to Tamara Thayer for her book  A Country Doctor Goes To War (ISBN 9780985093761).  The award is a $200 cash prize for best debut book by a veteran (fiction or memoir) and is sponsored by Modern History Press. An excerpt from Thayer’s book will appear in an upcoming issue of Recovering The Self: A Journal of Hope and Healing. The contest is administered by Reader Views Inc., which includes a general book award contest as well.

Sheri Hoyt’s review at Reader Views noted: “I couldn’t help but feel the love and pride that went into creating this tribute.”

Richard Boes (R.I.P.)
Richard Boes (R.I.P.)

Richard Boes enlisted into the US Army and served in Vietnam in 1969 – 1970 with the First Air Cav. He is the author of two books, The Last Dead Soldier Left Alive (2007) a firsthand inquiry into why thousands of Vietnam veterans have committed suicide and Last Train Out (2008). Right up to his death Richard was writing a third, In the Valley of Dry Bones. He passed away on Feb 21st, 2009 at the VA Hospital in Albany, NY.

Past winners of the Richard Boes Memorial Award

Richard Boes in “Permanent Vacation”

It’s important to remember the “whole person”, not just the veteran… and Richard Boes was versatile: actor, dancer, and writer… a triple threat. Sure he suffered PTSD from the Viet Nam experience but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have some joy in his life. I feel that if he is watching us, now, he is dancing in the universe again… Let’s watch a clip of Richard Boes in Permanent Vacation (1980)

Richard Boes Memorial Award-Winning Book 2012

Deadly Lode
Deadly Lode

The 2012 Richard Boes Memorial Award goes to Randall Reneau for his book  Deadly Lode ISBN 978-147913179-2).  The award is a $200 cash prize for best debut book by a veteran (fiction or memoir) and is sponsored by Modern History Press. An excerpt from Renau’s book will appear in an upcoming issue of Recovering The Self: A Journal of Hope and Healing. The contest is administered by Reader Views Inc., which includes a general book award contest as well.

Daryn Watson’s review at Reader Views noted: “Deadly Lode is a great fiction novel and a very easy, enjoyable and quick read.”

Richard Boes (R.I.P.)
Richard Boes (R.I.P.)

Richard Boes enlisted into the US Army and served in Vietnam in 1969 – 1970 with the First Air Cav. He is the author of two books, The Last Dead Soldier Left Alive (2007) a firsthand inquiry into why thousands of Vietnam veterans have committed suicide and Last Train Out (2008). Right up to his death Richard was writing a third, In the Valley of Dry Bones. He passed away on Feb 21st, 2009 at the VA Hospital in Albany, NY.

Past winners of the Richard Boes Memorial Award

Richard Boes Memorial Award-Winning Book 2011

A Haunting Beauty: Vietnam Through the Eyes of an Artist

The 2011 Richard Boes Memorial Award goes to James John Magner  for his book A Haunting Beauty: Vietnam Through the Eyes of an Artist (ISBN 978-1461057543).  The award is a $200 cash prize for best debut book by a veteran (fiction or memoir) and is sponsored by Modern History Press. An excerpt from Magner’s book will appear in an upcoming issue of Recovering The Self: A Journal of Hope and Healing. The contest is administered by Reader Views Inc., which includes a general book award contest as well.

Joseph Yurt’s review at Reader Views noted: “This is a beautiful read about a subject that has been dominated in its documentation by its horror. Now, readers can share another sense of what it was all about.”

Richard Boes (R.I.P.)
Richard Boes (R.I.P.)

Richard Boes enlisted into the US Army and served in Vietnam in 1969 – 1970 with the First Air Cav. He is the author of two books, The Last Dead Soldier Left Alive (2007) a firsthand inquiry into why thousands of Vietnam veterans have committed suicide and Last Train Out (2008). Right up to his death Richard was writing a third, In the Valley of Dry Bones. He passed away on Feb 21st, 2009 at the VA Hospital in Albany, NY.

Past winners of the Richard Boes Memorial Award

Whatever You Did in War Will Always be With You

VA Shrink: Were you in Vietnam?

Vietnam Vet:  Yes.

VA Shrink:  When were you there?

Vietnam vet:  Last night.


I’m kneeling. Tears streak my face, drip down, fall to earth. It’s only my second time in combat. Soon I’ll be different. Soon revenge for our dead and wounded will meld with fear, and I will help with the killing and the killing will help me. We’re just regular grunts: We make too much noise, we have no special skills, we’re not elite. But after a time we get the hang of this war, the rhythm of it. Wait. Engage. Disengage. We call it contact, or movement. We psych ourselves up. “Time to kick ass and take names,” we say. And between contact and kicking ass or having our asses kicked there is tension that starts small, then builds and builds until we secretly pray it will happen. That we walk into them or them into us, or we mortar them or they rocket us, then the tension explodes like perfect sex, and afterwards… we’re spent. There are days, weeks nothing happens, then terror, instant and deep, then relief, like paradise, since the killing is done and we have buried away the wounded and dead. Until it starts all over again.

That was thirty-seven years ago. Or was it last night? A day, a year, twenty years home from war you may begin to act strange. The shrinks, social workers, group therapists, clinical researchers, each has a different take on what causes PTSD. “It’s neurolinguistic.” “It’s cognitive.” “It’s biochemical,” they chime and chatter. Who cares? Just stop the pain. Just stop it. But where does that pain come from? What’s going down? Here is what I know: what you learn in combat you do not easily forget. You drop at the first hint of an ambush falling so fast your helmet still spins in the air. You shoot first and ask questions later. The enemy is an unfeeling slippery bug to be stomped out. You live like an animal. You learn to like killing. Learn to fear and hate the enemy. Hate civilians. Can’t trust the bastards. You hate taking prisoners. You’d rather kill them. Why? Because the enemy wants to fuck you up. Kill you, your pals, some new guy doesn’t know jack shit, wants to waste your Lieutenant, the whole damn platoon.

After a time you learn what war is: the fish-like iridescent gleam inside a brainless head; the sleek white caterpillar of pulsing human gut; the grotesque tableau of charred bodies frozen stiff; the impossible music made by voices howling beyond human form; pure white bones piercing ruby-ripped flesh; the strange oily feel of blood; the sudden slump of the man next to you. The business of flies on the mouths of the dead.

After a time, to a supernatural degree you learn to live with terror, rage, struck-down sorrow, blocked-out guilt or dumb-struck grief. Yes, the supernatural threat of catastrophe and the ways to survive it become preternaturally normal, second nature, a fully formed part of you.

Then one day you get shot, or if you are lucky, complete the tour, return home intact. But for those who have seen their share the equation might go like this: Johnny got his gun + Johnny marches home = HEEEREE’S JOHNNNNY!!!!

And the good soldier John or the good troop Jane, who under fire never once thought of your civil rights, your silly flag, your doofus politics, Good Johnny or Jane, I say, feel and act a tad differently when the locked-down feelings, bottled-up memories, instinctive behaviors of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder fervently, unexpectedly kick in. The symptoms of PTSD, in plain bloody English, are as follows:

  • Flashbacks: Seeing and feeling a combat event as if it were happening right now.
  • Hypervigilance: Being always on guard, always looking for where the next shot, next grenade, next rocket, ambush or IED will come next.
  • Survivor Guilt: Feeling bad, feeling real shitty for having survived, where others in the platoon or squad didn’t.
  • Moral Guilt: Wrestling with actions one did or did not take on one or more than one occasions.
  • Startle Reflex: Dropping, flinching, turning fast at a sudden noise or unexpected touch.
  • Suicidal Ideation: Thinking of killing oneself.
  • Homicidal Ideation: Thinking of killing people. Friends or complete strangers.
  • Homicidal Rage: Anger way out of proportion to an everyday event. It comes quick, down and dirty.
  • Sadness, depression, anxiety, crying spells. Staring into space, saying nothing.
  • Nightmares: Violent dreams related to combat. Sometimes it’s the same dream. Some vets make strange noises. Thrash in bed. Wake up scared, or sweaty.
  • Ritual Behavior: At night checking the lights, locking the doors, maybe keeping a weapon at hand.
  • Alienation: A vet feels as if no one understands him, doesn’t fit in, feels as if he or she should have never returned.
  • Panic Attacks: For a short time the combat vet becomes suddenly and intensely afraid. He or she sweats, breathes hard, has a pounding heart, might get dizzy, choke.
  • Social Isolation: Staying alone for long periods of time. Or in public saying very little. To the point of being noticeably very quiet.
  • Drug and Alcohol Abuse: Whatever works to dull the pain glowing inside one’s head.
  • Fear of Emotional Intimacy: Combat vets often won’t let anyone get close to them. If someone gets too close, the vet backs off or pushes them away.
  • Employment: A lot of vets can’t keep a job. Every couple of months quit or get fired.
  • Psychic Numbing: Not have the ability to feel emotions. Vets talk about feeling hollow, blank, empty.
  • Denial: Problems? What problem? I don’t have a fuckin’ problem.
  • High Risk Behaviors: Doing daredevil stuff to re-live the rush of combat.

These symptoms are normal responses to extraordinary events outside the range of normal human experience. Most civilians are clueless about combat and its aftermath.

Some types of treatment

The talking cure: a vet talks to a therapist who is skilled in treating war stress and is not a paid bullshitter.

Group therapy: seven to ten vets meet once a week for an hour or two. A good grfxczxcvxoup leader is essential. That person knows when to talk, when to listen, how to keep the vets focused. Otherwise group therapy can get lame fast.

EMDR: a form of hypnosis in which the vet is fully awake.

Exercise. Meditation. Meds. A friend who will just listen. An artistic endeavor.

One other thing. This is real important: a lot of vets fear talking about war. They fear losing control. Breaking down. Crying. My advice to those who have seen combat: face yourself. Chances are good you will learn to live less in the past, more in the present, but you will never be the same. WWII, Korea, Panama, Viet Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Central America, wherever you were, whatever you did in war will always be with you. Always.

The Hallelujah of Listening

Cervena Barva Press Announces a New Chapbook

“The Hallelujah of Listening”
by Preston H. Hood
Chapbook and CD Versions

The Cover Art is a photo of G. Buddy Swenson’s Elusive Liberty(August, 2001) Paint on Wood Panel (48”X”36”)Preston Hood was born in Fall River, Massachusetts and grew up in Swansea, Mass. He served in Vietnam with SEAL TEAM 2 (1970), and was a graduate of the University of Massachusetts, Boston, Bachelor of Arts in English, Magna cum laude, the University of Southern Maine, Bachelor of Science, and the University of Maine, Orono, Master of Education. For fifteen years, he was a member of Veteran’s for Peace. He published a poetry CD, Snake Medicine (2002), which was recorded by Berred Ouellette, and produced by Master Mind Audio. Summer Home Press published his first book of poetry, A Chill I Understand (2006). The Hallelujah of Listening is his first Chapbook (2011).

A CD of Preston H. Hood reading his poems will also be available for $7.00. It was recorded by Berred Ouellette and produced by Disc Makers. The cover art of the CD face is a photo of G. Buddy Swenson’s Elusive Liberty (August, 2001) Paint on Wood Panel (48”x 36”).

After attending The William Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences for 9 years, he edited with Jacqueline Loring and Gary Rafferty the Summer Home Review I (2002), and II (2005).

Through the Cape Cod Writer’s Center, he was interviewed with John McHugh, Secretary of the Henrich Böll Association, County Mayo, Ireland for Books of the World Television Program in Harwich MA (2006).

With Jacqueline Loring, he co-presented an overview of the Sixties Beat Poetry for The Wrinkle in Time: San Francisco Summer of Love (1967) Conference at Osher Life Long Learning Institute at University of Southern Maine. At the same workshop, he served on a panel discussion of both Civil Rights Issues and Why We Were in Vietnam (2009).

His poetry has been published in national and international journals and anthologies. He is a retired teacher and administrator currently writing his memoir. He spends his other time bicycling, kayaking, and hiking with his spouse Barbara J. Noone. He lives in Lyman, Maine.

The Hallelujah of Listening

From Dooniver we’re lured
by angels in the sun-dappled wind. They dance
with shadows, their radiant hair,
a seascape of waves & salt sundog air.

Some of us walk through Achill’s mist
anointed by the whispering surf. Or charge into a valley
of an image, rave about the lowered moon
behind Slievemore’s cloud-covered top.

Like first-light finches, I dart
into the thicket, feel the cool
morning silence. I climb with pilgrims
under a salmon-coral sky, voices chant invocations.

The red-bellied fuchsias lift & sway
on this steep path, bloodstones of penance. Even sheep
turn to listen. I wish I knew if Croagh Patrick could be mindful
of them, & us, rapt in our chorus of hallelujahs.

With this stunning collection, THE HALLELUJAH OF LISTENING, Preston Hood will take his place among the greatest of the poet-warriors and poet veterans of our times. Hood’s poems bear witness to how the human spirit survives that which would kill it. One speaker stitches up the opening in the sky “before the dead crawl out” (“Opening in the Sky”). Another, painting naked in the yard among the blue jays and bees, draws “a door in the sky to enter,” hoping to “find what’s lost” (“first born”). I’m awed by the poetic joining of courage and beauty in these fierce and precise poems.
—Cynthia Hogue, Professor, Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Chair in Modern and Contemporary Poetry at Arizona State University, Tempe; Or Consequence (2010).

I love Preston Hood’s new poems, and I cherish the spots of time he has been able to hold still in these poems just long enough to change your life. (From the Forward)
—Bruce Weigl

With Preston Hood’s The Hallelujah of Listening, I see a newfound confidence in the expression of his art. His beautiful images are often intimate and passionate, illusive and questioning, then shocking, real and haunting. As with other veteran poets, even when Preston’s poem is not about war, it forces you to think about warring, keeps you out of your comfort zone. In this new book, Preston asks us to “enter the mist, sit down in the fire of thought” to “let go of sorrow, let sorrow go” and promises, “the spirit lives to a renewal.” The journey is worth taking.
—Jacqueline M. Loring, Poet, Playwright, and Editor, Summer Home Review Anthologies, Volumes I and II

The poetry of Preston Hood’s The Hallelujah of Listening is indeed a “climb from the struggle into the marvelous” as he says in his poem, “Our Singing.” His new book reads almost like the scripture of Psalms such is its beauty and transcendence. Indeed, “a tongue of the sky” slipped into his mouth and our soul is awakened to the realms in which only poetry has a voice.
—Lamont B Steptoe, Publisher/founder of Whirlwind Press, Winner of the American Book Award (2005)

Order online at

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The Hallelujah of Listening Book $7.00 $3.00 $10.00
The Hallelujah of Listening CD $7.00 $3.00 $10.00
The Hallelujah of Listening Book & CD $14.00 $3.00 $17.00

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Richard Boes – My Blue Block of Wood

“He who learns must suffer
And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget
Falls drop by drop upon the heart,
And in our own despite, against our will,
Comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”

From Agamemnon by Aeschlyus

It was a plane full of strangers, a hundred and fifty of us maybe, but no one I remembered or seemed to know from a year ago. Just this deafening silence like the kind that stops you at the moment somethin’ or someone dies. Jesus, it ain’t me anymore reflected in the window glass but ghosts, faces I’d known, Buttkins, Henderson, Walsh, Casey-fuckin’-Jones. A backdrop of flares, tracer bullets, an explosion here and there like fireworks across a black screen, a black sky, a black hole we were shooting out of as we taxied down the runway.

Even in this pressurized cabin, the heat still clung to my flesh, the stench, the taste of burnt, rotting corpses still permeated the air. You couldn’t wash it off, there hadn’t been time, no debriefing, besides it was stuck in my throat, suspended somehow between home and my gut.

We were all in jungle fatigues, worn and faded green, muddy, some ripped, others bloodstained. As was the practice, I’d crossed off days on a pocket calendar, sealed tight in a personalized, plastic, First Cav, waterproof wallet. Still, though the ink bled, eventually I called myself “Short!”

“Short! Three days and a wake-up,” Brown yelped. Now this here was the fuckin’ wake-up, I was in tow, goin’ back to the world. Thinking, couldn’t stop myself, all the things I’d truly missed, all the things I’d do. Still, I sat in disbelief. Why me?

I couldn’t stop my legs from moving, up and down, side to side, in and out of time. There was a chorus stirring about me, a rustling movement goin’ nowhere. That final fear resonated in everyone’s eyes, what if we take a fucking rocket? What if we crash? After all this shit, the irony, Jesus, wouldn’t it be my luck? I continued my search back and forth, front to back as if scanning a perimeter, a fuckin’ treeline. It wasn’t the enemy I was looking for, not this time, but someone, anyone I might recognize. No one, it seemed. We’d all been abandoned by a meaningless war, forsaken on all fronts, both sides, both for and against. Even to ourselves we were strangers. God was absent. I was alone.

A tour of duty was a year, troops coming and going every day like a shift-change entering or leaving a factory. Dispersed, replaced, gathered up, and sent off. This was very much an individual war. I’d left everyone in my platoon, my company, behind as others had previously left me. I wasn’t supposed to care. I didn’t! When Myles left a few months earlier, he cried and held me in his arms. He was drunk. O’Brien borrowed ten bucks he was gonna mail to me, but six days back in the world he deliberately drove off a bridge in his brand-new red Corvette. And Casey, Casey re-upped for the fuckin’ dope. This war was about getting me out alive, and up to now I’d been victorious.

The pilot broke the silence announcing over the PA, “Gentlemen, we’ve just cleared Viet Nam airspace.” We all cheered, but it was like someone trying to laugh who can’t stop crying, like trying to make small talk at your best friend’s funeral. Quickly, the silence returned. I couldn’t stop my legs from pumping. There in the glass were only shadows of who I once was, who I didn’t recognize anymore, a fuckin’ ghost.

I do, I do believe… I do. Smacking my knees together, these muddy boots like ruby red slippers. It’s over. I’m going. I’m goin’ home.

We stopped twice briefly to refuel, once in Thailand, then Hawaii, and eighteen hours later landed in California. We were bused to a military base. No wire mesh on the windows anymore to repel explosive cocktails, no fires in the skies like when I got to the war. No heat, no stench clinging to my flesh, but this one, this taste I’d brought home in my mouth like the promise of milk and honey gone sour. There wasn’t any fanfare, there was no one. We walked through a barn door, the back door of a building, a basement entrance, down a long corridor of bare bulbs and concrete, what looked like a warehouse, a slaughterhouse, or even a fuckin’ prison… like I was gonna be interrogated, tortured, or somethin’, somethin’ bad. And over the archway was a sign that read, “Your Country’s Proud of You.”

“Fuck you!” shouted someone. Others laughed, or tried to.

“The joke’s on us,” I told the guy to my right, who tossed up a middle finger. Some officer in clean-starched khakis, donning a blonde, butch, stuck-up haircut, broke us down in columns and pointed us in which directions to go.

“Welcome home, welcome home, welcome home,” he whispered as we passed in rows of two. No one saluted, and I could tell we made him nervous.

Welcome home motherfucker! was my only thought, as I pretended to trip and bumped him up against a wall. “Excuse me, Sir.”

I took a shower, a fuckin’ hot shower, and got me a change of clothes. Goddamn dress greens! I wasn’t thrilled about having to wear a uniform. Besides the stories of being spit upon and the name-calling, a rumor was circulating that a woman approached a soldier in a commercial airport, identified the patch on his arm as being the same as her son’s, same as mine, he’d been killed. She wailed, “Why are you still alive?” pulled a gun from her purse and shot him dead.

Some spiffy soldier, a fuckin’ paper-shuffler, sat behind a desk and asked if we had any wounds he needed to make note of. “Speak now, or forget about it.” His name tag read “Pilot,” all the hair he’d left on his head like cotton balls was in his ears. God was here, alive, and laughing.

“I’m fine,” I told him, ignoring the shrapnel that was still in my leg. “I just wanna go home.” There was a free steak dinner, but no one I knew of was hungry for food. I collected my things, and soon enough was on a plane back East, and homeward bound.

It was sometime after midnight and the airport was practically empty. In a day’s time, I’d traveled from the hellish jungles of war and was just a forty-five minute car ride from home. I’d called Jimmy, my best friend since childhood, and he was en route. My family expected me sometime during the month, but had no idea I was soon to arrive. It felt strange wearing dress greens and not jungle fatigues, bright ribbons and patches instead of camouflage. These new shoes only hurt my feet, I missed my muddy boots. Still, I couldn’t sit still and wait, but had to walk around.

All the shops were closed. I was too young for the bar, too young to vote, too young for anything, but not to die. So few people around, and those who did pass avoided eye contact. I wanted so badly to celebrate, to yell out as fucking loud as I could, I’m home! To grab some girl and dance, dance the fuckin’ skies like an angel, to sweep her off her feet with a passionate kiss. Like that photograph, that other war, a war that meant somethin’, but no one seemed to notice me, no one cared. I was fuckin’ invisible. I didn’t fit. I didn’t belong here. I might even welcome someone calling me a bad name, at least to show I’m alive. Me, the keeper of a lost war, a war no one seemed to recognize, or desired any knowledge of. Jesus, it’s all that I’m about anymore. And if I could I’d fuckin’ disappear like you wish I would. If! If only I could. And the enemy was silent, and the silence was killing me.

I tried saying something to someone, anyone, say anything like, what time is it? Nice weather we’re having. Have you change for a dollar? Excuse me, Miss, my name is Lazarus, I’m back from the dead, and I ain’t got a fuckin’ clue.

This underwear I hadn’t worn for a year, buttoned-up collar and tie, irritated the jungle rot, the pimpled sores that oozed in a straight line from the base of my neck to the balls of my crotch. There’s too much starch in this shirt. I itched like a fuckin’ leper on parade, a bad case of mistaken identity, and, and I had to pee. Where’s the men’s room? I could ask, but fuck it. I’d find it myself.

I lost the tie and unbuttoned a few buttons down my shirt, took the bayonet strapped to my leg and cut my underwear off. The bathroom was empty, so I thought, standing at the urinal having a good scratch, taking a leak, caught unawares as the janitor came out from the toilet area and dropped a large trash drum to the floor. Incoming!

Shrapnel flies up and out, hot and screaming, so the lower you get the better your chances. In a split-second’s nosedive, I was flat against the earth sucking up warm wet tile in a puddle of my own piss. A moment’s flash and I’m back there, had I ever left? Where the fuck am I now?

“Sorry boy, you’s okay?” A soft, black, gray-whiskered face was leaning over me.

“Yeah,” I said, “guess so,” feeling only grateful it wasn’t a rocket. He handed me a towel from around his neck.

“Dry’s yourself,” he winked a surprising sky-blue glass eye, scratched with fat nervous fingers atop his thinning hair. “Sold, it’s the first four letters of soldier, a four-letter word,” he laughed, a disheartened-like punch-drunk fighter’s wheeze. “And your sellin’ price,” shooin’ a fly from his face, “wasn’t even our freedom. My name’s Elijah,” he took up his mop. “There’s no good wars to speak about, but at least my’s generation, our war had a purpose.”

“Thanks,” I said as he took back his towel, and shook my hand.

“Wars is fought by us poor folk, us soldiers, is niggers, and all niggers is trained to die.” He itched with a flurry of pokes at his nose. “Don’t you let them make it your fault. You’s hear me boy?” I just nodded my head and made my way for the exit. Elijah fumbled twice, dropped his mop to the floor. I wanted to catch it, but was too far off, too slow, too late. He called out as the door closed between us. “You’s be a survivor.”

Me and Jimmy were both more than tired. He was against the war, an accountant now, not much for words. I didn’t know what to say, or how to say it. We talked sports some, the Mets had won the World Series, the Jets the Super Bowl, the Knicks were NBA champs. Other than him reading every street sign, billboard, storefront we passed, we were mostly quiet. “Shop Rite,” “Two Guys”, “Kool, come up, all the way up.” Yeah, I was feeling anxious, afraid, guilty I think about coming home.

Elijah was right. It wasn’t my fault, it wasn’t up to me. I didn’t choose to be there, who would die, and who would come back. And there ain’t no more Stockwell, Abrams, Smyth, or Donny Gains. Jesus, and Rodney Brown who stood where I stood just moments before. “Short! Three days and a wake-up,” he yelped in a black man’s drawl. “I’s goin’ back to the world! I’s one lucky motherfucker!” and Betty, Bouncin’ Betty, she’s a goddamn landmine, bounced up in his lap, cut ‘im in fuckin’ two! And a B-40 rocket swallowed what was left into tiny little fucking pieces.

“Don’t mean nothin!” Myles said.

And I’ll never know by just how much I missed her. Half a step maybe, If! Guess I’m one, one lucky motherfucker! Just these shards, bits of metal in my leg. And one, Rodney’s one patch of black hair sunken in behind one eye swimming in a sea of brain matter, all pink, and blue, and gray. We collected him in a black bag, “I’m in pieces, bits and pieces!” Me and Myles kept singing, stomped our feet, scattered the fucking bits that weren’t even pieces anymore.

You’re really alone during a rocket attack, there’s nothin’ anyone can do. You’re really fuckin’ alone, when the other guy’s dead. If! As if he’d taken my place. And if you’re one of the lucky ones you get to do it again. And again. And the repetition, over, over, and again. And the pieces that won’t fit together like Humpty Dumpty didn’t have to pick himself up. And all the King’s horses wear blinders, and all the King’s men believe their own lies. “Don’t mean nothin’!” And the fucking fear that resonates, echoes back and forth, gnaws and eats away at you, over, over, and again. It’s worse than death. I do believe, I don’t believe you. And who’s the lucky motherfucker?

We sat at the tracks waiting for the train to pass. Its whistle and pulsing bark put me on edge, my feet on fuckin’ trampolines. Here I was alone again, with Jimmy in the driver’s seat, still waiting. I tried counting cars, seven, seventeen, seventy-eight, how many more before I’m home safe? The face in the windshield was Rodney’s. All I really wanted was to be held, for someone to hold me.

Me and Jimmy met some twelve years ago, he was a few years older and my family’d just moved into the neighborhood. I had this old beat-up glove that was my Dad’s and a blue block of wood I was using for a ball. I was throwing it high up against the side brick of the house and making basket catches like Willie Mays. The whole game was alive in my head, both teams, a miss was a run and it was one-one, in the bottom of the sixteenth. Jimmy approached unnoticed until he sneezed, a giant fuckin’ sneeze. He was a tall skinny kid with a face like Goofy, a dried mop of brown hair, and a big long tweaked nose. I’d made a bad throw, and just missed catching it with a diving attempt into the bushes. “Nice try,” he said, and goofed up a laugh like a jackass hee-haws. “That’s it, game’s over, you lose!” Jimmy invited me to join him and his friends up the block, the Dick Street Bombers. They had a real ball, and needed a center fielder.

In a few weeks I was to be the best man at Jimmy’s wedding.

Sure we were happy to see each other, but something was missing, it just wasn’t the same. Yeah, guess it was me who’d changed. I wanted to tell him about the war, about Rodney, what I’d seen and done, but didn’t know how, couldn’t find the words. Anyway, I didn’t think he’d understand.

We were just a few miles from home and I had to say somethin’, flush this spin-cycle circlin’ my brain, break my fuckin’ silence. I mentioned meeting Elijah, him helping me up off the floor, and the conversation that followed. Suddenly and without warning, Jimmy’s Mustang jumped the curb. He’d fallen asleep on me, and we were headed straight on for a telephone pole. The second thu-thump of the back tires woke him the fuck up. “Jesus!” he shrieked, but was slow to react. In one sweeping motion I reached over and cut the wheel to the left landing us back on the street. Jim was a bit shaken up, squeezed tight. “Sorry,” he said, “coulda killed us.”

“Don’t mean nothin’!” I told ‘im, and for a moment I was baggin’ Rodney again. “Just stay awake, Jim. We’re almost home.” I never called him Jim. Something felt good inside, this wasn’t like a rocket attack, there was more I could do than just be a passenger.

“See ya man, thanks for the ride.” I closed the car door, Jimmy drove off. The house was all dark, no porch light left burning. Bones, my dog must of come home, but there ain’t no barkin’. I climbed the steps, hit all the fuckin’ cracks down the walk, another flight of steps. They never locked the front door, but something stopped me from opening it. I turned myself around, gazing up at the streetlight. A pair of my old sneakers still hung by their laces over telephone wire, deep blue shadow sifted through naked tree branches like distant fingers, reaching into, grabbing at a big thick slice of pitch-black, heavenly mud-pie. No stars. Still no Bones.

Mom, Dad, my two younger brothers and sisters were inside sleeping. I felt this knot in my stomach like the whole fucking war was twisting up inside me, might I just fuckin’ implode! I wouldn’t wake them, I’d go quietly upstairs and go to bed. I’d see them come mornin’. I opened the screen door, stopped, and had to close it, opened and closed it again. Walked round the side of the house, doubled over, body doubled up, holdin’ my stomach, leaned into some bushes and started throwing up. Once, twice, over and again until there was nothin’, nothin’ but bile, yellow sauce, until all of me was empty, inside and out. And there, right the fuck before my eyes, peering out at me, out from under dead leaves and a fresh spray of vomit was my blue block of wood. I scooped it up as if I’d found lost treasure, gold and silver bullion, and cleaned it off with a few swipes against the grass. I clenched it in my fist, couldn’t help but smile. Bones came running up, his blackness all a-glow, excited and welcoming me home.

I looked in for a moment at my youngest brother Billy, my godchild sleeping peacefully. As a child I was a sound sleeper, I once fell off the top bunk of a bunk bed and didn’t wake up. Hearing the thud, my parents came rushing in from the living room and found me sleeping on the floor Now I had to put my mattress on the floor, and it was a good thing that my room was the smallest in the house, most like a bunker, less of a target, it provided a false sense of security. Accustomed as I was to the constant barrage of noise a war makes, now the silent night of suburbia was keeping me awake.

After only a few weeks in Viet Nam, I knew every sound of darkness like a blind man knows his own home. What was incoming and cause for alarm, and what was going out. I slept on a thin dime, and the faint whistle of a distant rocket would call me out from a crowded dream. I’d be hugging mother earth like a babe for milk, sucking up mud like wanting breath, steel pot and flak jacket on. I’d have a fuckin’ cigarette lit before the first round hit, before any siren ever sounded. If! And if it let up long enough you ran for a bunker.

I came to know with acute precision, like a fine-tuned instrument, the difference, the distinction in every sound the blackness made. What were rockets, mortars, short rounds, a.k.a. friendly fire, snafu! Fred took one in the shower. Small-arms, M-60s, M-79s, quad-50s, B-52s, and oh how the ground shook. Flares, Claymores, bounce, fuckin’ Bouncin’ Betty, fuck! Fuckin’ B-40! If! A sapper left a satchel charge in a hooch two doors down. Don’t mean nothin’! A luring Loach, whoop, whoop, whoop, draws out enemy fire, a seething Cobra and other gunships closin’ in. Woof! Napalm jet streamers, and Puff, Puff the Magic Dragon, whose mini-guns from on high could infiltrate every fuckin’ square inch of space the size of a football field in a matter of seconds. Every twenty-seventh round was a tracer, and we watched cheering atop a bunker as the red whip, the red whip waved on, and on, and fuckin’ on like hells bells rainin’ down.

We were the supreme, ultimate firepower of the skies. Absolute, all-powerful, like God I thought, like God lacks humility. But the enemy was underground, tunneled in beneath the earth, at the core of believing, beyond extinction.

Now I scanned about my room by the gray-blue shadows of moon, and filtering streetlight, beads like tears patterned upon embroidered curtain lace. In the wake of the battle, tired enough, but unable to sleep. The rug was sky blue and grape-juice stained, the walls needed more than paint. Jesus was missing limbs on the crucifix above, at the back of my brain, broken off by a touchdown pass that should have been caught. Dust collectors on bookshelves posing as trophies, old posters, banners, signed baseballs and other sports memorabilia. My bruised blue block of wood I’d placed on the dresser, my bayonet sheathed, asleep under my pillow. That picture, without any glass, a gentle boy laid back on a hillside, all blue-jeans, white button-down shirt, red-vested, black shiny curls, an arm up shielding his eyes from the sun. Tell me, tell me again… please, tell me your dreams?

Football is the precursor to war, the training fields, the same language. Kill, kill, kill! War is the ultimate sport, the culmination of sport. Kill, or be killed! Kill the Giants, Jets, Patriots, and Eagles. Kill the fuckin’ Yankees, Braves, and Angels. Kill Babe Ruth! Killroy, he’s not here anymore. Kill Jim Brown, John Brown, Charlie Brown, and Rodney Brown. ‘‘I’s one lucky motherfucker!” Kill the fuckin’ Gooks! Kill the Japs, the Krauts, the Commies, and the Jews. Kill Goliath! John the Baptist, John the Catholic, his brother Bobby, and Martin Luther King Jr.!

“My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” Kill Jesus! And like Cain slew Abel, I am the plowman, the keeper of a bad uprooted seedling, maimed and forced to wander. And Abraham, what of Isaac? Kill me!

Bones rests his head on my belly, looks up at me, gives me a stare like what the fuck man, like he knows my thoughts like he feels bad for me because I’m a fuckin’ nut job! “Good old Bones.”

It’s raining now, a soothing rain, rap, a pat, tap, and the occasional swish of a passing motorist endeavoring to lull me to sleep. It’s not that hard monsoon rain that blinds the sky, or the sound of hot screaming metal cavorting off tin roofs, that piercing screech that howls and rips through tent canvas embedding itself below the heart at gut-level.

Uncle Ho’s birthday, I couldn’t stop the thoughts. We were hit five times during the night with over ninety rockets. Every time I’d fall asleep. Again, over and again. We got no fuckin’ sleep. From side to side, closer, overhead, then passing. Back and forth like walking giants. Giant steps. Explosive, deafening! Fe, fi, fo, fum! If! If one hits the roof you’re dead! Away, and back again. Approaching, closer, fi, fo, fum! If! If one hits the roof, and again! Over and again like the buttoning and unbuttoning of shirts until all the buttons fall off.

I’d promised God I’d go to church every Sunday for the rest of my life. If! If he’d just get me the fuck outta here alive. The hooch in front of us was hit, and all twelve guys obliterated. The tent to the right, the one behind were all gone now. And still came the giants. Fi, fo, fum! And Casey, Casey took one in the shithouse while shootin’ up at the war. Happy fuckin’ trails! Swishhhhhh.

My eyes pop open, toothpick wide! This ain’t no fuckin’ war, this is my room, there’s Bones asleep on the floor like old paint. Please, dear God, but for thy grace, grant us some fuckin’ sleep. Rap, a-pat, tap. Fe, fi, fo, there are no giants anymore. Swishhhhhh.

We sat on empty ammo boxes under a sweltering sky in twelve rows of five. It was Palm Sunday, my first Sunday in Viet Nam and the last time I attendedMass.A Major, a priest who resembled Elijah, stood before us in bloody, torn jungle fatigues and addressed us as a group. The blood was blue. “I haven’t time to hear your confessions, so just think of your sins, and you’s forgiven.” He made the sign of the cross pendulating his rifle muzzle through the air. I hadn’t sinned yet, my uniform was clean. I was nothin’, an FNG, a fuckin’ new guy. What the fuck did I know? Was this ammo box really empty?

The Major’s face commenced to shed, and words fell out in drools of blue spittle, his flesh peeled back on sheets of wind and fell like raindrops into pools of blue blood. Everyone was going blue, bleeding, and crying blue tears. My arms, my hands, my fingers like tree branches sprouting blue streams. The Major’s hair in one fell swoop burst into bright orange flame, arcing out across an orange sky, orange as if a sunset had swallowed it whole. I put my hand to my face and my nose came off in my hand, blue lips impressed upon a blue palm. In a swishhhhhh of orange blue vapor, the Major, Elijah-priest was all gone.

I could feel my ears dribble, dripping off, my eyes leaking out of the sockets, waist deep in a whirl of blue bubble and torrent I was thrashed and spun about. From the heavens came a blue rain, rap, a-pat, tap, and blue stoned hail the likes of hot screaming metal chunks, fi, fo, fum! A murderous raging pain in my chest gashed forth, bone-pierced flesh like the great sea had been parted, and split me in fucking two. “My God,” I cried out in slumberous garble. “Take all of me.”

Slam, “Fuck!” Into the wall, I’d kicked the dog. Smack! Against the window pane, cast down like a bad, scorned, forlorn angel into the bottom of the dresser, and out across the fuckin’ floor. Low crawl, belly drag. I’m fuckin’ belly up here now. Awake! Cold with sweat, naked, free, freezing. I’d bruised my head, my fist and rug burns to my knees and chest. My side hurts, and the curtain is torn. It’s raining harder now, and the sky splits, flash, spits, rat-a-tat-tat like machine-gun fire. Kerplunk, plunkety, plunk into buckets, drain pipes like blood gutters, bullet holes, buttonholes, and this empty hollow feeling at the pit. I’d been pitted, gutless, so fucking vacant. Whose sins are these? Are we all really dead? What the fuck did Elijah want? And the moon’s a grayish hint of blue hue, and shadows by streetlight upon the rain-beaded window glass, silhouette on the wall like black tears. Jesus, where’s my blanket? Afraid to sleep anymore, but I need so badly, so bad, to get warm.

Three days back in the world and I’m up before the birds, before the trees, before the sky and branches reaching. Waiting, waiting for the sun to begin, for the heat to come up before I come out from my blanket. A train whistle off in the distance, up the block, two clicks. It ain’t that kind of whistle or siren, and the fuckin’ streetlight goes out. Again I’m in blue-gray shadow, still waiting. Church bells, and the wind chimes off the back deck. Newsprint hits the front steps, the workings of a bicycle chain. Squawk! A squawking blackbird sounds reveille. I’m an empty Bat-Car, third car from the rear. Three hundred and sixty-five of’ em. Stop counting, stop waiting. It’s Easter, Easter fucking Sunday! Beyond the torn curtain lace there are only shadow limbs groping for the sky. Other blackbirds squawking now like a party of thieves. Fresh road kill, I heard the brakes an hour ago, screech and thu-thump! Fuckin’ Rodney never knew what hit him! If! Another fuckin’ whistle, another train in the opposite direction.

Me and Jimmy, brothers Don and Jeff, Johnny, Mule, Gonzales, Worm, and Billy Gibbons, us Dick Street Bombers, we played on them tracks. We played war, Get-the-Bag, Kick-the-Can, Hot-Beans. We built forts under the bridge, dammed up the creek, hit homers over the fence, over the rails. We smoked cigarettes, sipped wine, talked sex. We showed each other our dicks, Johnny had the biggest. “You idiot, babies didn’t never come from fuckin’ storks!”

There are other birds talking now, red, blue, and gray. A coo, cooing mourning dove takes Bight. The rhythmic hammer of that train passing, the heat hiss, hissing up. My cigarette ash falls to my chest. A neighbor’s car whines, starts, grinding gears and drives off. I’m safe here, without really thinking, not consciously, but the night’s fuckin’ over. And again, we get to do it again.

I come out from my blanket, push up from my hands to my feet and stand naked before the window. There are no faces in the glass, but mine; what’s only me is scary. We stretch. I’m five-foot-ten and all of 135 pounds. I’m apart, a part of, superimposed upon that tree, without leaves like lines of bark my ribs can be counted. When I left for the war I was 160 and flawless, but the heat, sweat, bad water and food, C-rations, and constant diarrhea made me as thin as a communion wafer, lean like a manhole cover. My eyes sunken-in like a sewer rat’s, more black than blue anymore, my face long and narrow and missing teeth. Who is it? It ain’t me, these puffs of white steam. Is it breath? Am I breathing? Or am I just a broken limb, a cut branch, kindling for the fire? Is this cover about to blow, and who will receive me?

I put my pajama bottoms on and realize I’ve put them on backwards. I’ve stopped pissing out my asshole or I’d be politically correct, could be fuckin’ president. I need to make myself laugh, me and God share a laugh. There are no bunkers here, but for an old sparrow’s nest under the eaves of shingle next door. I’ll go ahead now and turn myself around.

Squirrels padding, pit-pat, pit-pat on the roof above, voices down below. Too much fuckin’ TV. The front door creaks, and the screen door grates. My father retrieves the paper, his mumblings about it having blown apart. Yes, I have seen the pieces, bits of brain matter, all pink, and blue, and gray flesh. Just one, one patch. “Jesus,” he snaps at my little brother watching cartoons, “Turn it down!” His life’s so fuckin’ simple: work, drink, eat, drink, sleep. “Let the dog out.” Oh, and how he loves his crossword puzzle as he makes his way across the dining room, shuffling pages, into the kitchen, into his coffee cup.

The bathroom is pink and gray tiles, and too fuckin’ bright. Kill the light! This piss is freedom, emancipation from one’s inner demon: a moment’s bliss like a yawn or a sneeze. Only with these bodily functions is there any reprieve. A good dump is king, but for a shot of dope. If! What Casey already knows. I splash some water on my face, but still come back orange. It’s that clay, red dirt, those convoys in an open Jeep, too much fucking sun.

My mother’s voice rises up from the kitchen, a wafted aroma of coffee, eggs, and bacon, sizzle, pop-pop. No small-arms fire here, just appetites. Mom’s cooking will soon enough fatten me up. Only one night we feasted on steak, Shrimp Scampi, Brussels sprouts, my favorite, and wild rice. I had two pieces of strawberry shortcake. “How was it?” she asked, and without thinking I blurted out, “Fucking great! Best fucking meal I ever fuckin’ ate!”

My youngest brother and sister, Billy’s seven and Marianne’s nine, sat there dumbfounded, mouths agape. Everything stopped as if a rock had hit, like someone farted in church, but you’d better not laugh. Shay, eighteen, and John, fifteen, took to snickering; even Dad was holding back a hoot.

“Well,” said Mom, attempting to rise above the muzzled snorts, ‘‘I’m glad you enjoyed it, but I don’t like that word.” She tittered, giggled and we all broke loose in wholehearted laughter.

I made my way down the stairway, downstairs, Bugs Bunny askin’ “What’s up, Doc?” Doc took one tiny piece of shrapnel in the temple sitting on his cot reading a letter from home, just a head above the sandbag line.

If! Nothin’ was up, but fucked up, and Doc’s world stopped six days short of leaving. Don’t mean nothin’! Still I couldn’t stop the thoughts, the sleepless nights, the fuckin’ nightmares. This wasn’t the place I thought home would be, the war hadn’t been silenced. Still, I was bored, I missed the goddam excitement, the killing game. This world had no meaning, no life and death consequences. Yeah, it was me who’d changed, everything else was the same only a year older. A year of hell, how could I ever again lie on a beach and tan myself?

I opened the door and stepped from the stairwell into the living room. Marianne was hiding between the upstairs and foyer doorways. Elmer Fudd was about to kill that cwazy wabbit. “Boo!” she screamed, this high-pitched screech like a rocket whistles when it’s in your lap. I went up like a prizefighter does from an uppercut to the jaw, then down, down for the floorboards, stopped! Stopped myself, than snapped, snapped right the fuck out of myself! She was laughin’, God was laughing. I jacked her up off her feet by the threads of her pajama top like a dog would shake a rag-doll in its mouth, pinning her shoulders back up against the wall. Her eyes met my stony-cold, blackened rage! It wasn’t her but the enemy I saw.

“Never, never fuckin’ do that to me, never! Do you hear me?”

My mother ran in from the kitchen, spatula in hand, waving it like a scepter, a magic wand over a pimply frog, “Put her down! Put her down this minute.” There were all kinds of whistles screaming in my head.

“Put her down!” My father’s voice reverberated, pinging off walls, and out the back of my brain. He threw his pen and crossword puzzle at me, spilling his coffee. I’m an empty flat-car, third car from the rear. Bones was snapping at my PJ’s. “Now!” He bellowed from a safe distance and looked to my mom as if asking, what are we gonna do now?

Billy sat bug-eyed, amused, gawking at me from the couch, this was better than any cartoon, I was cwazier than that fucking wabbit. Tears were streaming down my sister’s face. What? This fear, it’s mine, I thought, from the depths of the dead and the missing. My God, my God, but couldn’t say it. I’d brought the trauma home. I’m the fuckin’ enemy here.