Category Archives: poetry

Freeform verse

I am a soldier

I am a soldier

I am a soldier,
One of America’s own.
Child of the father’s before me
Whose sacrifice I owe a debt
Which can never be repaid.

I stand ready to honor that debt
When called upon. I will take arms
Against those who would seek to
Cage liberty and set fire to peace.
My life for these I do pledge.

All that I ask…
Do not deceive me. Do not send
Me to distant places to stand
In harms way for falsehoods and
Riches earned by the letting
Of my blood.

Do not dishonor my sacrifice
For the gains of your purse.
Let not my life be your reward.
I am a soldier,
One of America’s own.
Father to those to come after me.

Rich Raitano

The Watch

The Watch

 I saw them come in numbers,

More than anyone

Should ever have to see.

Fresh from the battlefields

Of slaughter;

Their bodies torn, shattered,

Ripped apart and mangled,

Eyes, wild with fear

Or empty dead stares,

Told their story of raw horror.

Frantic strangled cries gurgle

From their blood filled throats;

Calling for wives or mothers…

Or God.

But they have come to face the beast

With its fetid smell of death

On its angry dragons’ breath.

There comes no mercy…

No peace…

Nor holy, saintly knighted savior

With sword of life in hand

Riding nigh.


…And only this…

To stand a silent vigil

And to watch them slowly die.

VVA Veteran review by Horace Coleman

Spring 2009 – THE VETERAN
More Than a Memory
More Than a Memory: Reflections of Viet Nam,
Victor R. Volkman, editor (Modern History Press, 1009)

Some people say “There’s only two kinds of music: Country & Western!” Duke Ellington said “There are only two kinds of music, good and bad.” Both broad statements exclude much that’s worthy.

More Than a Memory: Reflections of Viet Nam is a collection of poetry and prose. In one of the essays in the collection called, “Nothing So Bad It’s Not Poetry,” Alan Farrell talks about what he calls “Vietvet or Namvet poetry,” He writes

“As I look back at my favorite war poems, poems I’ve learned in school, I find that-to the extent that they meant any thing to me–they do so for reasons mostly of form, of structure, of rhyme, of rhythm, of image … of craft in short.”

What it really comes down to is something that gets your attention about something the writer makes you care about as he pleases you. Something worth saying said well. Craft is how well you use the tools picked to get the job done. The worth of the job is how well it does what it’s supposed to do.

Farrell reincarnates and updates Rudyard Kipling’s Tommy Atkins in Nam in his poem The Man Who Outlived His Lieutenant. Its refrain goes:

That’s a combat man ‘ere talkin’ Sir
Seen the bear an’ smelt ‘is fur
Shots in anger, CIB
Get in a fight, jus’ do like me

Before the review copy arrived, I was rereading Obscenities by Michael Casey (published in 1972) and enjoying, once again, the poem “A Bummer,” which ends:

 If you have a farm in Vietnam
And a house in hell
Sell the farm
And go home

Did you hear someone way back there, way back in the day say “…Sell the farm and keep the house!?” It don’t mean nothing if you didn’t hear some variation; you know the feeling. The combination of content, remembrance and comment do the job. However, often the more you have to bring to the work to “get it” well the less work the writer has done well.

Casey made the mold-or caught the spirit-of much of the early published poetry of Nam vets: Flat in tone, matter of fact, direct and conversational, stripped of rhyme and meter; short on imagery.

For a long time vets who’d been there and lived that found it hard to publish in mainstream outlets-no matter the quality of their work. The academic and “professional” poets held the high ground-they deserved it (supposedly) because of their reputations and for bravely “speaking out.” Who were those people who thought their experience equaled others “proven talent” and “experienced eloquence?”

Everything vets wrote was just the same old story, a fight for survival-not glory-‘ comic grossness, callous humor. Although More Than A Memory is uneven in quality, it has high points.

Marc Levy uses the Casey approach well in his poem Peace Time. It lists the names soldiers had for combat and describes what happened in spare and matter of fact language like Jack Webb’s policeman Sgt. Friday or cowboy John Wayne or Clint Eastwood might (with effective repetition).

One verse goes:

They walked into our patrol
Or we walked into theirs
Or we ambushed them
Or they’d ambushed us
Or we walked into each other
Or they hit us with mortars
Or overran us with sappers
Or booby-trapped our automatics
Or we called in Arty

Repetition with variation of the same ol’ deadly same ol’ recreated with words describing the ways death and numbness came.

Levy’s short prose piece Whatever You Did in War Will Always Be with You gives the lowdown on the lingering regret too many still have, says what PTSD is and briefly describes some treatments for it.

 Levy’s prose pieces “Torque in Ankor Wat” and “Off the Road” are gritty travelogues of his odysseys in Cambodia and Vietnam respectively. Preston Hood, the writer with the most publishing credits in the contributors’ notes, paints an image of Boats Near Hue. Vietnam, 1997 with lines like

“The sea: white beach in formless prayer” and “Dark clouds shoulder into a gathering storm.” In the last verse of Pop Smoke, Dayle Wise brushes aside the macho shield of invulnerability warriors carry:

We’re tired and want to go home.
Mother take us back.
Let us suckle in your arms.
We’ve been very bad.

There’s a thing called Cowboy Poetry. It has its own form, style, subject matter, situations, types of people and behaviors, locale and target audience. It’s of the people, populist and not academic or traditional–except in its own tradition. Vietvet/Namvet poetry same same. You pay your money, spend your time and some of it satisfies. Which implies the obvious and opposite.

Horace Coleman was an Air Force Air Traffic Controller / Intercept Director in Vietnam (/967-68), he also served in Tactical Air Command, Pacific Air Command and North American Air Defense. He speaks at grade schools, high schools and churches and lives in Long Beach, CA.

The Beast – Doc Rich Raitano

The Beast

It is always waiting
In the darkest corners
Of your life,
Still and silent;
Hungry and demanding.

Do not look upon it.
Do not seek its eyes,
Prepare yourself
For struggle.
Keep faint
The beating of your heart;
Still the quickness of your breath.

It waits there
Beyond your reach
With sharpened tooth
And deadly claw.
Step into its lair unprepared
And you will become
Shattered bone
And shredded flesh.

Doc Rich R

Know them

Know them

Know them as tears fill their eyes at the sight of a child while memories repeat a vision of  dead, militated, burnt children cast beside the road to Baghdad.

Know them as they smile while talking about their best friend dying.

Know them as you discover they sleep on the floor and run nightly patrols.

Know them as a slight disagreement explodes into a killing rage and the vet is stepping backwards seeking his knives and guns.

Know them as they get and lose as many different jobs as they have years separated from the war.

Know them as they condemn themselves for the smallest mistake because in their world a mistake will  kill someone.

Know them as they display anti-social and addictive behavior.

Know them as they struggle with borderline personality disorders and have extreme difficulties with interpersonal relationships.

Know them who suffer the pain as they pronounce that others deserve veterans benefits more than they do.

Know them as you ask when they fought a major battle and they say, “Last night.”

Know them as they walk in the woods while keeping a proper spacing between people they are with and constantly registering the next closest spot for cover and concealment.

Know them as they drive white knuckled, holding back the urge to “SHOUT,SHOW,AND SHOOT” at the driver who gets too close on the highway and fight the desire to swerve away from anything that might contain an IED

Know them as they travel across six states to help a friend but they would not cross the street to save their own ass.

Know them as they will not come to you for help. They are to proud.

Know them as you would your own. Provide for them for the rest of their lives the mental, medical and social tools  that reflect our ability to honor the veteran.

Know them.

Poem by Tom Skiens, with shout, show and shoot line by two tour
Afghanistan vet James Dowmen

The Last War

When the last soldier falls
In the very last war,
That’s where you will
Find them gathered;
On the battlefield of
The final triumph.

Their restless souls
Will claim lasting rest
Peacefully waiting
Upon the earth
Where once they lived
And died.

No more sorrow…
No more broken hearts.
A river of souls as one
In victorious song;
As the final bugle calls
When the last soldier falls.
When the last soldier falls.

Doc Rich R

Ode to new guy

Thin like me,
red hair, freckled,
gap between front teeth,
a Midwesterner,
forgot where.

A replacement,
you were a F.N.G.
Made us laugh,
a clown, sad
behind your mask.
Never got to know you.

Flaked out
even on easy missions.
I treated you
as a non-person,
a pariah to be shunned.

You talked too loud,
made too much noise.
Couldn’t respond
to my basic
combat commands,
fired too much ammo.

We carried you
on a poncho
for 2,000 meters,
crossing a stream,
up a hill.
Dead weight.

F.N.G.: fucking new guy

Marc Levy – Poetry Reading

This segment features Marc Levy in a poetry reading hosted by the Woodstock, NY chapter of Veterans For Peace. The host was More Than a Memory contributor Dayl Wise (fellow with long hair and beard).  The event was held  at the old Woodstock City Hall in January 2008. Philip Levine, poetry editor of Chronogram, co-ordinated it.



By: Tom Skiens

Have you heard about Betty
She’s a bouncer from the land of ville s
The first time that I met her
Was at the bottom of an old ROK hill

The ROK’s long since departed
some wire and Betty remain
The point diddy bopped right over the top
but not Scully and Hall, what a shame

Its a hot date, our first time with Betty
She dropped ten men in a row
The eleventh in line was Zimmerman
learning things he didn’t want to know

The Zimmer Man and I
Well we got to walk the line
I be judging the size of Betty’s holes
On the radio with the Captain all the time

We be needing two choppers for the dust off
One bird can’t lift all this weight
We have two that are in no hurry
They be lined up at the pearly gate

The Zimmer Man and I
We be prancing down the line
You with the 2″ hole in the shoulder
Grab your gear and double time

Betty’s got one moaning
Another s  losing his mind
And another with a face full of shrapnel
Froze up standing his place in line

The Zimmer Man and I
Doing shit we never knew
Rifling through Rucks and Pancho’s
Getting ready for dust off #2

I don’t think  I like Betty
She’s a fickle bitch at  best
She jumps right up, 3 feet or so
And then fuck’s you in the chest

She will blow your legs to the left
And the rest of you to the right
She will blow your balls into the next day
And posses the souls of the night

With special thanks to;

Marc Levy, Mentor, editor and widely published author.

Betty:  M-16 A1 antipersonnel mine. When tripped, a Bouncing Betty jumps out of the ground 3 to 5 feet before exploding.
Villes:  G.I. slang for village
land of villes: authors phrase to represent Vietnam
ROK hill: A Republic of Korea base camp built on a hill.
ROK:  A feared mercenary from the Republic of Korea.
diddy bop: GI slang for walked or passed by

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