The only time I was actually in country someone says, “Hey this is Vietnam,”
visions of black and orange getting blown up on the run way but then when we got out
it was just this piece of an airfield socked under a thin grey mist, grey over grey, concrete
and the corrugated front of a hanger in steel mist of dazzling runway moist and silver all around
a womb of space on the ground until a jeep emerges w/o a driver in memory just, just
a machine gun with the belt hanging and a M.P.’s corporal stripe arm gripping a M-16 and clip
right there on his hip distant artillery sound and turning around the hanger drools forth this dude
(always watch out for that 1st character who come up to talk we always said “he’ll break your heart”)
and this one dangling his hand over his nose sez “oh, that ain’t nothin’ nothing happens on the perimeter
here, but it’s something man when the rockets come in wow! it’s wild, man, it’s wild” twitch, twitch, twitch
we took off in a huddle destined again a heap asleep amid our equipment I looked out the porthole in back
the transport as we banked to reveal a few flashes around Da Nang through the clouds of humidity on the
way to Thailand to play a game of nuclear war in S.E. Asia on walls of maps for the stars of generals but
returning home it was then to Okinawa we flew non-stop first class separate from our bag and baggage,
and our communication equipment, when the clouds opened up a vision valley appeared trapped by the
too green hills slashed with purple, a muddy brown river flowing squares of rice paddy delta, a blue mouth
to the sea, a living stage for nine pillars of smoke some more black than white, others more yellow than
brown, nobody said anything I counted 9, 9 columns in the sky in a cloud, did some on say it
or did we all just think it ‘what the fuck was going on down there?’


James Van Looy has been a fixture in Boston’s poetry venues since the 1970s. He is a member of Cosmic Spelunker Theater and has run poetry workshops for Boston area homeless people at Pine Street Inn and St. Francis House since 1992. Today marks his one year anniversary as a poet columnist for Oddball Magazine.