My father Daniel didn’t quite make it to veteran’s day this year. I’m remembering him today with this poem he wrote as an army officer in Vietnam.
My Tho Eveningscape
just a trace of a wind
moving the damp felt air,
this slight keenery of tactility
feathers over me alone on the rooftop
watching the day whisper into death
with a cool moist sibilance.
a grey cottony sky trowels its own
monotony to the gleam of gold
at the horizon;
the town under random oblique placards
of tin shiny and cold,
lies respirating and gentle
retiring sub specie aeternitatis
like so many another of its kind.
the rain left puddles strewn
like mirror fragments
on the ground
the oil color texture of the earth
and trees are deep
with rich organic redolence
breathing into the foundations
of my senses.
through the streets dogs snoop
each heap of curious rubble,
gutted windows and walls merge
with corrugated half-patched housing
clinging for structure
onto wealthy unmarked homes.
there are no vespers here.
only the raw, gay dissonant cacophony
of children’s cries and shouts
rise like a dismembered symphony
to hymn the halflight throng;
the sentience of untempered voices
fills the town indigent with
laugh-now capers trilling down
the distant cannon thunder.
one young husband before a
roofless home strums a guitar
singing some half-formed song;
nextdoor laundry slashes the air
in drooping red and white and purple
between a lean-to and one dead tree.
lights begin to shine gently
from open doorways into alleys
cluttered with rusty cans and
gnarled pierced roofing;
broken lumber provokes
a vague geometry over heaps
of brick gathered out of rubble,
earthenware jars stand along
the walls to catch the rain
people move among the shadows
in the evening’s conversations
with scant solace,
a mother walks, nestling her infant
in her arms, about the floor of a
once commodious living room,
no more now after the Tet shells fell;
the guitar again stills the night
with music softly as fleet birds
dash like phantoms against
the faint-lit clouds.
the evening is lambent
with swift sculptured gestures of life
forming, twining, converging
and disseminating into darkness
under the silent silvery rooftops;
the trees are black printed silhouettes
of labyrinthine imagination
on the skyline,
in a deathless stasis
playing a superb prayer over
the ghost of the vast panorama.
a soft, gentle rain is falling
from the exquisite felt caress
of the sky dimming
to inky velvet,
a new life stirring,
an old one passing
from strife into rest.
the pointed contrast,
should one call it cruel,
remorseless, or irrelevant?
are gods and heroes bastards or benign?
the rain is not harsh,
the people laugh in the face of death,
the red brilliance of the flaming trees
kindle a cool furnace against the heavens;
in her ruins My Tho is robust and relaxed,
feeling the damp felt air
and declaiming with the splendor of the palms.