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Friday, August 23, 2019


by Laura Rodley

The roll call of deceased unit members, which included 10 men killed in action, was an emotional time for Vietnam veterans who reunited in Berea, Ohio on August 9, 2019. "Even though we have had some sleepless nights, some dreams we want to forget, the remembrance of PTSD, and Agent Orange that just won't let go, we continue to be grateful and to stand for our flag," said the Chaplain. Photo credit: Beth Mlady/Special to, August 17, 2019

You don’t know him, he doesn’t
ask to be known, he won
a bronze star for valor
in Vietnam, he shops
on senior discount Tuesdays
at Big Y, at least he used to.
He doesn’t go out anymore,
even outside. You wouldn’t
recognize him, he’s just an
average Joe in a linen shirt,
rhythm of helicopters whirring
in his head. The Fourth of July,
Friday night fireworks in Ocean Park?
He’s seen enough fireworks, mortar
shell explosions, lights exploding,
himself exploding, he doesn’t want
any reminders. But ask for recognition,
no, valor of Vietnam vets unspoken,
stationed in Da Nang, ground zero for Agent Orange,
his early heart attack just a fluke
the doctor said, hearing loss due to age.
He slept next to a mortar shell field.
They blew up all the time.
He’s not asking anything
from his country that he served,
just to be left alone.

He only has to be as tall
as the ceiling of his livingroom,
where he chomps Fritos, swallows Cokes,
he doesn’t have to see behind him,
beside him, below him as the chopper
brings him base to base to allocate
and release funds, he doesn’t
have to see through forests, they
were denuded by Agent Orange,
someone could drop down on him
from above, but not while
he’s in front of the T.V. The front
door is locked, a cheap remedy
against machine gun fire.
He only has to manage the space
of the couch, the clicker, even
the screened-in porch reveals
too much green, someone could
be hiding in those maples, oaks,
kudzu, and that’s not paranoia,
it was real for him for two tours,
someone hiding to do him harm,
annihilate him and nothing but
his dog tags to know his name.
He would not call this being afraid,
nor is he: he is aware, hyper-aware
of leave rustle, door closing, pop-top
of the can breaking open, the fizzle
of foam. Everything he does saves
his life and those of the men he
served with- not one of them taught
to act alone but as a unit, always
aware of his buddy, aware of combat
boots squishing in the mud of rice paddies
beside him. Hyper-aware of
everything outside of him to save
them all, but nothing but his finessed reaction
for shooting or readiness to bail out of the chopper
of his own internal life. He
lived outside himself, his body, and
having survived when so many
he knew did not, he brought
it all home with him, where
it breathes in the livingroom
with him, he can’t close his eyes,
it’s inside him now, it won’t get out,
won’t let him go.

Laura Rodley, Pushcart Prize winner is a quintuple Pushcart Prize nominee, and quintuple Best of Net nominee. Publisher Finishing Line Press nominated her Your Left Front Wheel Is Coming Loose for a PEN L.L.Winship Award and Mass Book Award. FLP also nominated her Rappelling Blue Light for a Mass Book Award. Former co-curator of the Collected Poets Series, Rodley teaches the As You Write It memoir class and has edited and published As You Write It, A Franklin County Anthology volumes I-VI, also nominated for a Mass Book Award. She was accepted at Martha’s Vineyard’s NOEPC and has been a participant in the 30 poems in November fundraiser for the Literacy Project of the Center for New Americans. Latest books: Turn Left at Normal by Big Table Publishing and Counter Point by Prolific Press.