for Robert Ross
The day you flew to Tam Ky, I was green
with envy. Not that lifeless washed-out
green of sun-bleached dusty jungle utes.
I was rice shoot green, teenage green.
This wasn’t going to be just one more
chickenshit guerrilla fight:
farmers, women, boobytraps and snipers,
dead Marines, and not a Viet Cong in sight.
This was hardcore NVA, a regiment at least.
But someone had to stay behind,
man the bunker, plot the H&I.
I have friends who wonder why I can’t
just let the past lie where it lies,
why I’m still so angry.
As if there’s something wrong with me.
As if the life you might have lived
were just a fiction, just a dream.
As if those California dawns
were just as promising without you.
As if the rest of us can get along
just as well without you.
Since you’ve been gone, they’ve taken boys
like you and me and killed them in Grenada,
Lebanon, the Persian Gulf, and Panama,
Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq.
And yet I’m told I’m living in the past.
Maybe that’s the trouble: we’re a nation
with no sense of history, no sense at all.
I still have that photo of you
standing by the bunker door, smiling shyly,
rifle, helmet, cigarette, green uniform
you hadn’t been there long enough to fade
somewhere in an album I don’t
have to look at any more. I already know
you just keep getting younger. In the middle
of this poem, my daughter woke up crying.
I lay down beside her, softly singing;
soon she drifted back to sleep.
But I kept singing anyway.
I wanted you to hear.
Reprinted from “Thank You for Your Service: Collected Poems”, W. D. Ehrhart, McFarland & Company, Inc., 2019.
William “Bill” Daniel Ehrhart is an American poet, writer, scholar, and Vietnam veteran. He received the Purple Heart Medal and the Navy Combat Action Ribbon for his service in Vietnam. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Wales at Swansea. Ehrhart has been called “the dean of Vietnam war poetry” and is the author of more than 30 books, including Vietnam Perkasie: A Combat Marine Memoir, Passing Time: Memoir of a Vietnam Veteran Against the War, Busted: A Vietnam Veteran in Nixon’s America, and Thank You for Your Service: Collected Poems.