POETRY: Jeffrey Field – One Black Soldier

One Black Soldier

 

Summer, 1966.

I am trying to take
a Polaroid picture
of one black soldier
doing the Ali shuffle
outside the barracks
at Fort Sam Houston
in San Antonio, Texas.

He will not hold still.

“Viet Nam, here I come!”

He is 19 years old,
bobbing and weaving
up and down
the barracks’ steps,
smile as wide as Texas.

Hey! Hold still a minute wouldya?

Okay… Now!

The print slides from the camera.
A minute later he is grinning at me,
fists frozen in air,
the world’s greatest.

“Yeaaahhh! We gonna whip old Charlie’s tail!”

Pop! Pop!! Pop!!!
His fists smack the air as he
ducks and dodges
through the jungles of Viet Nam.

He is 82nd Airborne.

He is my friend.

One year later –
I’m stationed at Valley Forge General Hospital at
Phoenixville, Pennsylvania.
I work nights on orthopedic ward 5.
There are strange, sucking noises
coming from the ward

as I
sterilize the medicine carts.
Broken femurs.
Maggot-eaten men.

I keep my distance.

One morning,
one black soldier
wheels himself along the
polished wooden hallway.
His stumps end
high on boxer’s legs,
six inches above the knee.

Our eyes touch.

I want to disappear.

We shake hands.
Smile still as wide as Texas,
yet,
(we both silently understand)
not the same smile.
He tells his story.
As he speaks my mind begins to wander…
those two white-bandaged phantoms are
waving the air,
waving at me?
telling a different story,
speaking the body’s agony of being
blown
apart
while on night patrol in the
jungles of Nam.

Ascuncian,
the Hawaiian GI
who bunked on the cot
under me
at Fort Sam,
(whom I never liked
because,
one day,
for no apparent reason,
he threatened me,
and then he slammed me,
hard,
against the latrine wall)
was ripped into
two pieces,
machine gun fire
raking across his back
from an unseen enemy
embedded in the jungle.

A year never seemed so far away.

My friend
has brought the war
home.
I grudgingly accept it.
I take it to
my barracks’ room
and sleep with it.
I wake up with it
that afternoon.
I strap it to the back
of my motorcycle.
I ride the back roads of the
Amish countryside.
I bury it beneath a
dying
red sun.
Summer’s greens turn gray,
as a Polaroid picture
of one black soldier
burns a hole in my heart.

 

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