If the conflict in Vietnam was a dragon,
then America in the ’70s
was a lovely green-eyed girl. A strawberry-blonde,
pretty and tall, riding her older
brother’s yellow ten-speed hands-free. Coasting
down the street from my home, I imagine
her on the way to her grandmother’s house, and I,
a boy of sixteen, crane my neck to get one last
long look as she rides by, silky
as a doe, gracious as a peace dove, sleek
as only a dancer can be. When a boy
is sixteen, his heart turns to mush.
In that same instant, though treading in shallow
water, he may feel as if he is drowning, for youth
is also a time when a boy’s mind turns toward
the realities of war. In the heady
days of Camelot, Vietnam was still known
as that “splendid little war”—that is, until America
lost its footing and hurled a half-million GIs against
a smaller, ill-equipped North Vietnamese Army
only supported by a handful of guerillas, militarized
men, women, and children. Then, I must—I did
get up from my place on the porch feeling sick
having been reminded that behind the romance
of warfare are brave men reduced to a gang of thugs.