Chalk it up to avarice or human nature
a learning-curve flattening to infinity, lost causes
the least of it. In the night, still sometimes I hear
helicopter blades slicing time
before from after, clinging men who fell
away from hope and history,
but so did we, nowhere near Saigon nor ever would be,
in the muddle of what we fought for, or thought we fought for,
clear, as they say, scornfully, as mud, and the dead
as dead as heroes are, though not as well-remembered.

We mourned, we marched, or danced in a Dervish-haze,
creating elsewhere as from out of a dream,
We were those leading ledger-lives and shopping sprees,
heads down out of those tempest-winds and testing times.
One war drew a new line, then one war erased one.
This was the war before the war before the war you know of,
after the war after the war after the War To End All Wars,
so if you cannot now call it to mind, small wonder!
Even we seldom speak of it, (except the fathers and the mothers)
wearing the barely-visible map of scars
from the daily razor of the evening news
counting star-draped losses in airport hangers,
its smells of soap and sweat and gasoline,
its adhesive fires and horrors too tight for a man
to sit or stand or lie down in, the underground
of towns whose names we learned just in time
to be told to forget them (and not to ask the Why?)–
Quang Tri, DaNang, Pleiku, Kontam, Hue….

There have been wars since, heaping up, a list
like the Kings and Queens of England one might memorize in school
if one could find a reason. There will be others
though we’ve lost the appetite for heroism,
quaver over alliances,
and the notion of peace-keeping seems quaint.
Vern Hovey, Robert Cragin, Richard Starkey,
you may have felt differently then. You were our three.
All lives are local, and so soon
disappear into their slates
and we begin again.