“Just Before I Died” Tanka 1040

Just before I died

second time – too young The First –

I was nightmare wakened.


I just-escaped both those deaths

and I pray: no more warnings!


  • (Walked into a freak DelMarVa Penninsular wave at two years old as my parents were renting extra attention on my two siblings – brothers being busy can get a kid extra time alone if he plans it right – when this back-side-of Chesapeake Bay beach got a solitary two-foot wave which crashed right over my crouching – perriwinkles! – form.  According to Mom, I had blue lips and would not sputter until Dad gave me a big whack as he – against all advice rendered at least 20 years too late – held me upside down by the ankles – and whacked me in the small of the back.  I coughed, spit, spluttered and giggled: this upside-down view must have been a reward, no?  The Second time I got a call from Okinawa asking me to do a story-and-photos of Marines who walk point in the dangerous side of nowhere near any towns.  It was monsoon. I was miserable.  I was going to South Africa in a couple of weeks for a month -yeah, I know: not even a note to Mom or Dad, just do it – and the only helo out of Division Rear was going to stop just exactly where the nightmare the night before placed me just before a mortar attack.  The Chopper landed at the newly established 5th Marines Regimental Command Post, the only jeep they had leaving that afternoon was going to Hill 25 just outside Que Son City where The Dream was first staged for my benefit…twenty years later the story got a lot better – and scarier – but for the nonce suffice to say I woke when I heard the arming pin being removed from a B-40 Rocket Propelled Grenade and muttered: “Hey, that’s not a mortar it’s a…..(and the world goes away) as I lifted my head just past the shaped charge of the RPG took out the 12×12 beam that held up the roof of the above-ground bunker our mortar team used for a crib – and I used for a head-stop where my flak jacket was a hasty-pillow: first time in almost a year muchly in “The Bush” I dossed inside barbed wire in a bunker.  It wasn’t the Dream, J: it was the stupid sleeping inside during a rain.  But I was damned tired of being wet, miserable and scared. Dummy.  Never did that in T’Nam before – sleep in a bunker: the other three adjectives were constant companions, friends almost.  And never had I slept so close to four others in The Bush before either.  And, six months later I read it in Navy Times: we were the only five Americans wounded in Vietnam that fateful dreamy day. What I said, finally, over the MARS radio-telephone call to Mom back in Sanford was: Mom – no matter what you hear, I am all right…and some other stuff the censor said I wasn’t supposed to say, just as she and Dad were leaving for a couple of weeks to spend Christmas in Colorado with my cousins. That phrase: “No matter what you hear, I’m all right,” was what a friend of mom’s had said to her three days before I got wounded.  The same day/night/time as my dream and which later I got the call from Stars & Stripes Pacific’s newspaper asking me for the “Walking Point” photoJ assignment. Wonder who they got to play me in the real movie that filled those two or four pages.  I got reported first: MIA or KIA back to Division rear and the 1st Marine Division Public Affairs shop in Danang – thus the telegrams I found at the Richards’ family manse when I, head wrapped up like a mummy, dragged ass up the porch step to the locked? front door.  Of course I knew it was another bad dream:  the street had been paved in my absence.  I had entered The Well-Past-Twilight Time.  Still there sometimes.  Come visit.  But bring your own dreams.)


7 thoughts on ““Just Before I Died” Tanka 1040

    • My pleasure, Yassy: and in the second case, my distinct honor. I checked into the Naval Hospital at 135 pounds (after a check-in-to-Vietnam weight of 185) and left that hospital – cold milk! Vegetables – choice of proteins and snaked-in beer!) at 235. Took a while to shed some of that “extra.” I do not know the impetus for the commentary after the poem, but I did feel a lot better just ‘bangin’ it our.’ You are a dear to suffer through that last two episones…and I just recalled the Real First Time I Died (almost.). Wrote about that one long time ago…the little German Jew refugee doctor in The Bronx who told my mom about Vitamin B-12 and shot me up with it after the Naval doctors at my birthplace, Bethesda Naval Hospital said they could not explain my lack of weight-gain and my sometimes uncontrollable regurgitation in that first few months of life. I was born near 11 pounds but sometime around four of five months began slipping back into the low 20s and the Docs had no clue. One Doctor said to mom, she said, Do You Have A Family Doctor in New York? If so, take him there and see what they can do. The old doc said he had left Germany in the early 1930s while working for The Bayer people and they were experimenting with some new-ish injections of the B-complex vitamins and suggested they try some out on me. Within a short period I was a 30+-pound butterball and have been in love with eating and most all foods ever since. That’s partially why the garden: a family tradition, partly from military service pay semi-poverty and two other boys with they maws wide open constantly, not to mention thinking all jeans and even dress pants looked ever so much better with holes at the knees and shirts did not ever need so many buttons and I had a particular liking for shirt collar points…the advent of heavy-duty jeans and tee shirts as wardrobe daily for J through …well, mostly it has never stopped. I have shocked some newspaper colleagues when they saw me first in my tailored toxedo to go to the Daytona Beach premier of the biennial return of The London Symphony Orchestra – that one featuring a Russian guest conductor and his world premiere cello piece – and playing cello in a Shostakovich symphony which was played with the legendary maestro conducting in Stalingrad during the time Germans surrounded the city…he began the concert by conducting the LSO in playing The Star Spangled Banner. I had tears unashamedly coursing down both cheeks – a former Soviet conductor with his mentor’s famous piece and his own premiere conducting the London band’s playing of my country’s National Anthem: how we humans still may hope for understanding and peace!

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      • Yes, this nostalgia of yours put me in tears. Now, God bless the doctors , you are hale hearty and wise , so nice for us to have you talk of your babyish years , sweet sweet baby , you , now chubby Jewel !

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      • Chubby? I call that overlap – not so much, really, my Anti-Famine Protection Device. When The Famine comes I will swiftly svelte down and all the really in-shape among us will be too week to run: quickly catch em and into the cookpot. With pigs or people: only eat the healthy ones and what better assist to slow them down enough to catch and cook than a gool ol’e (potato) famine, a la Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.” Few I tell that to laugh heartily without a quick check to see if their shoes – or toes – are visible if they look straight down. You are a dear, Yassy. I think for you a Sauce Bernaise barely would do you justice.

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      • I’m, thinking of applying for Loan Care just in case I get caught taking some. Thanks, Yassy. I shall so require self of your care strictures. I heed. I will make many efforts to obey!

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