“If This Be Death…”


(June 11, 2018)

If this be death, then

I can hack it, bravely  said

and then I got scared*

 

  • (When I returned to consciousness and without any memory of falling and landing in the jumble that had become of that hasty little mortar-pit bunker December 10, 1970, I distinctly recall the first thought: Hell, if this is dead, I can hack it!  Then things got progressively worse: Fool!  If you can think even if you can not see or hear or feel then maybe you’re not dead.  Let’s see if we can taste.  Why?  For Blood, idiot!  You just got blown up and maybe you are bleeding: surely you are in Shock. So gather some spit on your little ol’e fingertips on that right hand you so favor and start running it over your face first, then your head, then your neck and so on and so forth. Why? For you to taste each time for the presence of blood. What’s blood taste like? Why am I so saddled with stupid? Taste for copper. I know you have stuck a cut finger in our mouth before, fool, so quit carping and just do it.  You had a penny in your mouth before? Taste for that! All over. All Over? Eeech!  Damn fool.  Just do it.  Hey: the eyelids are welded shut: no wonder we can’t see.  Welded?  Dried blood.  What’s all that wet stuff that doesn’t taste salty? get some of that on your face and rub it into your eyes and pry those lashes apart and see if you can see, okay?  Sure thing boss.  Hey: I got an idea: why’nt we go into our yoga breathing techniques and try to slow our heart – to quit pumping so much blood out and lower our respiration rate so we appear dead.  No one heard my “Corpsman Up!” cry – No.  I did hear I think someone say ain’t do corpsman on this hill, so we both are in deep shit if we’re still bleedin’ all over the place.  I can see now. Big hole just above me letting in The Monsoon rain across my face.  Means I am alive. Shit (and some other words)!  Now I gotta see about getting out of here.  Still can’t hear squat.  First thing: try moving each arm, each hand, each finger and then go on to the legs and then try to roll to each side and then try to sit up.  Up? Yes, dummy, up?  We’re getting you out of this. If they don’t shoot you first you are going to spend a long time blind and bleeding on you way to Hanoi. Want that? Someone will bag $1600 greenback smackers for your young Marine Corps propagandist ass.  That’s why I never let you get replacement dog tags and that Navy Chief Corpsman back at China Beach wanted you shipped the fuck out of Th’ Nam mos’ rikki-tik ’cause they only make glasses in your prescription at Bethesda for admirals and senators and not some punk assed Marine Corporals who think they are photo-journalists instead of pincushions.  God. This sucks.  We’re a long way from the real platoon bunker and there’s all kinds of wire and what’s this? Flares overhead. Some mortars and some larger shit from Fire Support Base Ross?  Glad to know you seem to be back on-line.  Let’s see if we can scrounge a rifle.  You still got your Randall Bowie on the suspender straps? Yep. Last time we ever sleep in a bunker even if it’s raining: you got that!  Sorry.  I punked out.  We only got a month left before we go on a month of leave and come back for six more months and I was tired of being wet all night ’cause I know we’re gonna be wet – and scared – again, all day long and then the shit really will hit the fan doing this stupid “Marines Who Walk Point” feature for Stars and Stripes Pacific. Two weeks of walking ahead of point, pics and interviews and a week to write and a week to get plowed and I do mean plowed. Danang Press Club: even if they did throw us out the last time.  Gonna be a star.  Yeah, buddy.  Now, quitcher daydreamin’ and see if we can get a couple of flak jackets. Two? Why? One to put on and one to cover our head doofus! Can you see – or feel! – a helmet in all this mess? Just do it! Now! Gawwd! Gotta learn you everything! No rifle, no glasses.  Blind as a bat so the rifle and ammo don’t matter. Got The Blade. That’s just gonna have to be enough.  Move out, Marine.  But, mommy: I’m scared. So? Get your ass in gear, Shit-for-Brains.  I ain’t gonna tell you again! We got out of there and much ensued.)

9 thoughts on ““If This Be Death…”

  1. part of an on-going series of comments, poetic reflections and mishmashed impressions I wrote and sometimes committed to reptilian reflection about a (longer, actually) three-day span from December 6 through December 10, 1970 in Quang Nam Province, Vietnam beside a fearful little place known colloquially as “The Football Field” where local legend had it a thousand years prior Vietnamese patriots engaged the hordes of Chinese invaders and ever since this patch of barely fertile rice paddy excess land just below The Que Son Mountains’ final eastward jut towards DaNang and The South China Sea like a querulous dagger of irregular edges aimed at the heart of a nation had seen the peasant heroes fight in their turn the French, the Japanese and the Americans…not to mention having ousted earlier the ethnically dissimilar Montangards (which term is an ethnic slur for a series of tribals who inhabit the thorny mountainous spine of at least South Vietnam from its northern border through The Central Highlands, many of whom were despicably ignored by American State Department and Congressional stalwarts after having been promised succor and if necessary relocation to America for joining our fight in that beautiful ravaged land. Eventually, may Nung and other tribesmen’s families did emigrate to America after a shameful series of relocation camps and sometimes harrowing seaborne adventures…the term adventure has been described to me in writing as the undergoing of serious physical, mental and emotional trauma and threat by another person and my you as an engaged and comfortable reader. I do digress, no?

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    • You do not digress and I am sorry not to have been back sooner but I have been away for a few days. I think it’s great that you bring this era and place and culture to life the way you do xx

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      • Shehanne: famed American Francophile cook Julia Child said AFTER my mother told me: never explain, never apologize (for a dish you present to guests) and with some minor tweaking I find it applies to Lingers whether by circumstance or choice or just whim. Sometimes I feel compelled to say I trap myself in my memories and sometimes failing of mem’my I invent. Who doesn’t? Who writes, invents. I just finished an haiku about leaving a big book alone in the book return bin at the library when I took advantage of the young lady wheeling the morning’s “take” from one of two such outdoor bins a few minutes before opening. “I could not bear the tough of that book which brought me so much languishing alone in that dark and dank bin until you came again to empty the afternoon’s offerings. What if no one else returned and it had to stare at those black walls with no one to talk to?”
        She really did not roll her eyes – which may have been frightening – but instead said, “oh, you are so right. How unkind.”
        So, for the haiku she became “‘brairy bin-boy” and it swam upstream from there.

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  2. Actually, or as we say here, ken whit? That’s a lovely thought. They all are. We all invent. We all do it our way. Mind you I had a private giggle there re that book. Not cos of the beautiful sentiment–gotta hold that in my heart, cos it is– but a heroine in one of my books–presently waiting re-issue– was a shopaholic and this biz of not leaving something languishing is one she sure understood, despite the piles of debts.

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  3. “ken whit” I get ken (as in know?) whit: what? Dialectical need not be Materialism, Komrad Karl. I am fascinated by dialectical differences and more: how those roads crossed and changed signs and still managed to get everyone to the same port. Gradually – how else? As I have mine own eye-addictions to feed – I feel drawn into your words I’ve yet to read. I mean: Smexy! Sure-fire advert there! Now, if only I can find a way to ‘splain away the sexy swashbuckle aspects as I learn to unlearn that blush-on-command charm which won me a few parts in comedic and sometimes tragic trods on the boards above the footlights. Are you really some searing angle of retribution sent to me to lure me darksidishly? Once I open a Romance and I doomed to fop? Or, will I find myself if full guffaw? Time. Tells. Tales and twisted tails.

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    • Now look at that, got you understanding Dundonian. And I am indeed sent to lure you darksidishly into understanding more! I confess it now. The author bit is obviously pure frontage….

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      • And here my favorite mode generally consists of sidle sidewaysishly. Ken continues Appalachianly and thrives amongst at least one obscure writer I know somewhat well. Whit was pure guess, taking in the full phrase. I used to get wondering mothers after me through their sons and daughters: “I understand his sports stories quite well, actually,” the kids would quote moms (and the occasional dad), “And his general news and government stories pretty much the same. But his sports columns and the editorial columns more often than not hid pure bafflement. Johnny, Sally, did you ever notice that too? (Small town paper owned by the Monster Gannett Corp. which had acquired the public polling firm Gallup, Inc., and they did readership survey stuff in my area of coverage with two other smalltown papers and two larger state- and nation-wide coverages. {Now, The Brag} I got a 92 percentile name recognition and a 74 percentile readership in my paper’s area of circulation – but then Gallup ruined my scam: they reported the paper had a serious up-tick in out-of-area subscriptions starting about my second year – of eight – on the scene. Then came the pressure: come over to Pumpkin Center and play Sunday Tennis with us, came the invite via my circulation director pal then being groomed “for better things.” And, he continued, you don’t even have to cut your hair or trim your beard. But they did ask me to ask: Do you won Whites and proper shoes? I scoffed, wheeled my chair around and toddled off to my office and opened the credenza where I kept my Bushmills and dangled all three proper items along with my still wooden racquet – and this well into the age of newfangledism in tennis. Never took them up on it as it would have cut into my usual Sunday suppage and coverage of the morning Over-40 Beer League Softball games in the mornings and either youth soccer or baseball in the afternoons and my devotion to hanging out in East Mims’ black pool halls and drinking parlors of a Summer’s eve. Why? I got asked that a lot by the parents of kids from “across those tracks” whom I covered in junior and senior high schools and the occasional college games: :Because,” I answered immediately, “I just get so damn tired of white people. Don’t you?” When my younger brother, busy playing assistant director of county transportation and director of the fledgling toll roads across our dear home county was pled with to find me by the then newspaper’s managing editor – the publisher who hired me being unavailable because he was on vacation and only I knew were – and all my copy and layouts were done remotely and still to my usual 20 minutes minimum before deadline, said to said ME, I think I know where to find him. East Mims at The Oasis Bar. That’s where he’ll be. Wasn’t: I was patrolling the nether regions of South Brevard County’s most winsome lass whom I got to sit- and stand-tall (she then was just broaching six feet in height and I some several inches less) and did my newspaper work off my then newish computer with a 300 bps baud-rate to the back room of the IT people at The Big Paper who routed my stuff to my section as favor for past favors. Well, brother Storm showed up at The Oasis, looking at a sea of black and curious – but not yet hostile – faces, and the matron-in-charge asked coquettishly: “Whatchew want, white boy.” To which Storm replied: “Looking for my brother.” Brother guffawed Gretchen (always wanted to use that word with Gretch…). And Storm said, “Yes’um, his name’s J…” And as he later related, “before I could say another word, one man steered me to a booth by the front door with the best reading light where a small stack of paperback science fiction books was – so I knew immediately it was you, and just seconds later the big black beautifully smiled lady who first asked me what I was doing had a pitcher of draft beer plopped on my table and she asked ‘Or, do you need a mug too. J don’t. Just drinks from the pitcher: the love, says to save me from washing ‘nother glass. You take your chicken wings hot, too?” He kept laughing while retelling the tale of Lost J that I had to ask him to repeat the bit about her yelling out the back door for a couple of kids to go scour the neighborhood – and both The Red Top Inn and the local pool hall to see if I had been there. He said she said they hadn’t seen hide nor hair of me in a couple weeks: was I all right. Then he proceeded to get sloshed as the little league coaches and some high school teachers and administrators and one man called Preacher who did time at Raiford Penitentiary for murder who was an orange grove foreman – and ran his own 40-acre grove – for the area’s big Indian River fruit producer all came by and bought another pitcher and pulled together a second booth and told Storm J stories well into the night.
        “I woke up next day noon – late for work – and the Black lady who fixed me breakfast said her husband drove me to their home across to the only Black Enclave on the White side of West Mims and fetched their son to drive my car back to their house. Then – nor Storm – never found me. When I was told the story in The Oasis – whose history includes some dangerous play with them Cocoa folks but never told Storm until decades later – I confessed my amorous intentions fifty miles further South. And I asked if he told the managing editor of his lack of success. No, bro Storm replied: “I got the impression from the folks at that bar that what you do – or did – near or with them was never to be shared with stuffed shirts and starched skirts. So, I never called back and they never called me again. I called work – Seminole County Public Works and Planning Department – and said I had car trouble and no nearby phone and got that straightened out. Mom, said Storm, was a different matter. When he related the tale of The Oasis, Mom, he said, scoffed and declared: “Musta been a girl somewhere.”

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