The M79 grenade floats through the open door
and the thatched hooch shakes itself
like an enraged water buffalo, palm leaves
and chaff blossom into black and orange,
screams rise above the roar of firestorm,
drift away with the sparks and smoke
from which erupts a woman, hair on fire,
a specter from a nightmare. The M16 round
finds her, perfectly between the breasts,
punches her to the hard-packed earth
where her broken chest blooms
like an exotic red orchid,
where her hands appeal
to the cyanotic sky,
the fingers fluttering
as though caught
in a compelling wind.
Gold Star Mother
I brought the answers to questions
haunting her for twenty-one years,
longer than her son had lived. For me,
it was another step out of the jungle,
the finishing of something left undone.
Two months before, we agreed to meet,
and now, 1200 miles later, I sit
in her living room in Minneapolis.
She's not sure she wants to know
what happened and looks at her daughter
and son-in-law. The daughter shrugs,
tries to smile, "We've come this far."
I tell them no, drugs weren't involved,
David was straight. Near An Khe,
in the central highlands, I say,
a bullet in the head, no pain...
nothing I could do except hold his hand
until the bullet had its way. A bullet,
she says, that also killed the father.
"He was never the same after that,
he just gave up. David was our only son."
Before I leave, I give her my KIA bracelet
and she puts it on her thin wrist,
weeps silently as she traces with her finger
his engraved name, then smiles, embraces me.
Eight years later, I still feel the pressure
from her surprisingly strong arms
as she whispered, "Alone. I was always afraid
he died alone."