The Thousand-Yard Stare
The Thousand-Yard Stare
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War is hell, and never has it been more hellish than in this moving collection of poetry by Viet Nam War veteran Jim Soular.  Few today can deny that the war was a horrific tragedy, resulting in the deaths of 60,000 Americans and millions of Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians.  The first section, “In Country,” assaults the reader with all the charm of a meat grinder as the poet serves up image after violent image of the indiscriminate carnage of war and the gruesomeness of death in the triple-canopy jungles of Viet Nam.  The second section, “Back in the World,” returns us to the States but not necessarily to sanity as Soular wades through the psychological aftereffects of the war for both the veterans and their families.  With vivid and carefully chosen imagery, this section portrays the mind-numbing consequences of exposure to war, its accompanying PTSD, and the tremendous guilt, sorrow, and despair that many veterans and their families live with to this day.  These poems are a raw, new look at war, vignettes of horror, guilt, and sorrow in what many consider America’s longest and most brutal conflict, as well as its most divisive since the Civil War.

Zippo Raid*

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."

Jim Soular was born in northern Minnesota, graduated from Nashwauk-Keewatin High School and received a B.A. in Journalism from St. Cloud State University.  He reveived an M.F.A. in Creative Writing in 1992 and an M.A. in Literature in 1994 from the University of Montana in Missoula.  Soular is a veteran of the Viet Nam War, serving with the 1st Cavalry Division as a helicopter crew chief in 1966-67.  He lives near Kalispell, Montana, where he is an English instructor and the Writing Lab instructor for Flathead Valley Community College.  “Montana, with its breathtaking beauty and the people I met there,” he says “gave me my life and heart back after the Viet Nam tragedy.”


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