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Hidden Rituals

by: Forrest Brandt
War-Stories LM 11
© Copyright 1998
 
It's a hell of a party,
lieutenants let off steam,
take risks with booze,
cigarette dinky dau and army authority.
 
I leave early,
wander along an unfamiliar path,
listen to the sounds of the Vietnamese night:
a lone chopper circles overhead,
jeeps and trucks lumber and whine around the base,
bits of conversation float upon the evening air as I pass tents and buildings.
The local crickets, birds, and lizards sing of love and territory.
 
Creamy light spills out from a doorway.
Voices and the sound of running water come from within.
Fifteen feet away two soldiers,
naked to the waist,
wrestle with a garden hose and a body that dangles from stirrups in the ceiling.
 
I've found the brigade morgue.
I want to leave,
but curiosity pushes me closer.
The shiny pink skin of the back and legs is pierced by hundreds of tiny holes.
Bloody water washes down the torso,
flows along the arms and head,
plunges in a crimson stream and curls into the drain in the floor.
 
I quicken my pace,
shake my head,
breath deep,
push back against the rising bile.
 
I wonder how these two young boys,
forced to wash the dead,
will blot the scene from their minds.
 
I imagine them,
years from now,
lost to booze and nightmares.
 
I wonder how the victim died.
I pray it was fast and clean.
 
I wonder why I have been spared the war's dirty jobs.

What star of grace keeps me safe in this base camp?
 
For fretful hours I shiver and toss,
sleep only in small snatches,
disrupted by my own nightmares: scenes of combat,
of steel and explosives and soft tissue,
of kids tenderly washing the bodies of kids.

 

Forrest Brandt

 

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