This boot stands out, sitting on top of the plastic bookshelf, on the patio.
These boots were not worn in Nam or Fort Jackson—those are long gone.
I picked this pair out at the Homeless Resource Fair a couple of long years ago.
The boot I can see sits upright,slightly tilted, with the top half pointed as if to walk or
March, wearing a straw hat—the kind you might wear in the hot sun in a blaze
Of furnace heat in the field.
This boot is tan-sierra, mud hanging off its soul with no caretaker to knock it off.
It’s partly dry, partly-wet layers of mud, to me, this Vet.
The boot is useless, depending on someone to give it a function—now its lifeless
Body waiting for someone or something to be counted worthy to be a soldier’s boot.
Objects are like boots, are without meaning until a young woman puts it on, and begins to walk, fast-forced-marching, crawling below the nighttime drill, they are under radar, under sand, under orange soil, treated as the lowest at least until a bunion is born to its wearer.
The boot sits without moving just as lives can sit in comfort until a war is called and they’re invited to the party. Big government rhetoric here, yay, party time!
Although the book is an in-animate format, we are very much alike/we may become, if we choose, we may have had the honor to brothers or sisters in a previous life—once I’d decided war was evil and would have no part in it, I sat motionless before Federal and Military judges, saying only a few snippets to defend myself—I’ve seen Anglos who say they’re non-racist, but they’ll say something like Some of my best friends are black peopleand turn around to leave not doing anything—so I sit en catatonia silence towards in-action—they couldn’t sway—oh, they tried, but to no avail.
They taunted me, made my life hard, through me in a prison cell, now the boot is incarcerated because only the few put it on and marches after war/its greatest meaning is to be a reminder to itself that needs to sit in stillness and its own solitude.
So, you ain’t got to get no attitude with me, like fuck the army and everything joined at its hip; don’t give a goddam flip
I am quiet in this shallow hole, peering at the boot, and as I look in, I see action is the root cause of all meaning in life and death
© Christopher Bear-Beam May 12, 2012
THE VET, WITH NO HOME, FLYIN’ A SIGN AT WESTWOOD AND VINE
I’m a card-carrying member of Over Analysers Anonymous. My job description for life is to make life more complex than what it really is. Simple, isn’t it? My ardor extends to doing this service for others with whom I have contact.
A man stands on the median flyin’ a sign, askng for help, asking for money, a homeless Vet–now this is a person I can really feel for, because I’m a Vet myself–so my heart goes out to him, and the fact that he has a fake leg doesn’t make it any easier, dirty beard like a wild, frightened animal, surviving like only a resourceful Vet can do on this nasty streets.
I roll down my window, and feel privileged just to own a vehicle, and say hello/he asks me for money, and I tell him I don’t have any either, what with bering unemployed and having no other source of income. And I’m a suffering fool and I find solace in his stupid dumbness, and getting-dumber-all–the-time, the streets will keep you in their cage of delurium–hey, I ain’t no judge, just the jury that’s all.
He leans on his good leg and the one, aluminum crutch that he has , so I tell him to stop him to stop using crutches to stand up in life\his face begins to turn ambulance-red and one solitary vein in the middle of his forehead swells, blows up like a condum filled with smack, so he takes the metal crutch (did I say something wrong?) and jabs at me through my open window, gives my head a good smack, no blood, just a black-and-blue-bruise, and track I can.
The vein his forehead aka condom bursts in a blood-redness, while the smack falls down on the shoulder of the road, so me the ever actuated activist, jump out of my car, with people lined up behind, they be honking their horns like long neck geese, by now, all I want is my peace.
I reach down scrape it up, the H, and the next thing I see are two black-and-whites pulling up ahead, lights turning, officers jumping out, guns drawn, telling us to lie flat on our bellies on the ground, and one of the cops turns and runs back to his car and disappears and is gone as suddenly as he can be videotaped, and I’m the only one who can see it, it appears.
The cop turns to me and says, “Young man (I’ve got to be about twenty years his senior), you’re under arrest for public hallucination, delusional jone-sing, blocking an intersection, attempted theft, and making people angry on this nice sunny day.
I turned and retorted, “Read me my rights then. You seem to have a case of the verbal-cocoa squirts on a public roadway–what you just said makes absolutely no sense to me……So he turns and looks at me again, with beady, little cop eyes, “It doesn’t matter what you think–my word out here is the law. I make ’em and I break ’em, so there it is.
In my head I shift my thoughts this way and that, thinking “I thought these dudes were public servants, not paranoid savants! What’s going down is entrapment, and stepping to one side I fell into the sewer, knocked out the Vet, on a barbecue from a prone position, like shooting M-16s at the base range, I pointed to the legless dude leaning on his crutch, telling the officers, “It’s this guys fault for using crutches, and that’s weirdly strange like Austin!”
They aimed their gaze on the other dude, not me, forensically relating to him, “You’re under arrest for public co-dependent behavior, and provoking another already crazed Vet (who just happened to be me), and told me imperialously, “You’re free to go, young man, we know the other dude’s crying and intentions, and you sir, are the key witness of this Vet’s bad attitude.” “You mean like when you say “fuck it” about the bad junk happening while the bad and the good exist together?” I entoned.
The Vet dude with the crutch is now pissed off, not just at the officers, but the entire fucking planet. The cops chime in on one note, “We don’t care that this dude gave his life like Jesus along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, that’s none of our concern. We’re concerned about the Iraqi Vets coming back to shit-ass treatment by the VA….” I chime my own bar, saying, “I agree, there’s just a generation difference that’s all.” “Bull shit to that!” says one of the road and soul patrol. We serve our country, and we come back to a broken system, that can’t take care of our healthcare needs. Dude, that’s a crock!”
They ended their tirade by turning their bearded mugs to me, and said about the dude with the crutch and one leg, “We don’t give a shit how many medals this gimp brought back home, only his current law breaking is our……” I got angry and said, “Police dudes you don’t have to call this guy a “gimp” for Christ’s sake!” They responded quickly, “Shut up shit-jar-head–you got nothing in that melon of yours except sawdust and pig snot. You’re nickle ain’t in this dime.” I went on like an out of control spinning top, “Listen, the one thing we all got is that we’re Vets, and we know how the VA is screwing us over, right. So, I’m here to tell you we’re more similar than different, even though you don’t want to believe it,” I ranted.
By this time I knew we were all hot, and that something was going to go down–I jumped back into my car that was still blocking traffic with the engine idling. This would be a good camophlage. I wanted to get somewhere out of this swirling crap that was happening all around me, and I wanted to leave before the cops changed their minds. You see, I was now very late for my appointment at the methadone clinic. Jerry, the staff member who sets up scheduling, would be ready to burn my ass at the stake like Joan of Arc.
Now, I’m putting the pedal to the metal, leaving wavy tire tracks as I screeched my ass out of there. I looked back in my rear view mirror, and the cop dudes were putting the one-legged Vet into the plastic cinches; the look on the Vet’s face was one of anxious mania–meanwhile I feel one of my baby panic attacks brewing in my chest and stomach, starting to bloom into widespread panic, and I knew I had to get born again, no questions asked.
These words came to me as I drove to the clinic: It don’t matter what you’ve done in the past, what are you doing now in this precious, present moment. This is the zone of now, so are you digging up what the dog left in the ground, the slimy, stinky bone, or are you just letting your mind get blown?
© Christopher Bear-Beam March 29, 2013
RICO OF PUERTOS
When I first met him, I thought his vibe cocky and self-centered, but I learned this was surface, first impression bull shit, so once I knew that, I let him in my world, and I gained much from his activist wisdom…he was a cool short man
We were shoved in a room together, me from Chi-Town, he from Puerto Rico, just the two of us with lots of other empty bunks across from the showers and janitor closet, that I would meet in the future, when the big, gnarly DI told me I could no longer used the bathroom because I dripped water on the sink and that made for bad inspection scores
But Puerto taught me much about activism and resistance\when he spoke of his homeland /Puerto Rico, that was a piece of U.S. colonizing and exploitation a connection to his own culture, always trying to push Uncle Sam-Man to give them back was theirs all along
Puerto, when he spoke of his home country, he said it would never be neutral, but his thoughts folding into words by a believing in a vision–he was a separatist, and his “no fear attitude” let other folks know–no one could pull the wool over his small, intense eyes/eyes that observed every aspect of this European, hide-away, system, who knew it front and back like his own hand and his own city, town or village back home, the Military was just the tip of the iceberg of oppression, the baby-en-utero all the way to his gray-haired elders
He was like Rodriguez, the anachronistic singer in the seventies that way, an olive-skinned sage, a Mexican-American, the mysterious musician who told the lyrical truth, with the balls of Goliath, yet obscure in a foreign and alien land–South Carolina–but an icon in South Africa, meandering through the country who lied, stole, blew smoke up their ass, temporary nomadic, ’til he got back home to continue his task:
the task for so many South Americans, Central Americans and Mexicanos was resistance (sometimes silent, sometimes loud, sometimes say it loud), so many walking the real de Resistencia, through the arid-scraggly deserts and mountains, sometimes in places where even the best survivors might die, committed caring about fairness to all workers, decent housing, watch dogging discriminative and biased actions against their brothers and sisters who are down one or two rungs on the ladder, only wanting a fair wage to provide for their families, and good schools for their education.
Resistencia flows onward like a flood that has no end; feed it, and it will take care of you, feeding you immortal bread in the wilderness, healing with palliative waters of the endless spring; bring to mind Buddhist monks with their begging bowls, “take my son, daughter, and elders, as mentors who trust in emptiness and stumble on the fullness of life.”
© Christopher Bear-Beam January 1, 2013
Starlight Scope Myopia
Gray-blue shadows lift
Shadows onto an oxcart.
Making night work for us,
The starlight scope brings
Men into killing range.
The river under Vi Bridge
Takes the heart away
Like the Water God
Riding his dragon.
Move under our eyelids,
Lords over loneliness
Winding like coral vine through
Sandalwood & lotus,
Inside our lowered heads
Years after this scene
The brain closes
- What looks like
One step into the trees,
They’re lifting crates of ammo
& sacks of rice, swaying
Under their shared weight,
Caught in the infrared,
What are they saying?
Are they talking about women
Or calling the Americans
Beaucoup dien cat dau?
One of them is laughing.
You want to place a finger
To his lips. They say
“up-up we go,” lifting as one.
This one, old, bowlegged,
You feel you could reach out
& take him into your arms. You
Peer down the sights of your M-16,
Seeing the full moon
Loaded on an oxcart.
©Yusef Komunyakaa, 1993, Neon Vernacular, pp. 139-140.
The Long Gray Line
A slow moving line the gang of fighters moves through frigid dollups of snow & ice crunching, delineated.
They can see nothing in front of them, a frozen curtain.
They can see nothing behind them, from where they’ve come, no rearview mirrors in this scene, the long gray line picks up one foot then another, then glides for a moment of now. Finally, rest.
MacArthur’s home at Fort Sam Houston is now just a museum-piece.
© Christopher Bear-Beam April 27, 2011
Tu Do Street
Music divides the evening.
I close my eyes & can see
Men drawing lines in the dust.
America pushes through the membrane
Of mist & smoke, & I’m a small boy
Again in Bogalusa. White Only
Signs & Hank Snow. But tonight
I walk into a place where bar girls
Fade like tropical birds. When
I order a beer, the mama-san
Behind the counter acts as if she
Can’t understand, while her eyes
Skirt each white face, as Hank Williams
Calls from the psychedelic juke box.
We have played Judas where
Only machine-gun fire brings us
Together. Down the street
Black GIs hold to their turf also.
An off-limits sign pulls me
Deeper alleys, as I look
For a softness behind these voices
Wounded by their beauty & war.
Back in the bush at Dak To
& Khe Sanh, we fought
The brothers of these women
We now run to hold our arms.
There’s more than a nation
Inside us, as black & white
Soldiers touch the same lovers
Minutes apart, tasting
Each other’s breath,
Without knowing these rooms
Run into each other like tunnels
Leading to the underworld.
© Yusef Komunyakaa. (1993). Neon Vernacular, p.147
Camouflaging the Chimera
We tied branches to our helmets.
We painted our faces & rifles
With mud from a riverbank,
Blades of grass hung from the pockets
Of our tiger suits. We wove
Ourselves into the terrain,
Content to be a hummingbird’s target.
We hugged bamboo & leaned
Against a breeze off the river,
Slow-dragging with ghosts
From Saigon to Bangkok,
With women left in doorways
Reaching in from America.
We aimed at dark-hearted songbirds.
In our way station of shadows
Rock apes tried to blow our cover,
Throwing stone at the sunset. Chameleons
Crawled our spines, changing from day
To night; green to gold,
Gold to black. But we waited till the moon touched metal,
Till something almost broke
Inside us. VC struggled
With the hillside, like black silk
Wrestling iron through glass.
We weren’t there. The river ran
Through our bones. Small animals took refuge
Against our bodies; we held our breath,
Ready to spring the L-shaped
Ambush, as a world revolved
Under each man’s eyelid.
©Yusef Komunyakaa (1993), Neon Vernacular, p. 147.
They never die until they reach their center, stillpoint.
You want to see war?
Go to a place where Vets hang out—
experience it by being a silent Zen listener,
and then without full participation, ex-
perience its aloneness, then you will know it
through an empathic scope in the middle
of the night, tracer’s flight—what’s the death
rate? I can only tell you truthfully, not the
military base line, but this time, it’ll do,
but the IPod says they were warriors alright,
women, children, animals, homes, vehicles
blown up, way up, in the air, you look at
the field through your sight, with your
night vision goggles, shaking your head,
“Oh, God, I missed the punks,” or “For
God’s sakes don’t try to re-up with me
and these other fucking dummies
this is the bloody portrait of war,
mleaking the synapses of body-mind
© Christopher Bear-Beam nd
My black face fades,
Hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn’t,
Dammit: No tears.
I’m stone. I’m flesh.
My clouded reflection eyes me
Like a bird of prey, the profile of night
Slanted against morning, I turn
This way—the stone lets me go.
I turn that way—I’m inside
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Again, depending on the light
To make a difference.
I go down the 58,022 names,
Half-expecting to find
My own in letters like smoke.
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;
I see the booby trap’s white flash.
Names shimmer on a woman’s blouse
But when she walks away
The names stay on the wall.
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird’s
Wings cutting across the sky.
A white vet’s image floats
Closer to me, then his pale eyes
Look through mine. I’m a window.
He’s lost his right arm
Inside the stone. In the black mirror
A woman’s trying to erase names:
No, she’s brushing a boy’s hair. © Yusef Komunyakaa, 1993, Neon Vernacular, p.159
Usually at the helipad
I see them stumble-dance
across the hot asphalt
with crokersacks over their heads,
moving toward the interrogation huts,
thin-framed as box kites
of sticks & black silt
anticipating a hard wind
that’ll tug & snatch them
out into space. I think
some must be laughing
under their dust-colored hoods,
knowing rockets are aimed
at Chu Lai—that the water’s
evaporating & soon the nail
will contact with the metal.
How can anyone anywhere love
these half-broken figures
bent under the sky’s brightness?
The weight they carry
is the soil we tread night & day.
Who can cry for them?
I’ve heard the old ones
are the hardest to break.
An arm twist, a combat boot
against the skull, a .45
jabbed into the mouth, nothing
works. When they start talking
with ancestors faint as camphor
smoke in pagodas, you know
you’ll have to kill them
to get an answer.
scythes against the afternoon.
Everything’s a heat mirage; a river
tugs at their slow feet.
I stand alone & amazed,
with pill-happy door gunner
signaling for me to board the Cobra.
I remember how one day
I almost bowed to such figures
walking toward me, under
a corporal’s ironclad stare.
I can’t say why.
From a half-mile away
trees huddle together,
& the prisoners look like
marionettes hooked to strings of light.
© Yusef Komunyakaa. (1993). Neon Vernacular, pp.150-151.
Bob Hope’s on stage, but we want the Gold Diggers,
Want a flash of legs
Through the hemorrhage of vermilion, giving us
Something to kill for.
We want our hearts wrung out like rags & ground down
To Georgia dust
While Cobras drag the perimeter, gliding along the sea,
Through the trees. The assault & battery of hot pink
As the rock ‘n’ roll band tears down the night—caught
In a safety net
Of brightness, The Gold Diggers convulse. White legs
Shimmer like strobes.
The lead guitarist’s right foot’s welded to his wah-wah.
“I thought you said
Aretha was gonna be here.” “Man, I don’t wanna se
No Miss America.”
“There’s Lola.” The sky is blurred by magnesium flares
Over the fishing boats.
“Shit, man, she looks awful white to me.” We duck
When we hear the quick
Metallic hiss of the mountain of amplifiers struck by
A flash of rain.
© Yusef Komunyakaa. (1993). Neon Vernacular, p.148
Crawling down headfirst into the hole,
He kicks the air & disappears,
I feel like I’m down there
With him, moving head, pushed
By river of darkness, feeling
Blessed for each inch of the unknown.
Our tunnel rat is the smallest man
In the platoon, in an echo chamber
That makes his ears bleed
When he pulls the trigger.
He moves as if to outdo
Blind fish easing toward imagined blue,
Pulled by something greater than life’s
Ambitions. He can’t think about
Spiders & scorpions mending the air,
Or care about bats upside down
Like gods in the mole’s blackness.
The damp smell goes deeper
Than the stench of honey buckets.
A web of booby traps waits, ready
To spring into broken stars.
Forced onward by some need,
Some urge, he knows the pulse
Of mysteries & diversions
Like thoughts trapped in the ground.
He questions each root.
Every cornered shadow has a life
To bargain with. Like an angel
Pushed up against what hurts,
His globe-shaped helmet
Follows the gold ring his flashlight
Casts into the void. Through silver
Lice, shit, maggots, & vapor of pestilence,
He goes, the good soldier,
On hands & knees, tunneling past
Death sacked into a blind corner,
Loving the weight of the shotgun
That will someday dig his grave.
©Yusef Komunyakaa (1993). Neon Vernacular, (p. 138)
We Never Know
He danced with tall grass
for a moment, like he was swaying
with a woman. Our gun barrels
When I got to him,
a blue halo
of flies had already claimed him.
I pulled the crumbled photograph
from his fingers.
There’s no other way
to say this: I fell in love.
The morning cleared again,
except for a distant mortar
& somewhere choppers taking off.
I slid the wallet into his pocket
& turned him over, so he wouldn’t be
kissing the ground.
© Yusef Komunyakaa. 1993. Neon Vernacular, p.145
Re-creating the Scene
The metal door groans
& folds shut like an ancient turtle
that won’t let go
of a finger till it thunders.
The Confederate flag
flaps from a radio antenna,
& the woman’s clothes
come apart in their hands.
Their mouths find hers
in the titanic darkness
or the steel grotto,
as she counts the names of dead
ancestors, shielding a baby
in her arms. The three men
ride her breath, grunting
over lovers back in Mississippi.
She floats on their rage
like a torn water flower,
defining night inside a machine
Where men are gods.
The season quietly sweats.
They hold her down
with their eyes,
taking turns, piling stones
on her father’s grave.
The APC rolls with curves of the land,
up hills & down into gullies,
crushing trees & grass,
droning like a constellation
of locusts eating through bamboo,
creating the motion for their bodies.
She rises from the dust
& pulls the torn garment
around her, staring after the APC
till it’s small enough
to fit like a toy tank in her hands.
She turns in a circle,
pounding the samarium dust
with her feet where the steel
tracks have plowed. The sun
fizzes like a pill in a glass
of water, & for the moment
the world’s future tense:
she approaches the MPs
at the gate; a captain from G-5
accosts her with candy kisses;
I inform The Overseas Weekly;
flashbulbs refract her face
in a room of polished brass
& spit-shined boots;
on the trial’s second day
she turns into mist—
someone says money
& someone else swears
She’s buried at LZ Gator.
But for now, the baby
makes a fist & grabs at the air,
searching for a breast.
© YusefKomunyakaa. 1993. Neon Vernacular-pp.143-144.