so tell me, will you, you’ve been there,

to war, i mean, that war, your war

i think, i know you know the score

i want your help to understand

this conundrum, unsolved puzzle

how it is god selects his side,

his team, and how he picks the ones

who get to say ‘god’s on our side’,

and who’s to live, and those to die

and who’s the one, who stands opposed

on that side fighting without god


ma’am, i don’t know a whole lot, but

i know there’s one thing that i’ve learned

there ain’t no god, at least not one

who picks or chooses who might live

or die and as for death itself,

it’s always seemed to me to be

just the way it is, the dice rolled

or a spin of some fateful wheel,

however spun, or thrown the dice

but there’s no god on either side


and, ma’am, as for the other one

the one you ask who isn’t god,

one you think’s on the other side

(you’d like to call him evil one)

well, if there’s no such god to blame

or any one who chooses sides,

there’s no need for another one

to be partnered to the other,

that missing one who isn’t there


then how is it i want to know

how choice is made who lives or dies

when the shooting starts there must be

some god who makes that election

there must be one who names the names

i mean, you know, the heroes, those

who’ll die today, surely they’re picked,

selected for hero’s honor

i don’t think that’s just left to chance


well, death’s no hero’s honor, ma’am

those dead men, you say are heroes,

but i don’t think so, nor did they,

no more than those forgotten ones,

those dead, too, on the other side

it’s all the same, ma’am, all the same

they’re all just dead, both sides, you see

no need of gods in war’s death game

and yeah, what i know, for sure, ma’am,

is that those only ones who die,

i think that’s what you asked about,

the special way they’re picked, or not,

well, there’s no god makes those calls

they’re just those time place fated ones,

they’re right where they’re supposed to be,

imagined on some disc of sand

so like this milky ring of stars,

when their last day comes to an end

and like the sand they’re blown away

discarded dust along the wind

as it all starts over again

like dylan’s wheel that’s still in spin

without a god on any side


still, you want another answer

so i guess maybe we could say

that the one who pulls the trigger,

fires the gun or drops the bomb is

the god who makes that final choice

so, yeah, god’s sort of on one side

if that’s just what you need to hear

but know that god’s still on the wheel

and might well be the next one gone

your dead ‘hero’ no more the god


…it ain’t religion, ma’am, it’s war,

a god wouldn’t have none of it



jack at the wall, ’99

in memory

                                    edward ‘jack’ waer

                                    1936 – 2010


crazy jack, c.j., brother jack’s

going to the wall today

that black memorial

vietnam wall

the one just off the mall

in lincoln’s shadow

down there in d.c.


once upon a long,

long time ago

at barely sixteen years young

fresh from the war zone

of newark’s streets

and not so safely away

from the hanging judge

who sent him there,

(it’s a long and longer story,

mostly about running numbers,

hot-wired cars and juvie crime,

anyway, 32 counts,

‘coulda been more’, so

‘enlist today or the trenton pen’)

jack finds himself

in the army

(but without basic,

not yet trained)

in a war, a real shooting war

or maybe not

just a ‘police action’

or maybe not,

facing angry asians


at kaesong (in north korea)

where he lost sixteen teeth,

(one for each year of his age)

to an enemy rifle butt

and took a .30 caliber round

in his young ass

(47 stitches)

during his only seventeen hours

‘in country’ in that un-war

that sure felt like one


then at seventeen he jumped

with a ranger team

into điện biên phủ

(just like hell, but việt nam)

another war, or maybe not,

to spend five months

there with the french

until almost the end

when it all fell

into the mud and blood

that ended one war

and marked the start

of another one

(or maybe not another,

but just more of the same)


fourteen years later,

the year of the monkey,

older, maybe wiser,

maybe not

(same việt nam, but another war

or maybe not)

his prisoner said,

‘you’ll die today’ and,

as though on cue,

he barely survived the rocket round

that nearly did him in

and killed the prisoner

in dank phú bài’s exburb, huế

that was in sixty-eight

the year of the monkey,

the vietnamese new year

tết mậu thân,

you may know the one

or, at least, remember it,

even if…maybe,

no, maybe not


he collected six purple hearts

in twenty years

and lived to tell all the stories

and then some and more

but, now, today

he’s says that he’s just scared

twenty five years

after that last war,

almost fifty since his first,

but he’s going to the wall

today, for the first time, his last,

guessing that he won’t be back


he’s nervous, scared,

afraid that he can’s take it,

won’t make it

there with all the names,

the ghosted souls of

so many dead

so many that he knew

so many who were friends,

so many so long dead

so many,

‘just so goddamned many’


he’s going to the wall today, but

he’s scared (shitless, he says),

and he has the shakes

worse, he says,

than a whore in church

or anything in those wars of his

(except, maybe, he says, kaesong)

and, maybe even worse than

that one time way back when

once upon a time in newark, and

he was just a kid,

he got his first piece of ass

(that’s what he says)

but still, he’s going to the wall


anyway, so…


me and the brothers, ralph and hal,

took jack, ‘crazy jack’, to the wall

one place he dreads to go alone

this first time, his last, to visit

his long dead friends whose names echo

memory’s ghosts behind black stone


he wants to leave a memento

there at the wall for his best friend

who died one day in sixty eight

just an ancient bayonet, but

he won’t share its significance

or why he has to leave it there


and so we go and jack’s all tears

the brothers have to hold him up

six purple hearts in twenty years

but this black wall and all those names

have dropped him, knocked him to his knees

and he leans on it for support


he moves his hand across a name

and gently lays the bayonet

below his own reflection there

before the ghosts behind the wall

a too personal communion

between the living and the dead


but there’s a guy off to one side

who’s standing, watching with his son

a boy who couldn’t be thirteen

looking up and back down the wall

like holdup men casing a store

but focused on jack’s bayonet


jack stands up, he’s steadier now

even though he’s a whiter pale,

and his stare’s at a thousand yards

but it’s time, he says, for a drink

or maybe some more with the guys,

to toast, remembering lost friends


as we walked away, glancing back,

the father signaled to his son

who slithered over to the wall

and light-fingered the bayonet

with a shoplifter’s skill, for ‘dad’,

who stashed it away with a grin


distracted, jack missed the drama

as we retrieved the bayonet

and chased the scavengers away

there could have been blood on the wall

(mightn’t have been our jack’s first kill)

had he seen the attempted theft


how dulce et decorum est,

this cold reminder at the wall

that whether here, or việt nam

cowards delegate dirty work

(in ‘noble cause’ for ‘greater good’)

and fathers sometimes betray sons


xuân lộc, việt nam 1969


at the orphanage
beneath the rubber trees
the monks cook rice
for hungry children
in huge flat pans,
eighty kilos per meal,
three times a day


softly, absent reproof
or bitterness,
they whisper
that just as fragrant rice
multiplies in volume
as it cooks
over the open flame


so, too, the orphanage
swells in numbers
of orphaned children
ever since the americans
came to help their friends
and set the land
so much to fire



dodge city kid


the kid, a teen grunt, in the new york bar
on hai bà trưng street, down near the river,
wasted drunk with his pals, celebrating
his first firefight, his first kill, face to face
wild-eyed high on adrenaline and beer,
reveling in the retelling of it
complete with pantomimes, owning the stage
hoping now he’s accepted by his squad,
just seventeen, already killed a man


‘no shit, i stood up and he looked at me
motherfuckin’ zip maybe ‘bout my age
and right then, man, it was like dodge city
i beat him on the draw matt dillon style,
damn, i smoked his ass, blew his shit away
not even like he didn’t know it, man,
he’s lookin’ right into my goddam eyes,
all surprised knowin’ he was gonna die
and you know i’s fuckin’ glad to oblige’


the cheers go up, raucous laughs all around,
a yell for more beer and, ‘tell it again!
‘one more time about the look on his face!’
so he tells it over and over ’til
he dissolves to tears, calling his ‘momma’,
screaming for jesus to come take him home


John Buquoi
3rd RRU (Tan Son Nhat)
and Det. J. (Phu Bai)