When Bullets Stop
Last B'day
Khi Dot
Night Sweats
Sweet Bird of Youth
No Marching Bands
Brothers Interrupted
case entry: 2/17/88
A Moment of Clarity
Beyond the Peg
The Swell of Me
Brother Justin
Ode to the Kiln


When Bullets Stop

One thinks the war stops
when bullets stop. It doesn’t,
one widow said on page 5
of the Roanoke Times
next to the Memorial Day sale
50% off all men’s clothing
one day only.

Six new names etch black granite memory
at Washington Mall today. They
capture songs of men whose
names and deeds and loss of life
almost go unsung in
never ending war
never ending tragedy
never ending consequence
never ending memory.

Kevin Joyce was not disabled
in the eyes of his kids
who never knew a father with legs.
Their father had stumps
that ended above where knees would be.

Random shards
souvenirs of July 15, 1-9-6-8
break his skin for years. Never knew
what hit him that
day he lost his legs.
Seizures took him February 9, 1-9-9-6
well after the bullets stopped.

Waynesville’s Jimmy Rogers
almost twenty-one was
on patrol near Cambodia when
shrapnel struck his head.
We all cried.
Death would have been a blessing,
says brother Joe. Instead,
Jimmy lives in his own twilight
his wounded life plus one.

Finger lifts, what does it mean?
What sleeps behind those eyes?

Rattling demons sent to wake
his unsettled self
release internal hurricane
Southeast Asian monsoon.

Tranquilizers can’t quell his storm
but they let him live in it’s eye
avoid the surge
blind to the wreckage
he is helpless
so are we.

Jimmy passed peacefully
asleep, November 14, 1-9-9-0
well after the bullets stopped.

The other four:
Dwaine Usry McGriff is also new.
Frank Luther Huddleston whose widow
spoke when bullets stop
sees his name engraved.
Donald Carson whose voice is lost
April 15, 1-9-6-3 is among the earliest
to miss the carver’s blade.
William J. Scannell is hit September 12, 1-9-7-0
belongs with the latest crowd
of the first publication, 1-9-8-2
but joins them late this Monday in May, 2-0-0-3
well after the bullets stopped.

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Last B’day

Today Nick walks into hell
the South Dakota boy
smiles as he sews a new stripe on his sleeve
just before his nineteenth b’day party
just before Tommy Roe’s, “Everybody”
just before a fifth of Seagrams
just before his first drunk
just before his first get sober cold shower
just before he had to take point
just before the early mornin’ sweep
just before the booby trap.

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Khi Dot

Nothing is regular or routine
caribou line up wing to wing
cacophony of prop wash
isolates in box of sound
words suffocate
smell of fuel invades nostrils
mephitic air scorches throat
sand blasts skin
no Beach Boys, “Good Vibrations”
chickens, pigs, silk pajama’d Vietnamese
belch from belly of C-123
vomit, manure, stench of piss
left behind
subservient bows and smiles
applaud G.I. # 1
rush to village
midnight metamorphosis paints
face of executioner on
passive aggressive assassins
night games are duck and hide
search and destroy
stay alive
take a life.

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Night Sweats

Munitions, equipment, personnel
battle of supply and demand
mimic ferryman Charon
escort America’s children
body bagged
olive drab, zipper pouches
on canvas
stretchers secure
to cargo rings
keep package in place
sleep is rare
when sleep does come
visions tagged for home
line up far as night’s eye can see
hum Marcel’s “Blue Moon”
invisible wounds molest spirit
explode sapient dogma
abandon civility
survive desperately
alcohol mixed with sex
softens sting
pot or hash the same
some find the needle.

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Sweet Bird of Youth

Red not yet nineteen quiet
boy from Memphis, Tennessee
cries outside the empty shipping container.

Lai not yet sixteen slant eye
girl from Bok Lo went with Red
to the empty metal box.

They make quiet love with Chuck Berry
“Sweet Little Sixteen”
Lai wants Red inside her.

Then comes Carl not yet nineteen danced
on Bandstand boy from Philadelphia
cargo hold is filled with noise.

His love echoes loudly
he calls out in joy
Lai cries.

Then comes Rudy not yet nineteen
cold-eyed boy from Coney Island
makeshift room is abruptly still.

Crying stops
Rudy drags lifeless Lai
beyond the ammo dump and leaves.

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neck stretches
trip flares flash
bursts of high caliber death
tumble to slice invader
readiness rests on shoulders
mist and gunfire settle
night’s horror disappears into gray morning
leaving bootprints in mind’s eye
morning’s light discovers
child of ten
maybe twelve
on his way to school
or to work the fields
or even to the enemy
that boy became a statistic
that boy became a body count
moonlit nights visit Los Bravos
and cry to “Black Is Black”
that boy came home with me
that boy lives with me still
harsh memory
sixty thousand brothers of mine
lost to an uncertain cause
how many brothers of his
and others and others and others
and more to come
I am afraid.

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No Marching Bands

Board the freedom bird
headphones erupt with Cream
“Sunshine of My Love”
under my skin Camp Eagle rides
screams to be dislodged
step into California sun
to share my year
throngs press chain link fence
not grateful shouts but
signs and jeers and spit from
bearded men in ragged jeans
beautiful, long-haired women in
brightly colored dresses
sun shines through
“baby killer”
chokes air
not ticker tapes
no good ol’ boys
no free beer
no hugs I’d heard about on Movie Tones
no stranger’s kiss like on the cover of Life
old friends manage evasive glances
from others, shards of scorn
turn to the class of ‘45
to catch a glimpse of understanding
they look back to II
down on me
they drink my beer
with slaps, and hugs, and jokes
brag about their war
abort my chance to share my year
cap the salve to heal the wound
silence in this new crossfire.

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The steps to Independence Hall are hard
as I sit and watch patriots
who come to see the bell
who come to place a finger
in the wound of 1776
badge of freedom
patched by rivets.

The steps to Independence Hall are hard
as I sit and hear the nickel phrase
Give me liberty or give me death
and hear the praises
for the deeds which won our wars.

The steps to Independence Hall are hard
as I sit ‘midst spirits of our struggles
yet have no permission
from the living
to claim a wound or memory from Asia.

The steps to Independence Hall are hard
as I sit and feel the breath of unsung heroes
whose lives were spent, as mine
carrying out unfinished tasks
in wars called other things.

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Lean close this chilly day
names of brothers scratched into
my eyes shadowed self behind
sheen vigilant at panel 38E
soul gasps as mind avoids
news already known lips move
voice struck dumb for smothered
lives poised to reach promises
held for young release camouflage
& stand naked in black
Mirror without you nothing lives
breath lays heavy on ebony
tablet not lost to night’s
horror but found alive in
morning light etched on sheet
of black glare.

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case entry: 2/17/88

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms (PTSD) can be severe enough to significantly impair a persons life…30% of all Vietnam combat veterans have experienced symptoms of PTSD at some point since returning from Vietnam.
National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study, 1986-1988.

38 today
drinking since 17
vietnam at 18, back at 20
3 wives, 4 kids
jobs, too many to count
last night they towed his car
that’s where he sleeps
his life is “Black on Black” like Dalbello
he points across my desk
“you have an office a home, a family, a car
I came here ‘cause
Tom’s Towing wants 90 bucks
your sign says, We will help you but
you won’t give me 90 bucks so fuck you.”

r. campbell cac csac ceap
veterans assistance counselor

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A frog
A blacksnake
13 dogs
11 cats
Hamsters; a few
A truckload of tobacco pickers
Hit by a train
Grandma fell in the snow
My bearded Captain
Fell with liver failure
A rotating ring of endless faces
Brothers in the Nam fell
Body bagged
Mother fell some Christmases past
A son fell
Not saved by Jaws of Life
Three thousand fell
On nine one one
In-laws and uncles more recently
Last week a soldier fell in Iraq
Number Four thousand was the mark

Today a black dog
Breaks my salty seal.

On knees I scream
At the weeds
A scream not found
‘til now.

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Not al-Qaida
Republican Army kills you

not Sunni
Muslim extremists kills you

Not WMDs
biological or chemical kills you

war kills you
war kills you and you don’t even know it
war kills you and it don’t even know it

it don’t know who you are
it don’t care
the shrapnel, the shells

the napalm
the boobie traps
the land mines

hell, even a six year old kid can kill
but they don’t know it
‘cause they’re dead too

you die dirty

you die hungry
exhausted, without a bed

you die with no lights at night
without loved ones
you die without music


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In death I hear the train riding through my dark
On the 9th of March well after my setting sun
Has left its mark

Quiet my city edge ‘gainst my sleeping land
As should be when paper walls are set
To mark day’s end

Red-cheeked landscape looms in my east
Where light is born
Pre-empting daylight’s release

Across my night roars the train
Wheels scream with fire and smoke
Sparks burst like rain

Firestorms rage in the wake of the three-hour storm
Lightening bites my earth and thunder eats my face
B-29’s I learn

Slow light spills across my morn
Heat and soot belch from my soul
Life’s fabric unravels…torn

My death lays everywhere.

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step laboriously
‘round crags, mud season
blocked paths, steep slopes which
suck hurried breath from your very soul
Why climb mountains where chilling, crisp
clear skies do strip living heat of body down to
very core, substance where heart beats and senses stir
why climb mountains with bite of nature’s breath endured
alone while silent vow to passion of climb speaks with blushed cheeks
Why climb mountains and honor wide horizon only to return to bottomland

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A Moment of Clarity

How right it seemed to hear
efforts of groping ones
spend my intellect
deciphering their tragic flaws
bared for all to see

how generous, I thought, of me
to gift my time to them
to lend this winking eye
to see the light for them
package neatly
fragments of their self
only to offer indisputable cubes of insight

how sane of me, I thought
to hear the searching
to blaze a trail, to show the way

then came the revelation

how fair am I to glean from them
not participate with truth
ravenously swallow them as tidbits
nurture my vulture, Intellect

health and truth I’ll not find through them
rather through my own slow pain.
learn to place my barefoot soul
on concrete floors
step gently toward the groping ones
who give freely of themselves.

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Throughout my life
I’ve kept my feet
kept my posture
always there
always part
of life
going with the force
but breathing
no new air.

I put
square pegs
in round holes
I drilled
and cut
the edges of
my life
to make it match
some peg
of me.

I look
beyond the front
I flare my nostrils
to smell the sweat
of beginnings
I feel my hair
prickly and upright
I notice my guts
tight and grinding, as
I move beyond

I touch
the sandpaper edges
of change
I glance from here
to there
to here

I know my peg
is not contingent
on the shape
of life
but rather free
to splash,
and spill
and overflow
life’s mold.

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The architect of me
it seems
displaced the power of me
within the circuitry of his scheme

I feel my swell of self
my gut
my personage
distracted along its way to somewhere

what shows through of me is but the rim
an outward, model rim of me
presents itself as stoic
not the front I want to show

I’ve moved through life concentrically
in three parts:
an innate gutsy me
my spontaneous self

with whom I’ve grown too out of touch
lies hidden deep within a compensated me
forced through narrow halls, distorted
by oughts and shoulds

a rim of me in all it’s shining
smiles for all to see reflecting “All is o.k.”
passes life without tasting of it
craves that inner something

essence, core, whatever
which lies beneath the compensated me
let it breathe
let it taste for the sake of tasting

strain today to move the circuitry
from concentric to Venn
cap the very swell of me
that flicks peripherally


tease my outer rim
which shows itself
share the stance of Gibraltar
jut its Grecian chin

from tremulous seas
moved not
worn not
impervious to harm

tears known secretly
hurt wrapped in bloodless wounds
felt alone with never
a trickle of sharing

I am tired of imperviousness
I need to transcend the concentricity
touch the swell of me
let it bleed.

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Skippy must be shootin’ them cans again
Grandma Freeman mumbles to herself



That boy loves to shoot that gun
maybe he will be a police officer.


Grandma with her laundry
bends over the washing machine
wring first by hand
then send the long john through the rubber wringer
squeeze the soapy water for another load
her hair is in a tight bun covered by a checkered babushka
this Czarist refugee from Latvia
smiles to me
smoothes my soft platinum hair
with her rough, red hands

go play with Skippy.


Now I’m with Skippy as he shoots the cans.



He whirls around
his gun aimed at me
shouts “Bang!” and laughs
I wet my pants a little
“watch this”
he crouches down
“quiet, stay with me”
we creep along the ground on hands and knees
cops and robbers, cowboys and indians, GI Joe
I like this game.


A robin thumps to the ground
we walk to the lifeless red breast
open eyes stare up at me
my eyes hurt around the edges
my chin begins to jump
up the cinder driveway I run
to my hideaway
behind the back porch
I push the lid off the coal oil drum
inhale the calm
my discovery
of one lonely day
after mom and dad died


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North Carolina tobacco
Country Easter Sunday

Bouncin’ on a flat and dusty road
Goin’ to St. Girard’s

Starched and pressed alter boy
Smock in my lap

Sun in my eyes
Dust on the window

Cross the field to the right
From a squat oak tree hung

A black man

Wonder did his son see
This black man

From a squat oak tree?

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Candle mist fills air,
wooden kneeler hobbles knees
genuflect to the cricket under
Sister Mary Margaret’s habit
confessional door squeaks
screen slides
bless me Father for I have sinned
blurts out
penance to be three and three
to count out in the pew
three for Holy Father
three for Blessed Mother
but had I told about the snow
that filled the room
that had me touch again and again
to feel my ecstasy alone?

To Hell I go unless I stop
but know that I will not
so lay awake at night
perdition on my mind and yet
touch and worry what damnation is
until I understand
that Hell is no more than
time spent knowing
I would be going

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“Love Doesn’t Have To Hurt”, the button said
a buck, I paid at the Women’s Shelter
to help provide a place of safety
for those battered, confused, lonely and frightened
lovers of something in him that I cannot see
and at what cost to them
body, soul and sanity.

I paid a buck to help this wailing
child of a woman
cut and bruised
who sobs with wide-eyed fear.

I paid my buck
for her.

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This morning with news of Ben
eyes burn
heart pumps in vacuum
Come as soon as possible
midnight voice echoes
from cold green room
Is he all right
question begged
imagination screams
Please, come as soon as possible
reprise falls
like lead weight on ocean’s floor
desperate drive
from notification
to identification
walk to breathless ashen son
heart smothered in twisted frame
freed too late by jaws of life
carefree twenty-three
held now on square edged
shiny resting spot
touch cold cheek
diamond stud in lobe
gift from Stephen
smile still
broken tooth
from wrestling Jarret
buzz cut platinum stubble
was pony tail
his gift to Locks of Love
hug bloodless wound
scratch confusion
extrapolate meaning
choke inside this empty shell
lament loss
shelter history.

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In the corner of the darkness of He’s caramel
Colored eyes flies the vulture, circling
Waiting the moment.

The car leaves at daybreak, coffee breath, late
For morning meeting, tie untied, cell
Phone demanding attention.

He follows Robbie to the bus stop
Ears flop, tail wags, tongue slathers
With heartfelt lickings.

The yellow thief swallows Robbie
Steals from He for the day until 3:00 o’clock
Spits Robbie at the corner of Elm and 2nd Street.

The tawny field across the way calls
He to come and smell and play and pass the day
‘til Robbie returns to roll and wrestle and pet.

The stop sign slows the car not a stop
The cell phone speaks, then listens
B.F. Goodrich breaks the back of He

It is fast, I think, and quiet
The car never knew
The cell phone speaks and listens louder

He lays his tongue along the curb
The vulture bides its time
Robbie will get there first…at 3:00.

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Easy it is
to look at today’s events
excitements, challenges, heartbreaks
define today’s news
in some concept of tomorrow
fail to embrace today’s joy
in favor of bigger and better
fail to address today’s challenge
in fear of tomorrow’s adversity
fail to swallow today’s heartbreak
by grasping at what will never be.

Anxious moments
my life’s tether

my fault

does massive quake


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Granddad, my Captain, a wise, white whiskered lover of the ocean
points toward a ship that moves
slowly across the horizon to somewhere.

“You know what’s out there,” he says
and I lean close as the kind man with wrinkled skin rubs his chin.
“Ocean is out there, ocean as far as the eye can see, and then some

feel ocean all around you
blue and beautiful and dangerous
your ship balanced in the grip of Ol’ Neptune

your clothes and hair and beard drip from the drops of sea in the air
the taste of salt is in your mouth
music plays as brine licks the bow

cut through the water smooth
hear mermaids sing in heavy evening air
tread black water as it floats golden flecks of moonlight.”

Captain uncorks the bottle
tilts his flask skyward
shirtsleeves the few stray drops and stares.

Tears glisten in the corners of his eyes.

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Brother Justin

He is a monk who lives alone
Among his brothers
His eyes are wide and clear
He speaks with childlike smiles

Among his brothers
This priestly man is sent by God
He speaks with childlike smiles
All who chance upon him know

This priestly man is sent by God
He is chosen
All who chance upon him know
A special gift to mankind

He is chosen
“Music,” he says, “is everywhere”
A special gift to mankind
“You only need to set it free”

“Music,” he says, “is everywhere”
He pulls a lengthy blade of grass
“You only need to set it free”
“It wants to sing,” he says

He pulls a lengthy blade of grass
He closes his hands in prayer
“It wants to sing,” he says
He holds the blade and blows

He closes his hands in prayer
It sings sweetly as he lays down
He holds the blade and blows
He listens to the grass

It sings sweetly as he lays down
His eyes are wide and clear
He listens to the grass
He is a monk who lives alone.

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“There I stood, my senses
Crowded by the genius of Monet”
With her memory she smiled,
“But you had to be there,” she sighed

I shared the warmth she felt from her recall
but missed the experience
As I saw not the lilies
Of which she spoke

I reflect on this or that special day
Of victory, defeat, love or loss
How had I ever hoped to speak
Of my lilies and share my bouquet

To pick my single bloom of experience
And share the fragrance
To tell my picture of excitement
And expect a portrait

The tempest of my experience
Has lost its fury
Not to time or lack of worth
But to secondhandedness

For you truly had to be there
To taste the fruit
What is mine to share is me today
Not what I was or where I’d been.

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See me carefully through your eyes
I surrender to you what of me you have earned
With whatever you were willing to spend
My heart bathes sanguine.

I surrender to you what of me you have earned
Don’t glance and pass without a pause
My heart bathes sanguine
Don’t burn the light of others to project your self.

Don’t glance and pass without a pause
Don’t mark your screen with shadows not yours
Don’t burn the light of others to project your self
Don’t gain a bloodless soul, eye rhymed to pale.

Don’t mark your screen with shadows not yours
Don’t miss, avoid, ignore the blushing me
Don’t gain a bloodless soul, eye rhymed to pale
See me carefully through your eyes.

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Didn’t I just know a great, great thing when
I saw you coming down the steps on
A cold, cold, cold February in
Nineteen-sixty-nine, the
Evening we met.

It took no more than one quick look.

Lean, I do, into your net of safety
Open, I do, my molested warrior soul
Vault, Ido, my walls of caution
End, I do, my excommunication

Yes, warmth
Of you becomes my heat
Unadulterated, and forever near.

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Knee-deep snow, frosty breath
Quiet walk heaps of white
Winter builds a place for me.

Frozen pond, past bent trees
Sunset’s glare blushes cheeks
Winter builds a place for me.

Simple room, fireplace
Tender midst untamed wants
Winter builds a place for me.

Passion quells intellect
Graceful hand small of back
Winter builds a place for me.

Gentle touch, special time
Essence flows length and depth
Winter builds a place for me.

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Ode to the Kiln

Mother earth provide the silt
Time grind it day by day
Weather weave it like a quilt
Nature blend the clay.

Potter’s wheel become its nest
Strong hands so gently tame
Axle turn without a rest
Spun earth find your frame.

Naked ware be glazed and prepped
Kiln goddess fill your womb
Awake flame god whence he slept
Summon to your room.

Raku fire as heaven’s phantom
Do kiss the hot glazed earth
Center piece as hearth’s soul totem
Induce a timely birth.

Imbue luster you brazen daemon
Sanction tongues radiant
Eddies, with heat emblazon
Commit from firmament.

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People do good
People do bad
Good people do good
Bad people do bad
Good people do good to good people.
Good people do good to bad people.
Bad people do bad to good people.
Bad people do bad to bad people.
When good people do bad to bad people,
Is that good?

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Fear drags me to the fireside
And wraps me in its cloak

A crooked lipped green-eyed dragon
Pushes air roughly from my throat

The vulture violence harshly enters
Memory claws my choke

Wet and naked, scared and hurt
Fire dead but not the smoke

Cancer not to be excised
Stain I can’t revoke

Sleepless nights realized
Theft of person broke

Closed and boxed deep inside
Knowledge now never spoke

Evil lives at edge of soul
Fear the Fear, Fear wrote.

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