Lynn Marie Houston is the author of the poetry collections The Clever Dream of Man (Aldrich Press, 2015); Chatterbox (Word Poetry Books, 2017); The Mauled Keeper (Main Street Rag Publishing, 2017), runner-up in the Cathy Smith Bowers Contest; and Unguarded (Heartland Review Press, 2018), winner of Heartland Review Press inaugural chapbook contest. Her poetry has received recognition in competitions sponsored by the Eric Hoffer Awards, Brain Mill Press, the Connecticut Press Club, the Jack Grapes Poetry Prize, the National Indie Excellence Awards, the National Federation of Press Women, the National Federation of State Poetry Societies, Press 53/Prime Number Magazine, the Rash Awards, The New England Book Festival, and Whispering Prairie Press. Editor in chief of Five Oaks Press and a member of the National Book Critics Circle, Houston holds a PhD in English from Arizona State University and an MFA from Southern Connecticut State University.
In my father’s letters home from Vietnam, he shares his excitement
for log day, when the Chinook resupplies their camp in the bush.
On log day, my father gets mail and packages with his favorite snack:
peanut butter crackers. He gets cans of soda that cost him
$5 a month from his pay. He claims it’s safer than drinking the water.
Six weeks after he returns from stateside leave, on the day my father
will receive the letter saying my mother might be pregnant with me,
he has to help clear the landing zone for the Chinook.
They hack away for hours at the jungle’s overgrowth.
When they hear the clack of those twin blades, my father
is ordered to pop a smoke grenade. His buddy grabs one first
and lights it, but it misfires and takes off part of his hand.
My father still has six more months to serve in-country.
In the letter home to his folks, he writes, We were careful,
but you know how these things still happen. And I don’t know
whether he means my conception or the loss of his friend’s fingers.
For Ray Coe
In my father’s last letters home, he counts the days until
he can board the final chopper that will hurry him away from war.
After they learned he held a college business degree, he worked
in a casualty unit, typing letters home to families.
When it’s a slow day, he writes, it means less men have died.
He obsesses over every detail of the many flights
he will take to get home. He wants to make sure he buys
his father a wide-angle lens on his layover in Japan.
He wants to make sure he has a pair of sandals for everyone
who will be there to greet him at the airport.
On what should have been his last day in Vietnam, he asks
the forward air controller if he has time for breakfast
before the Huey arrives. Plenty of time, the guy tells him.
It’s not scheduled to arrive for another two hours.
My father enjoys the most leisurely meal he ever had
in the Army—a full hour—and when he returns, the guy
is irate because he just missed the chopper. As they argue,
they hear a crash, see black smoke billow from the trees—
the Huey my father should have been on was shot down, killing
everyone on board, other children’s fathers, almost-fathers.
You can read about what my father ate and what he read.
(The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale,
as if he could mindfully wish his way home in one piece).
You can read about how the threat of death
made him feel closer to God, closer to the guy next
to him, whose vigilance, or failure, was his only providence.
But he dissimulates in reports to his parents, stretches the truth,
reassures them when he states there is little drug use.
Later, he tells me about the widespread opium and heroin abuse.
Later, he tells me during a movie, the smell of burning human flesh
is the worst thing you can imagine. I ask, was that in Vietnam?
He nods. Burned bodies, like addicts, are absent from his letters.
Absent, too, are the shots fired from his gun
that may have killed the bodies that needed burning.
What he dares not say is what he fears saying will render true.
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