Monday’s Rune: A Memoirish Library Essay


Howdy! And Happy Monday, Y’all.

Since the American government still had an active conscription/draft system, I enlisted during my senior year in high school (1964). I eventually went to college after four years in the U.S. Air Force, which would later result in my first of three closely related “career” choices.

In May of ’66, I married Yolonda. More than half of our first two years together were spent as 20/21/22-year-olds living and working in Ankara, Turkey. I was not sent to Viet Nam. Happy Honeymoon.

I started college in September of 1968, as one of what would become known as Vietnam Era Veterans. I registered as a sophomore transfer from the University of Maryland, Overseas Division.

The Viet Nam War was raging and nearing its high-point years. LBJ was about finished. The Tet Offensive had hardened much more of U.S. public opinion against the war. While not ambivalent, I disagreed with both sides of the argument at that time. I was confused, as were many Americans. I had two short term goals: graduate and get a job. Yolonda was the Brazos County Attorney’s Secretary at the time. Every cop in the county knew her.

We lived in “on campus” student housing. Our “home” was a small one bedroom, one bath, unairconditioned apartment in southeast, central Texas. We eventually bought and installed a window a/c unit.

The campus library was my retreat, a place to read, study, and to people-watch. At the time, everyone exiting the building was forced to have their possessions searched to prevent theft.

One evening, Yolonda waited for me at that library while I was part of a psych department research study. I found her waiting in our car. She asked me if I would know if my penis was exposed out of my pants. She had been cock-flashed by a student employee. The perv got busted, and we’ve been sharing the experience for fifty-plus years. They are everywhere.

I’m writing this while sitting comfortably, sipping coffee, and eating a pastry from my public library’s coffee bar. These days book checkout is on the honor system, and nobody is searched.

I still like libraries. I am not a prodigious reader, although I read every day. Libraries are strangely comforting to me even though everyone has access to the facility, library card or not. Libraries are what they are and do what they do. The same is true of people.

My first library from childhood was in an old, mid-19th century, church building and still is. I also like old church architecture. Maybe there is a reason for my library/church juxtaposition of interest. I recall no pervs in the stacks from back then, but if those books could talk… (wait, we have talking books nowadays.)

Computer stations at the Central Branch of the Osterhout Free Library

It seems like it began for this boomer with the assassination of JFK. My first ten years after high school, the sixties, and early seventies, were a coming-of-age time for me and a tumultuous period in American History.

More than fifty years later, I still like to sit in libraries and write, read, search for books, people watch, and sip coffee. I may ponder what others say or claim. I think about how differently we all see the world and each other.

But at this point in my life, I really don’t give a shite what anyone thinks of me, except for Yolonda and our three middle-aged kids; less so, a few teeny-bopper or early 20s grandkids.

So far, I think I pass muster. Sort of.

Bill


Look both ways for what is right. Arguing does little good.
Mind the gaps lest they become crevasses of civil division.
Find your tribe and take a side. Keep trying to understand.
Support public libraries, not book bans or burns.

NaPoWriMo April 2022 (Day 28)

Click for more.

Today’s prompt was to write a concrete poem. I wanted to do all 30 prompts.

What I did instead was intended to be a black out poem in lieu of the prompt, I’ve done concretes before. Not today.

I decided that rather than black out unused text to create the poem, I would extract the lines from the first few paragraphs of a longer story. If I had more time, I might have attempted some art to overlay the blacked-out area.

If I included the entire narrative, it would have been too long with entire paragraphs blacked out. So, I extracted the parts/words/sections that made up the poem.

I selected the first few paragraphs from the titled section, “On the Rainy River” from the book, The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien © (published in 1990 by Houghton Mifflin).


Drafted

one story I’ve never told,
it would only cause embarrassment,
a confession…
makes me squirm,
I’ve had to live with it, feeling the shame,
it’s a hard story to tell.

if evil were evil enough, if good were good enough
I would simply tap a secret reservoir of courage…
Courage, comes in finite quantities,
it offered hope and grace to the repetitive coward.

I was drafted to fight a war I hated.
(You can’t fix your mistakes. Once people are dead, you can’t make them undead.)
…I assumed that the problems of killing and dying did not fall within my special province…

The draft notice arrived on June 17, 1968.
I was too good for this war.
Too smart, too compassionate, too everything.
I was above it. A mistake, maybe…I was no soldier.


Look both ways for reasons why and why not.
Mind the gaps. That’s where the booby traps hide.

NaPoWriMo April 2022 (Day 20)

Click this pic for to open the prompt page and links to other poems.

At the two-thirds complete NaPoWriMo Wednesday, my assignment, should I choose to accept it, was to humanize (anthropomorphize) a food.

Ask any front-line (combat) Army or Marine Corps Viet Nam War veteran about C-rations, especially about this one.


Voldemort Chow

It is not an acquired taste
c-rats (thankfully) are nevermore.

But he who must not be named,
you-know-who—of Hogwarts,
the Dark Lord of chow, bitter
Lord Voldemort of field rations
universally despised for bad taste.

In the boonies, in another world:
The Nam! What was in that can?
Bad luck shall befall if you say it—
Ham and Lima Beans, say it
like a soldier: ham and motherfuckers
hated by virtually everyone,
thrown back like VC returning fire
by starving children: numba ten, GI!

International agreement at last.
The most disgusting (real) food ever.
(You gunna eat that?)


Look both ways and tell it like it was.
Mind the gaps when everything sucks.

A video of this food, if you are curious.

Poetry: Hello, Tom.

All that I can recall
about Tom Steele,
is that he was tall, blondish hair,
quiet, and we never spoke.
We were both CHS
class of 1964, graduates.

His panel is 6E, line 104.
Tom was Army, C Company,
Second Battalion, 16th Infantry,
First Infantry Division. A grunt.
A boots-on-the-ground warrior.

At the Battle of Xa Can My,
April 11th, 1966, Tom was killed,
along with 36 fellow American soldiers,
age 20, not old enough to drink,
but young enough to die.

And I – must remember the boy
to whom I never spoke because
Memorial Day is all about him,
and them, for me to Remember.


Look both ways;
into the past to remember, into the future for something better.
Mind the gaps but try to treat folks with love and respect.
Say it. Care. You never know.

Poetry: Thanks, Mom (MIL, Grandma)

I came across this, so I tweaked it a bit for Mother’s Day. At the time, I didn’t agree with Mom about my decision. But I now realize that she was probably right.


Combatant

It could have been me.
A nod, a blink, or an “okay”
and the next forty-five
years …

(Had I not been killed, maimed,
or driven insane,
as so many young men were.)

… would not have been anything
like the memories I have today,
fifty-seven long years hence,
with contrition, feeling a strange
impersonal loss mired in guilt.

Personal, hidden, illogical
survivor syndrome. I can’t
make sense of it. The feelings
of a warrior, but who wasn’t.

Life choices are often made
thoughtlessly, in a blink.
I could be dead. Change the past?
Not on your life. Or mine.

And Mom would have been
so pissed at me, Jack M.,
and the entire fucking Corps.

Thanks, Mom.


Look both ways at guilt for life:
fortune or folly.
Mind the gaps in the mindless wars with reality.

Poetry: How did it feel? (NaPoWriMo day 23)

This morning, NaPo challenged me to write a poem that responds to another poet’s poem. I chose one titled “Natural History” by Leroy V. Quintana, one of five of his Viet Nam poems featured on PBS. But I could have responded to any, or all, of the five.


How did it feel?
To know you must go to Nam, to maybe die,
or go to jail, or to Canada?
To go there to kill any enemy, VC, NVA, or…?
To be overcome by fear, and to be forced
To kill anything that moved?
You’ve felt such fear I’ve never felt.
Not just some fight or flight twinge,
but big, sweaty, trembling, shit-your-pants fear,
both rational and sometimes crazy,
a fear that never goes away,
fear mixed with phenomenal anger,
when everything slows down, or stops,
where all you see, hear, feel,
smell, or taste wants to kill you, to maim you?
To suck the blood from your body?
And you can only live by killing him first,
or by not fighting, or shooting into the darkness,
or not, for fear of being exposed, or by tossing
grenades, or by friendly artillery fire so near you,
it may kill you? And most of all, how did it feel
to leave your comrades behind, to fly home
to clean clothes, a steak dinner, and
a thankless nation ignoring you,
wishing we’d all just go away? Trying to forget?


Look both ways along the path of a warrior,
that person sacrificed for the good of some system
like Capitalism, Communism, or Catholicism.
Mind the gaps for the fears and tears of real people,
both the living and the dead.

Poetry: War’s Bitterness (NaPoWriMo day 6)

The irony of today’s prompt is that it comes from Holly Lyn Walrath, who wrote of prompts, “…they all suck.” She poses this one as simple.

“Go to a book you love. Find a short line that strikes you. Make that line the title of your poem. Write a poem inspired by the line. Then, after you’ve finished, change the title completely.”

I want to finish this assignment today, so I am amending the prompt slightly.

I have lists of lines (quotes) from books I like. Examples I considered from Bukowski’s poetry book, Love is Dog from Hell, (also the title of one of the poems) include:

  1. “Sissies have a hard life.”
  2. “I never quite understood what it all meant and still don’t.”
  3. “Human relationships aren’t durable.”
  4. “Just drink more beer, more and more beer.”
  5. “An early taste of death is not necessarily a bad thing.”
  6. “Hit that thing/hit it hard.”

I rejected them for a sentence from Tim O’Brien’s book, The Things They Carried. The protagonist is referring to his decision to be drafted and go to Viet Nam, rather than flee to Canada.

“I would go to the war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to.”

I used each of these three independent clauses as the title for a quatrain. Then, I wrote the overall title of the combined poem, but I left the original lines.


War’s Bitterness

I would go to the war*—

Not to defend my country
or the Constitution, or our freedom,
or our way of life, to a war
I did not believe in.

I would kill and maybe die*—

Even my own countrymen would
condemn me and others who did
see themselves as defenders, many heroes
who would be wasted in a war they hated.

I was embarrassed not to*—

I cried. I didn’t want to go. I felt
that I had no choice. Could I kill?
Would I be killed or maimed?
Would I ever understand why?


(*Taken from the boat scene while fishing on the Rainy River in the book, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien.)

Look both ways. Feel the pressure. Decide.
Mind the gaps, especially those in your mind.
You’re only a living, fallible human.

Friday Fictioneers 10-2-2020

Thanks again to cat-herder extraordinaire, Rochelle @ Rochelle Wisoff-Fields-Addicted to Purple for providing another Friday Fictioneers photo prompt. Her weekly challenge is for us to write a story (beginning, middle, and end) of 100 words or less based on a photo prompt. Thanks to Rowena Curtin for the photo.

PHOTO PROMPT © Rowena Curtin

 


Genre: Fiction
Title: Xin Loi Gonzo
Word Count: 100

***

The sun was behind him, half blinding me. Gonzo insisted on knowing why I asked to meet him so early.

He swore and moved aggressively toward me. I backed-up and said, “Some make the world a better place, some we would better off without, and some make no difference.

When he charged me, I drew the pistol, repeatedly squeezing the trigger before I could point it. He knocked me down but did not move after we were on the ground. I stood, shot him in the head, and said, “I just made the world a better place. Xin lỗi, Gonzo.”

***

Look both ways when making room and don’t bring a knife to gun fight.
Mind the gaps and keep the sun at your back.


Click for link.

Xin lỗi is Vietnamese for ‘sorry’ or in my case, ‘sorry about that.’

Poetry: Sammi’s Weekender #175 (megalith)

 


Megalithic monuments to our past.
Cold stone can’t heal broken hearts,
replace shattered dreams, give life
to memories of the dead.

When will truth
replace our human greed, when
will we ever learn? We see and hear
what we want
with blind eyes and deaf ears.

Why even ask?


Look both ways for life.
Mind gaps in memories, lest we lose what we have.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial with the Washington Monument Washington, D.C.

Poetry: Another Morning


Awakened hours before sunrise,
he must guard, lest they come and kill;
this boy filled with fear and shock,
barely 19, taught to hate and kill,
now loyal to his clan, this new family,
his only friends, his only protection
as war has become his real world.

Miserable, hardened in every way,
unsympathetic, unimaginably deadly,
drawn to flashing light, learning
what he never wanted to know, addicted
to the battle, to the intoxicating fight.

He celebrates life with death, seeks random
revenge where none is possible,
has forgotten questions, never asks why,
lives in his personal accepted hated hell.

Sunrise lifts despair from his soul.
He smiles, alone, at the light of life,
happy to survive one more night.
He looks for answers, for that part of him,
now dead because he kills without a care.
Can he ever again be who he was born to be?


Look both ways to find another view.
Mind the gaps where questions decay away.