Wednesday, January 2, 2008

A Man in Black

On a jet plane to old Vietnam,
it's not my war
not my time
my place
my way.

I'm filing past the boys... Men, as they say they are, but boys all the same--peach fuzz stubble, eyes darting to everything around them, toward the the front, to a future they do not quite know how to meet.

And the man in black is among us, we all know he's here.

Taking a seat by the window,
I buckle in for the long flight.
Johnny Cash is there, singing
in deep, nearly inaudible tones.

He tells me this is the first sunset he's seen since he don't know when--
it's to this that I so relate.

The sun departs in pink haze, but this modern iron bird will catch it, pass it on our way west to the war-torn east out of the rising sun. Time itself is an old man playing old games, over and over again, the same songs of greed and power. Time marches through the underbrush far below, stalking day and night, knowing that our hands are tied, that the seconds move forward and backward, left and right. We stand beside it and watch the trains go by, bullets with names on their shells ripping through the boiling air around us. A bugle mourns a thousand days down--names, ranks, and serial numbers lingering in its hoarse wail.

Johnny sings to me:
"Life ain't easy
for a boy named Sue."

I could cry blood and tears if I weren't a boy with standing orders to be a man.

The air gathers us to its expansive, windblown breast, our last kiss goodbye, goodnight.

Johnny leans in so close
I can smell the whiskey
stale smoke of dead nights
and I'm there in that cell
with him as he sings to me
a requiem of the blues.

"Smoke em' if you got'em, kid"
he says through his scratchy
Marlboro and scotched voice.

He sings his song to the boy-men living for the moment, as today becomes tomorrow somewhere over the Pacific. We, the citizens of this flying prison cell, ironbird cage, a gunboat on the river Styx, hold copper coins in shaking hands to pay our way to Hades in the jungle of a foreign land. On strict orders to take life and death as they come, we salute him who sings this song.

The man in black soon falls silent the rest of the way in-country.

As we step down onto the broken land we are told to die for, waving goodbye to the coffin as it takes off to fetch more living dead boy-men. We march with steel barrels clutched in hands and held at our our backs--guns pointed at every creeping shadow, we, the boys to men to bodies alone in the peace of pine boxes, burnt up in a ring of hellfire fire, perpetuated by some Neo-Napoleon, some Johnson tool, or hiding under a Bush.

A man in black puts his hat low to cover his face, shedding a tear for each one who won't see home again...
or living,
and a sigh for those left in the void between.

Another Man in Black who knows the day,
the hour, the minute, the second
of the end...

He is waiting to call us to his cold breast.
No song does he sing, but the music he knows all the same.

I would like to thank all the men and women of the armed forces who have sacrificed their time, their freedom or their life in service to this country. Many of my own family are among these. It's the struggle for peaceful solutions, the struggle with surviving in hostile lands, both for their generation and ours that inspires this work. Many have given much and all for something they did not agree with--but still they did what they had to do. The blessing given me by my uncles who served, as well as my aunts who waited for them with staccato heartbeats, is something I'll always respect. It is they who so often wish they could not remember what they have seen that I have written this for.

Peace and love, y'all.


singleton said...

"It is they who often wish they could not remember what they have seen that I have written this for"

bless you

and I pray for peace....

eric1313 said...


And it's peace that I want, as well. The politicians just don't see it like that, though. War is their business--now if they had to fight in one, it might be different. We might not have all these "hawks". We need more doves.

Pythia3 said...

Beautiful and chilling...
Happy 2008, Eric :) I'm up late messin' around and checkin in with my friends after the holiday season.
Hope you brought the new year in exactly the way you wanted to.

eric1313 said...


Domo! I'm glad you liked it.

Thanks for the visit, my friend. I can't really complain about the new year festivities--neighbors had a good party that I dropped in on.

Spent a lot of time writing. :)

You know me!

Peace out.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant. The poem is swaying, hypnotic, full of ominous sound and touches of innocence, gradually overcome by death, making the journey and ending with the image of the pine box. It plays with time but still follows a natural progression in its descent. And the ending is perfect, as it scrolls up the screen after the journey of the writing. Hail Johnny!

eric1313 said...


Hail Johnny!

Yeah, I tried to play off the dual nature of the color black in relation to death, and off war, and time. It's sad, the parallels of Vietnam to this age and our current wars. The only difference is there's no draft, and they know it, so they won't institute one, so the protests only go so far.

I'm still growing into my voice. Thanks for the reads and the input.

Casdok said...

Yes beautiful and chilling is how i would describe it to.

Charles Gramlich said...

Strange, I was just listening to some Johnny Cash last night, especially his version of HURT. Great stuff. This was a very nice tribute.

Love that picture at the end, and the story behind it.

ivan said...

"Often thought, bur ne'er so well expressed."

I had a dream similar to yours, a generation ago.
Us on the river Styx floating helplessly toward the sewer pipe of the universe...Better say me rather than us, but you get the drift.
Yep. Folsom Prison Blues.

My own dream was a dream of the future, my future. On a prison ship.
Friggin' nightmare.
I never want to go near that black hole again.
Thank God the Maelstrom flung me out.

Josie said...

My gosh, I wish every Vietnam vet who fought in that war could read this post of yours. You have no idea how badly they were treated when they came home. They need to know that a man who wasn't even born yet when that war ended, thanks them.

What a lovely tribute.

Yes, we need more doves.

Princess Pointful said...

"I could cry blood and tears if I weren't a boy with standing orders to be a man."

This line gave me goosebumps.

These boys are marching, or have marched, into a world so very foreign and far from my world.

Thankfully Mr Cash understands so damn well.

Beautiful and touching piece, Eric. You were right-- this is what I like!!

I'm stuck in snowland for another day, flight postponed... mixed blessing of sorts, this forced relaxation.

Bemused said...

The line "Time itself is an old man playing old games" appealed to me most. If only one could beat that old man in his own game.

X. Dell said...

I tried to find it on YouTube for you, but couldn't.

As wacky as it was, Laugh-In had one segment that was polemnically anti-war, heartbreaking, totally serious, with absolutely no attempt at humor. With Frank Sinatra's "When I Was Seventeen" playing in the background, Dan Rowan, the host, donned a number of army uniforms. Playing the role of a soldier, he recounted the number of times he went to war as a career man, from WWII to Vietnam.

This post reminds me of that. Vietnam soldier became some of the most vociferous anti-war activists (e.g. Charlie Clemments, Ron Kovic). There have been some from the current conflict as well. And then there are gold-star mothers such as Cindy Shehan who really rue what they fear are the abuse of defense forces.

Of course, with every story, one can bring it to the personal level (notice I didn't say 'bring down'). Both are realities faced by Americans today, on both a public level and a personal one.

Mob said...

Wonderfully evocative language, you're right, I really loved this one a lot.

Great stuff.

Sandy Kessler said...

Amazing that you can transform yourself to that time . I lived it - regrettably what an awful place then and now- and oh what bravery then and now

Sandy Kessler said...

war is big business!!

benjibopper said...

really captures a sense of powerlessness, just following orders, which i suppose is how it is once you've signed up or been drafted.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, the war movies are mostly tricky lies. Grizzled toughguys acting heroic. But a huge number of soldiers are just teenagers in any major war!

Paul B. said...

Well written.. well said.


Enemy of the Republic said...

I got that picture too. I wrote a post on Johnny. I should send it to you.

ann said...

bowled over, speechless, lost for words... well momentarily lost for words!

oh Eric, what an amazing amazing post... those poor poor boys like lambs to the slaughter, for what?


for their country they died
some survived
to live out lives


eric1313 said...


Thank you for the stop. This is not my usual fare, but ti's nice to have many directions to travel in.


I loved that picture and had to use it as soon as I saw it. It fit the poem perfectly.

eric1313 said...


I'm glad the maelstrom flung you back up from the ancient Greek sewer of hell, too. That would be quite a disturbing dream sequence...

Now, to not use it as a story myself....


Thank you! I pride myself on being able to view things from another's perspective. And I have heard about how bad they were treated, the spitting, being called baby killers. That's no way to treat somebody who had no choice but to obey their country.

eric1313 said...


I knew you'd dig it. I love writing these prose poems.

Yes, it's so very foreign, and they are there to carry out the business of our regime.

I just hope that one day some country doesn't decide to nation build on us!


Yes, the chess game that old man time plays against us is a tight one. It would be nice to win one from the old man even once, think...

eric1313 said...

X Dell

It certainly can be brought to the personal level. There are so many people who have had to fight in these conflicts, we all know one and some of us are one.

I'll have to look for that episode. I know Laugh-In was very political. I actually love watching those old shows when I can. Very little today has that effect, except perhaps the Daily Show, South Park and the Simpsons.

Glad to have your input, as always.

eric1313 said...


Thanks! That's why I told you. I know it's not your usual fare, poetry and all, but this one was certainly different for me.


It is too big a business. Exxon Mobil, Haliburton, the Black Water Corp, all these companies have made huge profits from this war, at the cost of very brave individuals who were willing to sacrifice everything for their country.

Thank you for your sobering comment, Sandy. You are very much appreciated here.

eric1313 said...


Right on. When you are in the US army, the constitution does not apply to you, though you are helping to defend it.

It's no excuse for atrocity, but one has to follow basic orders, and one has to go out into the field, even if the leaders back home are slimy and undeserving of their own power.


That's it, too. They aren't even old enough to legally have a beer inside these borders, yet they are expected to lay down their lives.

And it is kids. These movies and video game portray it as noble and glamorous, but that's so far from the truth of the matter.

eric1313 said...

Paul B

Thank you, sir. I'll be by to see your blog soon, sir.

Thanks for the visit.


I'd love to see it. That picture is a fun one, that's for sure. Good old Johnny Cash.

And yeah, that post would be interesting to see.

Peace out, everyone. And respect to you all.

eric1313 said...


I know--in your country and mine they are being used for purposes that are far from being clearly defined.

Each day brings more horror, news of some new slaughter. And it's the politicians who are eager. Anyone familiar with war in the way a warrior or soldier is will tell you: They choose peace because the alternative is so much worse.

eric1313 said...

Thank you all for your patience. I've not felt quite well these last few days, so it's been all I could do to keep up with you at your blogs.

I hope the issues have been cleared up.

Peace out.