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Five Poems About Vietnam

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Leroy V. Quintana Leroy V. Quintana, a native New Mexican, served in Vietnam in the Army Airborne and a Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol unit in 1967-68. His poetry and fiction have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. Two of his poetry collections, Sangre and The History of Home won the American Book Award. Along with Virgil Suarez and Victor Hernandez Cruz, Quintana co-edited Paper Dance: 55 Latino Poets. Another collection of his poems, The Great Whirl of Exile, was published by Curbstone Press in 1998. Quintana is on the English faculty at Mesa College, San Diego.

by Leroy V. Quintana


Armed Forces Recruitment Day
Albuquerque High School, 1962

After the Navy,
the Air Force, and
the Army,
Sgt. Castillo,
the Marine Corps
recruiter,
got a standing ovation
when he walked up
to the microphone
and said proudly
that unlike
the rest, all
he could promise
was a pack,
a rifle, and
a damned hard time.
Except for that,
he was the
biggest
of liars.


First Encounter

You have stopped for a break, stand up
to put your gear on and hear shots,
see the flash of the muzzles.
You have been followed.
The whiteness of the branches
that have been cut along the way
tells you you're on a new trail,
but the sergeant is a stateside G.I.:
barracks inspections, rules and regs.
You are probably surrounded.
There are five others beside you.
You are twenty-three.
You look quickly around you:
the sky, the trees.
You're far from home.
You know now that your life
is no longer yours.


Natural History

To cross a river meant leeches.
A company of NVAs crashing toward you
would be a troop of baboons.
A green snake named Mr. Two Step,
for the number you'd last after bitten.
It was said the NVAs carried flashlights.
One night frightening scores of them
turned out to be a swarm of fireflies.
The whir of birds' wings
turned out to be artillery rounds.
Threw stones at a cobra once,
the sun going down.
Fire at it
and the VC would know our position.
A VC moving slowly in the elephant grass
happened to be a water buffalo.
One night they overran the compound.
Loaded down with grenades, AK-47s
from North Vietnam, mines strapped to their chests:
these were only the mosquitos.
The VC only a little more than a whisper's reach away,
we called in the Cobras. They came in hissing,
cannons twice as fast as the old gunships.
It was also said the VC kept chickens leashed to strings.
So easily frightened they were perfect warning.
One night, shivering uncontrollably with fear,
knowing I would have to kill whatever was out there,
walking slowly, scratching.


Home Finally Going Home

We landed at Ft. Lewis,
got measured, issued new dress uniforms
and sent to the Mess Hall, choice USA steaks.
A sergeant said Pass me the salt, boy
to a corporal, and he did.
Outside, the buses waiting
to take us to the airport.
We were home finally going home.


Poem for Our Dog Afraid of Thunder on a Rainy Day

I know what it is like to be so afraid
on a rain-soaked day such as this.
On a rain-soaked day such as this
in Vietnam I prayed fervently.
In Vietnam I prayed fervently
shivering uncontrollably in the mud.
Shivering uncontrollably in the mud
as men whose duty it was to kill me filed by.
As men whose duty it was to kill me filed by
only a little more than a yard away.
Only a little more than a yard away
on a rain soaked day such as this.
The type of day that dogs don't understand.


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