Five Notes from War 

And the hapless Soldier’s sigh Runs in blood down Palace walls

                       —William Blake 

1.

The lieutenant bled out—

eleven units of plasma
& my friend holding

pressure not enough

to save him.
Near the end
my friend believed

he was transporting

to afterlife when
his fingers trapped

inside the lieutenant’s

congealed blood.
We soaked them free

with water
from canteens.
Now, when we visit

The Wall, my friend

tries to wedge 

his fingers back in. 

2.

Names of the lieutenant & five

more killed that day chiseled

into granite. With fingers spread

& thumbs touching at the tips,

my friend can cover all six

names in chronological order.

Now that we’re older, I kneel

behind to steady his forearms. 

3.

Last winter, at the Wall
again. Snowing & very cold.
It seemed we were alone
until a man & woman reflected
in the granite from behind us.
For a long time I watched
them inside the stone.
When I turned
I saw them weeping.
Do you have someone here? I asked.

Just the two of you, she said. 

4.

A helicopter crash near Bến Cát.
Ed Lehnhoff , the Huey gunship pilot,

the only survivor. Last week
he was arrested for chiseling
The Wall next to the names
of his crewmembers.
The Washington Post wrote,
“Mr. Lehnhoff was taken into

custody as he was defacing
the Vietnam Memorial Wall
with a mason’s chisel.
Fortunately,
park rangers arrested
him after he carved
just one letter.”
Eventually,
after correspondence
from the crew’s families,
the Park Service determined
to leave the chiseled “L”
on the right margin
of panel 30E, line 16. 

5.

The handsome medic
from Southern California
was straddling our trench latrine
& singing a Beach Boys’ song
when shot by a Viet Cong sniper.
A high-velocity bullet behind
his right ear. Cranium & contents,

facial bones—vaporized. Half a scalp

of blond hair, eyebrows, eyelashes,

nose & lips—intact.
Ask yourself,
What could a battlefield surgeon do?
I was thinking funeral.
How to reconstruct his face.
One last look at sunshine beauty.
I was thinking Michelangelo
as I worked inside the cavity
to replicate nasal bones,
cheekbones, forehead, a smile,
until suddenly ashamed
& with a nation’s shit on my hands
I heard myself singing,
Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older...