Greg arrived in Vietnam in January 1969 as a second lieutenant and assumed duties as chief of the Army’s medical photography team. His job was to document (photographically) everything the U.S. Army was doing medically in Vietnam. He took medical photographs in the wetlands of the Mekong Delta, in Special Forces’ camps near Cambodia, in the highlands, up and down the coast, near the DMZ, in medevac choppers, and field hospitals. After Greg’s return from overseas, he studied to become as lawyer. He resides in Montgomery County, Maryland with his wife Lois. Greg’s poem “The Operating Room” was published in the Potomac Review, Winter 2001, and “Tu Do Street” was published in Off the Record: An Anthology of Poetry by Lawyers, 2004.
A chopper pounds the baking air,
muffled fading, as the mess-hall
evening siren sounds. A green-suit
bustle spills urgent, down
the wooden sidewalk bridging
mud and puddles to the O.R.,
where the photographer locks
his tripod legs in place,
inserts a fresh magazine,
Like a half-eaten pomegranate
left for sniffing dogs,
the boy lies open in Da Nang,
five surgical teams scratching
at his flesh, harsh lights tracing
paths the shrapnel took when
his boot landed on the mine.
Blood spatters the lens, gushes
over gloved hands incising, sawing,
full-stroked through grown limbs,
the labored heaving laid raw
beneath what’s left of still-pink skin,
a one-limb body without privates or a face.
The photographer, safe
behind his camera, murmurs at
the crimson saturation, the perfection
of his angle, as he leans high over
an obliging surgeon’s shoulder—
nearly breaches the sterile field
sliding his 16-millimeter Arriflex
from the thoracic to the maxillo-facial
grazing the meticulous debride.
The limb-site surgeons grow testy.
At last, a slowing slap of stainless
instruments against open palms
signals the waning night, fewer
fluids to be hung and replaced.
Still there beats a heart
they wont let quit.
Final suture sewn.
instruments and camera stowed,
the boy wheeled away,
the slumping, the heavy,
bloodshot, drag on to breakfast,
gritting their teeth against
the unmouthed hope
The bar hunkered down on Tu Do Street, left
of the Rex Hotel, its door a dark deep cleft
from which 60’s protest songs pricked lonely nights
beneath the black-sky drone. Like blinking kites
the C-130’s hung, still parked in time,
as if they knew this war would play like dime
store novels—secret plans, high level talks,
French onion soup, the bombers bombing docks.
She drifts, pink gauze through light—her tea, our sighs—
the heat, the want, the brush of her ao dai.
By the Pacific, a ribbon of sand,
visiting Auntie June. Arizona,
a scrubby mountain out back, rolling
the hills in round crates we pack, unpack,
repack. Columbia Gorge and falls nearby;
in the dirt, shooting marbles till dusk.
Cattle lumber the long Texas roads.
Shooting snakes, shearing sheep,
collecting horned toads. Chesapeake Bay and
National Bo, “Land of Pleasant Living.”
Flying the fins of Dad’s red Plymouth Fury
to Friday night games in Langhorne with Kim.
Back from the boonies,
Charlie got our new Captain.
Check the calendar—
April girl purrs
on a palm tree.
Slowly draw a big X
through 18. Only 300 days till
I’m back in the world.