1. The Siege of Khe Sanh
The war was not much in my life.
Marching in the spring demonstrations,
I wasnt thinking of my black brothers
stalking through the green mazes
or shaking through the incoming rounds
exploding into killing bits of steel
around them. My thoughts were all on love,
the pure hippie girl yearning for me
and the dreams we wove in our letters
that built a bridge of love and dreams
that we were sure would bring us finally
together, but that spring I couldnt wait
and I dropped out and hitched to Maryland.
I wanted to touch her, feel the weight
and shape of her breasts when she rolled
her gray sweater above her head and said,
Dont be so shy, John, dont you love them,
and I did, more than the dreams of beaches
and waking in a house among green
and red flowers with the scent of sunlight
stirring the curtains softly, not enough
to wake her from her dreams but enough
to wake me so I could follow the curve
of her chin and imagine the taste
of her hair in my mouth. Vanilla,
sweet apricots, and something salty,
maybe my sweat after we made love.
The dreams kept me writing, imagining
her but they werent enough. So while
my brothers in Vietnam pressed their backs
against the sandbag shacks of Khe Sanh,
I hitched the twenty-three hours east
to Maryland. But none of it worked out
the way Id imagined. She was still
in school, preparing a project
on the peasants of the Mekong Delta,
and drafting a final paper on Crime
and Punishment, asking me what
I thought Raskolnikovs final sin was.
The pride that drove him to drive his axe
into the old ladys head, or the love
he always felt for his sister and mother?
And sometimes wed walk the lazy paths
of the campus at night, stop on a bench
and neck, or sneak into her dorm room
and press against each other, my hands
on the breasts beneath her gray sweater,
her palms rolling soft circles on my chest
but mainly I sat in a diner off campus
dreaming and spinning a silver dollar
toward a .22 cartridge shell standing
upright on the counter near an ashtray.
We were in my parents house,
the rooms quiet. The sunlight
in the windows in the afternoon
spinning the rooms to gold
and she said she didnt love me
that she had come from Maryland
to tell me she was seeing me
for the last time, and that my love
was not enough to keep her with me
dreaming of California
and she was moving to Frisco
and this was the end of the dream
and I went to my parents bedroom
and pulled the gun from the drawer
and I grabbed her arm so tight
she could hardly pull away,
and I pointed the gun at her face
and said I would shoot her
and then I would shoot myself
because she didnt love me
and I didnt even know if the gun
was loaded, or if it was real
or if I was just joking
and she said she didnt love me
and that I should really do it
if I was going to do it
just right there in the kitchen
where we spent so much time
dreaming of us in California
and she said John just do it
if youre going to do it. Do it
because I dont love you and dont care
if I go to California alone
or die here with you, and I said
I would do it, really I would.
I would take the revolver
and do it. I would do it because
I couldnt live without her dreaming
with me about California
and cold beaches and red wine,
those dreams that filled our love
with all the glory and beauty,
all the time and sunlight
I ever thought we ever needed
and she said just do it, just do it,
just press the gun there and do it
and I knew I couldnt do it
in the kitchen with the sunlight
so pure almost like the sunlight
on the cold beaches in California
and I let the revolver drop
to the floor and said I cant do it.
She said it again, I dont love you,
and I couldnt look at her
and asked her what wed do now,
and she shook her arm loose from my hand.
Coming of Age?
I'm 54 and next year will be 55
(on June 22 if you want to send flowers
or candy), and what Ive learned about
coming of age is that we come of age
the way the great glaciers come of age.
Slowly. One year we melt a little.
The next we freeze a little. A wind
comes from no place and shines up
our northern walls. The next year
the wind is a little stronger or weaker.
We dont change the way people in books
change. Todays hero, tomorrows fool.
Our futurea patient grandmother
with a toddler in handcomes slowly.
© 2002 John Guzlowski
John is a Professor of English at Eastern Illinois University. For more of his work in TheScreamOnline, visit the Talent Index.
He can be reached at cfjzg[AT]eiu.edu
(replace [AT] with @).