Vietnam Syndrome

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Vietnam Syndrome

This poem was written by Robert Allen, a railroad engineer in Iowa. He says, “How to encapsulate my enlistment experience? I joined the service four months after the war was lost, at the exact ground zero if you will of the Viet Nam syndrome; the title came to me after I’d written it.”
**

Momma didn’t want me to join the Army
but Daddy said he’d sign for me cuz I was only 17
and he already had reservations about Momma
making me into a sissy cuz she argued to let me stay home
I didn’t like hunting cuz that 30 ought six
had a kick that hurt my skinny shoulder
and it was boring and cold
compared to fishing and frogging
Daddy was a janitor at the college and it was special
when he brought home treats from the vending machines
food that was expired, you took your chances with salmonella
if you ate a sandwich with meat, but
30 years later I wondered
if Fredy Perlman had bought a sandwich out of one of those machines
if our lives had crossed in some small way
It dcesn’t matter if he did or not
I know, my heart knows he did
Red headed stepchild on a Greyhound, heading for Detroit
20 dollars in my pocket, left the woods behind
Four Mile Road was 20 miles outside of Kalamazoo
our biggest fun was throwing dead raccoons and stringers of dead fish
down on passing cars from atop the big hill
and hearing the cars swerve and rumble to a stop, gravel flying
as we ran into the woods laughing
but I was headed for the Army now
skinny legs with holes in the knees of my jeans
going commando, wearing no underwear
I figured I’d buy some when I got to the city
somebody asked me “who’d you kill?”
I said “Nobody, I just knocked up my high school girlfriend
and we were going to do the right thing cuz we didn’t believe in abortion and we
were gonna sneak off and get married
and the army would pay for the kid.
and he said “well the Army is the place the judge sends you”.
When I got to Detroit, I was the only white
in a sea of Black faces, and all the stores were boarded up
due to the rebellions.
except Walgreens, which sold no underwear.
They put me up for the night in a crummy hotel
and the minutes turned to hours, my humiliation
approached glacially,
knowing I faced the Guantlet in the morning
where they strip you down to your shorts- which I didn’t have-
and you get a series of shots with hand held “guns”
Sure enough, morning brought my fears to light
and I went through the Gauntlet stark naked.
Someone asked me if I was an “exhibitionist”
and I said no, I just didn’t have any underwear
after the shots were done we were herded into a room,
me still naked and everyone else still in their skivvies,
and we took the oath to defend the US Constitution from all enemies
foreign and domestic, my right hand held up in solemnity
but all I could think of was my nakedness

2017-05-23T05:18:32+00:00

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