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The night in Vietnam

The still air cloisters vignettes of a summer's eve, And to the west, the old moon in the new moon's arms sinks slowly As gathering dark envelops earth below. The last glow of the twilight slowly fades From towering thunderheads, In which the unseen lightning, pulsing silently, Betrays the transience of the present calm. Thus night comes on in Vietnam. Quietly the air begins to move, as awesome force Approaches through the darkened corridors of time and space. Restrained no more, the lightning fiercely glares, And pounding sheets of rain wash down Until the drowning earth is choked in red-hued mire. Nearby, the leafless hulks of rubber trees protest, Accusing sullen sky with bony fingertips. Once proud and verdant lords in rank and file - Now wasted by perplexing war - their day is done; For night has come to Vietnam.

Indoors, the mist-drops waft through open screens And rainbow halos sanctify the light. The spider silks adorning wooden beams Are strung with diamond water-gems That nurture hope despite encroaching shadow. Once more the streaming air subsides And raindrops cease their drum-roll on the roofs. A frog inquires cautiously of comrades' whereabouts, But only rasping crickets answer back, Clandestine sentries in Vietnam's night.

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Out in the indistinctness of the gloom A cannon grumbles at the lateness of the hour, While far-off rocket adds its deathburst to the night, And man-made stars float earthward Protecting tiny outposts by their light, Until the darkness snuffs them, one by one. How long 'til morning's light?

Grim soldiers, weary from their day of toil, Trudge back on foot to squat gray barracks for some rest. A truck speeds past, its load of quiet men Weighed down by steel skullcap and padded vest, En route to watch at guardposts through the night, Uneasy in their wait for those they hope won't come. Unnerved, they start when flares ignite nearby; But only wild pigs, panicked, show up in the dark. Weird shadows dance among the twisted wire Until the glare dies down, and false peace tempts again to hope.

But still it's night in Vietnam. Our homes are far away, and well-loved faces Haunt the lonely hours spent apart And endless years marked by futility. A dusty jeep goes bumping past Trapped on a dead-end road, the type Of war itself - deceitful, jarring rut Whose coming and whose going, lost in darkness, Only carries men away into the night.

We wait for morning's light in Vietnam.

The poet served in the US Army at Long Binh, Vietnam, June 1969 to May 1970

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