One of the positive things about submitting to poetry book contests is that the more gracious presses send you the winning book as part of the contest fee.
A couple of days ago I found myself rereading Greg McBride’s Porthole, which won the Liam Rector First Book Prize for Poetry from Briery Creek Press. A retired lawyer and Vietnam veteran, Greg McBride began writing later than most, and his book Porthole contains a wealth of life experience that add layers of depth to this superlative debut book. Greg is also the editor of The Innisfree Poetry Journal.
I was particularly moved by one of his Vietnam poems, previously published in Boulevard, and I reached out to Greg to get his permission to share it here.
The Army Thought of Everything
In Hueys, in field hospitals, they moaned,
their bodies opened, guts rent by shrapnel,
stumps shredded by severed relationships.
Other absences—balls or butts or their
faces ripped away. Such intimacy.
I focused my lens, asked that the surgeon
lower a shoulder, checked on the color
temperature, all to preserve the distance
between them and me. How their bodies heaved
under machines! Intubated, chest-tubed,
they lay tethered to possibilities
of unbridled breath. The Army had thought
of everything: for every grunt, armies
of guys like me, dry and whole in hootches
after a day of pounding typewriters
or fixing jeeps or issuing orders.
All soldiers, we wore the same loose fatigues,
the same two-tone, green-black boots, as if poised
to gun-sling our way into the jungle.
I’d chopper or jeep in, for a week,
into the Mekong Delta, the Highlands,
Cambodia’s border, Chu Lai. I’d snap
the grunts, kids really, then back to Saigon,
the Dragon Lao restaurant, Thai girl friend,
real shower, where, exposed without my camera,
I suppressed daily death as best I could.
Everything the color of late summer—
olive green, sea green, green fatigues, green grunts
slogging the Delta’s thigh-deep paddy muck
and reeds, encircled in vines and ammo
and dread, pushing on, pressing on, toward home,
Where, just today, I have replayed each frame
stop-time, each image red, blood red, carmine.