Writing War

February 22, 2019 § Leave a comment

A year ago I sat on a folding chair in an ordinary meeting room listening to poetry. The room had a table with the usual hospitality contributions – bottles of juices and water, crackers, a tray of vegetables and hummus. Another table held books for sale and a third a display of paper made from the pulped uniforms of veterans.

The event was a reading to celebrate the launch of Sound Off: Warrior Writers NJ, a volume whose unassuming size gave little hint of the explosion of power within. Some of the poets were already friends – Vietnam veteran Jim Murphy, Iraq veterans Kevin Basl and Nate Lewis. Others were names I had known for decades but had never met. Jan Barry and W.D. Ehrhart I knew from their work in Winning Hearts and Minds: War Poems by Vietnam Veterans, published while the war was still waging. Dayl Wise, co-founder of Post-Traumatic Press, Walt Nygard, Everett Cox were names I picked up along the way and, listening to their poetry, glad of it. « Read the rest of this entry »

Book Seasons

November 11, 2018 § 3 Comments

Photograph by Dede Hatch

I needed more room on the shelves that hold my books about Vietnam, about the war there, then and now. One by one I asked them – do you need to be here now? I am on a journey with this work and that journey keeps changing, sometimes before I have fully noticed. Holding onto anything that has become dead weight is senseless. If I were trekking to the Arctic it would be life-threatening. Perhaps that is true now as well. « Read the rest of this entry »

Touching Base

August 5, 2018 § 1 Comment

If I have a lodestone – a spiritual magnetic north – it is here, in this little country church a mile or so away from my grandparents’ home where I would come to spend most summers growing up. I love this place, this beautiful land in the Appalachian foothills, rolling pasture lands, wandering Black Angus cattle, green in the way Ireland is green. My memories are deep and woven into me in the complicated ways of love.

I went away, but always came back, even after the people I was related to, one by one took their places beneath the headstones. I read off the carved names and hear my grandmother’s voice saying them. They lived “down the road a piece,” or “over town.” It was a place where around a bend in the road meant a different world, but it was all linked by a party line that was the quickest means of knowing who might need a cake to be brought, or the rest of Sunday’s ham. I learned community here, the simple caring of showing up and then showing up again. « Read the rest of this entry »

Food Diplomacy

July 31, 2018 § 1 Comment

Ten years ago it wasn’t a possibility. Five years ago the sheer passage of time, the children of Vietnamese immigrants having grown up, made it likely and now, here we are, Vietnamese food is finding a comfortable niche in American culinary choices, right alongside Thai and Korean. Many Americans now know what phở is – and even how approximately to pronounce it – bánh mì is on the menu of my local sub shop, and to American taste, nuoc cham is addictive. « Read the rest of this entry »

Grief

January 12, 2018 § 6 Comments

Dede Hatch, January 12, 2018.

The morning after the president of the United States spat out his contempt for people from “shithole countries,” photographer Dede Hatch posted this image, taken at Stewart Park on Cayuga Lake. Our weather, our morning, our land. She said, “I think I bury rage and despair in the same place. I need a good cry, but it doesn’t come out.” « Read the rest of this entry »

The Ken Burns Effect

September 6, 2017 § Leave a comment

Marines marching in Da Nang, 1965. Associated Press, via PBS

Even after the passage of 50 years time, it is hard to imagine anyone except Ken Burns who would have dared to take on a documentary about the Vietnam War. Love him or hate him, he has stature and respect and a resumé that means that, if nothing else, he cannot be ignored. Already, before it has aired, partisans of the extremes of opinion the culture has carried for all this time, are condemning it for not doing what it has expressly set out not to do – bring the issue to resolution. « Read the rest of this entry »

Memorial Stories

May 29, 2017 § 1 Comment

Like the great majority of the American population, I have no one in my family who died in military service. Generations of my ancestors served in conflicts from the Civil War to World War II, but no one died in combat. Five years ago I knew only one man who had been killed in Vietnam. The grief of war was an abstract thing to me. I understood Memorial Day, meaning I knew the difference between it and Veterans Day and the Fourth of July, but it still felt like a day of observance that belonged to other people. « Read the rest of this entry »