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Site design: Skeleton

Sample Poems by Bill Wunder

First Impressions

Our faces crowd the portal
of the banking stretch DC-8.
We assume a put-your-head-
your-ass-goodbye scene:
grenades explode, choppers hover
like hummingbirds as hand to hand
takes place in a jungle clearing.
F-4 Phantoms streak low
across flooded rice paddies,
suck reeds out of the water
in their booming wake.
Napalm canisters skip across
the brown water, tumble
end over end, belch
jellied fire and smoke.
Imagine then, our surprise:
Cam Ranh Bay split
in two by a blue speedboat’s wake, the water
skier waving welcome to Vietnam.


Old woman squats at barracks end,
boils cabbage, fish heads and rice,
jabbers over a dented, black steel pot
left behind by the retreating French.

Every day the same smile,
rotted teeth, red from betel-nut.
The same stained black, silk pajamas
and pointy, sun-bleached hat.

She never learns our names. We think
it’s the language, but she has seen too many,
knows we will all leave
one way or another.

Nothing Heroic

The rash between my legs
won’t go away. Meals
out of tin cans. Getting shot

at isn’t as scary as I thought. But
I’ll never get used to
spending nights in the bush.

Sleep two hours, stand guard two, alternate
the whole night, build defensive positions
against insect enemies:

fire ants meaner than Texas, vampire
leeches with an unquenchable
thirst, and mosquitoes that cast shadows.

Salt pills, malaria pills, occasional
action surrounded
by endless boredom. Everyone

has their way of dealing. I write letters,
make notes in my journal. Ortiz and Browne
smoke dope, usually high

on guard duty. I can’t sleep
when it’s their turn to stand watch.
A couple of nights back they

saw movement, shot up
half the jungle, scared the hell out of us. Flares,
claymores, nothing was there. Those two rolled

in the elephant grass, laughing.
I keep wondering what
it’ll feel like to kill a man.