V  P  R

Contemporary Poetry and Poetics




Vietnam, 1969

None of them look the camera in the eye.
Dead center: a stack of new fatigues
fills one man's arms.  Far left: my uncle,
helmet cupping his skull.  I know him
because the caption reads Bruce—
in background with back to camera.
The other two men seem more vulnerable,
heads bare & exposed, dark clipped
hair coming to a point.  Aim here.
All four men keep eyes cast down, bodies
mimicking the attitude of prayer.  They look
their enemy in the eye, learn its lush
green face, the undulating earth
that would take them in a wet embrace.


Their backs are all we see.  Single file
the line of men snakes through the foreground's
flat grasses toward green hills, slopes
gentle as burial mounds.  One of the men
humping gear is my uncle, machine
gun in hand.  I've forgotten which.  Their backs
are all I see.  Am I crazy, my father said, or
are the back of his head & ears unmistakably
Bruce?  I study the image, the shadow of ears
protruding from each man's helmet.
My uncle has no face.  This is how it happens,
over time: features erode, interchangeable
as a set of ears.  We are unable to remember.
Their backs are all I can see.

© by Rebecca Dunham


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