Veterans’ Day: Four Poems

He Would Tell You

Here in the secret chambers
Of my darkest heart are things
I will never tell:
Here is oily blood and brittle bone
Here are clotted lips, frothy lungs
Decomposed and muted tongues
Here twisted cloth lays strangely stiff
In a powdery triptych pit
Where a dumbstruck man and wife
Lock quick lime arms round their
Dream face child, here
Past the grave yards fragrant stones
Memory’s nightmare head will not lay prone
Its battlefields etched on a red brocade
Inlaid with a crown of skull and bones
Yes, here in the busy chambers of my
Heart are things I will never tell
Though I swear we did not mutilate-
Only booby trapped or ransacked-
Disdained from taking human souvenirs.
No, we did not do that.
So, though I nearly did
Let me never tell you
Things you cannot know
Let me never tell you
Things that won’t let go.

Portrait Of a Boy At Dawn

The green metal bird shimmies
North along the muddy banks
Sweeps south, flying high, low
A risky business feeling them out
The tall slender reeds bowing
Beneath us.
Blowing the green curtain down
The boy equally stunned
His mud laden AK no match
In the forever time
His astonished face, his forever No!
When brrraaapp flips him backward
His starry cartwheel a bloody splash
Dissolved in mud.
In the cool morning air we nose up
Thankfully pull away, his immense
Frightened eyes follow me
Forever wake me at home.

Portrait of a Young Girl at Dawn

In the breeze
The sudden quiver and sway
The shadow of bamboo leaves
Twirling onto the hot dry earth,
The squad standing quiet
Over the stiffening
Man, made headless
By the machine gun team.
Weapons and water
Scattered about,
The twice shot girl
Reaching for my canteen.
What to do? What?
I patch her wounds,
Splint her legs
With rotted bamboo.
There is the sudden sound
Of yellow smoke.
The medivac dips,
Kicks out a litter.
We lift her up,
They haul her in.
Beneath the whirling blades
She is spinning, spinning
She is floating away.

Casualty Poem

At dusk, what hand dropped the metal bulb
Down the narrow tube, lifting it skyward?
I was dreaming the moment the plummeting
Brightness struck, a dim noise, I was lifted
Floating above myself, below
The soft fiery puffs of mortar shells
The firefly tracer paths
The glow of skittering shrapnel
Then all at once
When I crashed down
This lifting gift upended.
In my absence, only my beating
Heart, everything breathing.
Turning about, I woke to help them
But stumbled, fell
The back of my head, my chest, too wet
Too warm for comfort. Someone
Held my arms, legs, pressed white cloth
Dim voices, “…not gonna make it.”
Then waiting in the green trembling thing
Doctors and more blood, this time good.
A year of red dust, red rain.
Years to unlearn it.
Of late, in the hills where I live,
When the moon is low
The frozen sky flecked by starlight
In those still moments, by that hand
My darkness disarmed, I am uplifted.

Marc Levy’s books include How Stevie Nearly Lost the War and Other Postwar Stories and The Best of Medic in the Green Time. His website is Medic in the Green Time. Email: