The following poems are included in the 102-page unpublished manuscript “Sam’s Place,” which consists of free verse concerning the poet’s service as an infantry platoon leader in South Vietnam and haiku about his dreams of America while overseas. Other poetry in the collection relates the poet’s reaction to the World Trade Center and Washington, D.C., terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and how he deals with the ever-present reality of war and it’s consequences.



SAM’S PLACE
In my final year at college
during the riots of the Sixties
my only problem being the sole
black guy in Sam’s bar off campus
was not living up to everyone’s
idea of what I was supposed to be.
I wasn’t angry – at least not at
anyone sharing my pitcher of
beer -- and I actually believed
that people wanted to get to
know each other. I know I did.
Or I thought I did. But I wasn’t
any more interested in integration
than my drinking buddies were in
me. If I really had cared that
much about humanity I would have
learned more about the little
Italian barkeep who let me into
his place without any hassles. It
shouldn’t have taken his obituary
23 years after I came back from
Vietnam for me to know he’d fought
in Italy during WWII, and had won
two Bronze Stars and a Purple
Heart helping liberate his home-
land. (And I hadn’t even marched
on Washington.) But seated in his
tavern I found the only way to
belong was to join in ridiculing
his shabby life stuck seven nights
a week until closing time behind
a bar as he watched us college kids
get drunk. There really must have
been something worth dying for
to risk his life in Italy. Whatever
it was it wasn’t there in his noisy
corner tavern where baby boomers
weren’t smart enough to recognize
a real American hero who put it all
on the line to give integration a
chance to work in 1960s America.



FEBRUARY RAIN
February rain plays the roof
cold, steady, ignoring my pleas
for a blizzard of white.


Raindrops beat back the present
into past tense
when water sloshed from skies
to wash away sidewalk chalk.


Years later
another February rain pounds
an Army poncho stuffed in a corner
of the attic.


The torn olive-drab covering
continues to shelter a soldier in the jungle
where warm showers
bathe but never cleanse.


February rains chilly, constant,
recalling memories of those manmade
shelters stretched between trees.


February rain cries for snow
that doesn’t fall; it weeps
for ice too frozen ever to melt.



HEARTACHE

The world is blind, deaf and dumb,
ready to trip over a cliff
of broken promises and fall
face first into war. But
you talk to me in poems. You
speak in run-on sentences
that need no punctuation.


Sunlight beams from your words.
It creeps across the page
until gold washes the whole
landscape where you are read.
Meanings aren’t lost in shadows
because of the clarity of
your creation. A smile shines.


The call to arms echoes through
skyscraper canyons. It blows
across desert kingdoms from
which Abraham and Muhammad fled.
No one but me hears your words
of life shout down the cries
of "death to the enemy."


You communicate in song. The melody
attracts harmony only I can provide.
We improvise like jazz. We
match like halves of clam shells
washed upon the shore. Will we be
heard by at least one beachcomber
listening for music rather than war?


The world is blind, deaf and dumb,
ready to trip over a cliff
of broken promises and fall
face first back into war. But
you talk to me in poems. You
speak in run-on sentences that need no punctuation.



PASSPORT

        Poetry is news that happens

        every time it’s read.

            - Clayton Evans


A harvest of trees from Canada
brings news from around the world.
It arrives each morning on my doorstep –
my passport to other lands.


Sipping coffee I’m blinded
by the flash of a terrorist blast
in Israel. Blood runs everywhere.
My cup too slippery to hold.
I cradle it in my hands
to steady the quaking shaking
me awake. The Holy Land welcomes
me with its own brand of salvation.


Back across the ocean
I slip into Northern Ireland
unnoticed by Protestants and Catholics
who keep the same day holy
while believing the other side is wrong.
The IRA apologizes
for hundreds of civilian deaths
during 30 years of bombings.
Cries of "Why?"
drown out any celebration.
Coffee scalds my tongue.


Ink rubs off onto my fingers
but not enough fades to erase
my entrance into Iraq
where civilization’s parents
want to spank
their 21st-century offspring.
They say the only option left
is “holy war” against the West.
I refuse to wait for it to begin.
I turn the page and travel to India
while eating sausage and eggs.


Three Indian strike divisions
pull back from the border of Pakistan.
These new nuclear superpowers
toss the atom back and forth
like a cue ball they fear
will glance off the rack and disappear
into a corner pocket of oblivion.
Nowhere is there mention of the Taj Mahal.
Only Mecca’s call falls from minarets.

No rain in Spain today.
The country detains
three suspected terrorists
who would return the Alhambra
to its Muslim architects
centuries after expulsion
by beliefs in a different master builder.


I swallow the last piece of toast
dry like dust swirling at a bullfight
where only the matador dies.
It’s time to go to work.


On my way out the door
I toss the newspaper on the sofa.
Six alternatives for the downed
World Trade Center vie for acceptance
on the front page.
The global faith they profess is in money –
the seed growing more trees
in Canada which each morning provides
my passport to other lands.



6 HAIKU

Palmettos heavy
with rain; my loneliness damp
with remembering.

***

Dawn chases away
night before shadows can join
their dark companion

***

Quiet waters lie
in twilight slumber – men fish
for reasons to leave.

***

Geese lift off slowly
from the river: wings clap like
hands against the water.

***

Harvest of shadows –
black birds pick through brown stubble
in an autumn field.

***

Each winter day
slips deeper into old age –
gray skies, brittle cold.



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
“SAM’S PLACE” was published in the Edison Literary Review. “PASSPORT” was included in a Princeton Cable Television show broadcast a year after the terrorist attacks.