All Vietnam veterans have stories. Allen F. Clark’s involves a child, a game, and a tragedy.
Beside the road-building site in Dai Loc,
where I held my clinic in hot dust
or sticky swelter, the small boys
always gathered to ask me for a band-aid,
a spray of red merthiolate, attention.
All but one, who grabbed my floppy bush-hat
day after day, danced away in circles,
ignored my command, Lai dai! Come here!
Answered back, Tại sao? Why? It was our daily
game, until the afternoon he came home
on the small bus that hit the road grader.
Crunch, stench and roar of diesel
flames, rushing villagers. Di di!—Get away!
I shout. Let me help! I can’t get through
the grasping arms, the babble and screaming.
An ARVN captain fires his pistol
into the air and they scatter.
I call in a chopper to fly the living
to a hospital, find the broken boy among the dead.
Even across forty years, he comes in a dream,
turns his head to stare at me from under my hat.
Lai dai, he commands. His face is the grey
of the long dead, like the hands he raises to show
the burned palms, and asks, Tại sao ?
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Photo by Allen F. Clark