Sunday, June 13, 2010

PTSD: Inside and Out

robert d. wilson's 
The Infamous
Amusement Park
like a dog,
wags its tail,
trailing the scent
of steel dragons

robert d. wilson

"Pssssst! See that guy over, there?  Don't stare at him! He's one of those loony toons who came back from the Vietnam War.  Probably eats dog food and screams in the middle of the night." 
i meet my
shipmates on the ball  
field to watch
streaks of light play chess 
on guernica's back

robert d. wilson

Once upon a time, when Goldwater and Ed Sullivan were everyday names, a war fought in a southeast Asian country most of us had never heard of, flashed on and off on our television sets like broken florescent lights.  Close-ups of American soldiers engaged in fire fights, dead bodies in pine wood caskets covered with American flags, a Buddhist priest setting himself on fire, villagers begging us to help them. We were told the country was the Republic of South Vietnam and it was in danger of being taken over by the communists whose master plan was to take control of one small country at a time, a domino effect newscasters and politicians called it, and the North Vietnamese Communists were closely allied with the People's Republic of China, and if we didn't stop the dominos from falling, Southeast Asia would become a communist stronghold.

late at night
a dragon walks
through me

robert d. wilson

"The most shocking fact about war is that  its
victims and its instruments are individual 
human beings, and that these individual 
beings are condemned."

Aldus Huxley

Have you noticed that those who start or jump into wars don't fight in them.  Neither do their children, with few exceptions.  It's the poor and middle class who fight the wars and their officers are rich kids who graduated from a military academy with little weapons training and almost zilch when it comes to people skills.  They isolate themselves from the troops except on the battlefield, and see the troops as inferior human beings.  It's different on the battlefield because an officer wants his troops to cover his back, so he too fights the battle and works together with all as a unified team.  An officer who treats his troops badly on patrol could accidentally end up with a bullet in his back, friendly fire or otherwise.

Imagine for a few minutes that you're aboard a river patrol boat (PBR) or some other patrol boat navigating a canal (river feeders) that is only thirty feet wide. It's a starless night.  No moon, no stars. The only sound, your heartbeat, breath, and the boat's engine. You can't afford to relax.  You must remain hyper alert. Sleep is not an option, and smoking is a death invitation.  You are scouting for the enemy who live in the area and know it better than we do. They can hear us a mile away. They're not wearing helmets, flack jackets, or camo clothing. They are dressed in black silk pajamas wearing cone hats that blend in with their surroundings.  The enemy, Viet Cong (villagers fighting for the communists) quietly wait for the right moment, and may have placed mines or trip flares in our paths. 

The enemy are poor villagers guaranteed two bowls of rice a day, their family will be safe from Cong retribution, and they too are led are fighting for the powerful in Hanoi who don't fight wars, nor their children. The enemy and our troops were never told
the truth about why they 
were fighting each other.

I remember asking an old man (papa san) in a semi-arrogant way, "Aren't you glad we Americans are fighting for you?"  His answer was unexpected.  He looked at me straight in the eyes and said, "I don't want you here and I don't want the communists here. I want them to leave us alone and let us farm and feed our families."

The Communist leaders in North Vietnam despise the South Vietnamese and think of them as inferior. What they care about is something missing in their country: oil, titanium, rubber, etc.  South Vietnam is a source of wealth, and nothing more. But of course, the villagers were threatened and given false propaganda
by the North. Propaganda they used as wallpaper for their thatched roof home-lets.

a dream?
workers change hats
at dusk

robert d. wilson

Oh my goodness, or should I say, hot damn?  I'm opening up and talking about something I crammed inside of me since I returned from the war in 1968.
That can be scary, like opening up a can of worms, or in my case, anchovies, and facing the dragon that swallowed me, spat me out, and followed me back home.  Flashbacks? Depression? Failed relationships? Poor sleep patterns? Hyper-alertness? Socially ill at ease?  Keep to yourself? Overly sensitive? Forgetful?
Forget where you are at times? Outbursts of temper?  Impulsive behavior? Hmmmmmmm(psst, that's just some of the symptoms), and most people don't even have a clue what PTSD is or what the initials stand for.

the man who
told me he wished we'd
go home
is sleeping today
on his grandson's mantle 

robert d. wilson

"Oh dear, oh dear, I'm gonna be late for the Madhatter's tea party!"

Dr. March Hare

"Thoughts are the shadows of
our feelings - always darker, 
emptier and simpler"


"That guy, that . . . guy, the Vietnam vet, you know who I'm talking about, the one who stops midstream during a conversation, then starts another subject.  It drives me fucking crazy.  And before you can snap your fingers, he goes back to the first subject, as if it was the most natural thing in the world to do. He repeats some of the stories over and over and over like a tape recorder, as if that's all he thinks about."

When I stepped of the plane after leaving Vietnam, it was as if I'd fallen into the same hole Alice fell into, a wonderland of madness, at least for the so-called normal folks, whatever the hell, normal means.  Even adults have their prom kings and queens! Society in San Francisco was a battlefield of the mind, as was Berkeley, Los Angeles, Hollywood, all of my old haunts.

"Something happening here.
What it is aint exactly clear
a man with a gun over there 
telling me I've got to beware"

Stephen Stills

It was wild.  Everyone smoking grass, popping LSD,free sex, free food, people dressed like circus clowns,cowboys, pirates, refugees from William Blake's poetry, music that was unlike anything we'd heard before . . . Jimi Hendrix burning his guitar, playing it with his teeth, and ending Woodstock with a version of the Star Spangled Banner, that for once said it exactly like I'd experienced it in Nam.  America was undergoing a social revolution, MAdnEsS in the minds of those on both sides.

This is what we came home to . . . not the America we'd left and fought for to protect . . . What the hell had happened? When we returned home we were called baby killers and had to lie and deny we were Vets in order to get a $1.20 per hour job as a burger-maker for Carl's.

Whose side were we on?  Who the hell thought of us at all?  My fiance, when she opened her door and saw me, knew I'd changed, and, instantly, said, "Goodbye," and shut the door.  Baby killers?  What do you do when a seven year old girl charges at you with a hand grenade?  "Now, now, little girl (as if she understood English), put down the grenade you just pulled the pin out of and go home like a good little girl."

haunted by
the deep spaces 
in eyes
unprepared for the
 . . . am of who i am

robert d. wilson

my feet . . . 
in a salon with

cover me with your
bosom . . .
nurse me this noon
with mother's words

again . . .
i spend the day
with bamboo

a thousand
eyes in multiple
illusions . . .
painting canvases
Picasso would envy  

would you kiss
me if you knew i'm
i'm part dragon?

a brain maimed
by the dragon who
followed me
home beneath the wings
of a great eagle

those eyes . . .
like looking through village

haunted by
the deep spaces
in eyes
unprepared for the
. . . am of who i am

convince me
the thunder  isn't

what's overtime

to an arched bridge who
sees her face
at dawn and dusk . . .
the heron's heir to mud?

late night . . .
a dragon walks
through me

she talks to 
me until clouds part . . . 
the fruit in
my hand, a bali
shadow puppet

spotty rain . . .
the darkness in my
mind's winter

like a dog
my ptsd
wags its tail 
trailing the scent 
of steel dragons

here and there . . .
stared at like diseased

what is and
isn't a dream?
erased, leaving me 
with a choice colors

the voice
again this morning . . .
cool coffee

will you 
remember me when
my smile's 
replaced with an
emmet kelly yawn?

you startled
me with your yell . . .

passing trees
on top of a
red dragon . . .
don quixote 
dodging mirrors

if i drank
rain, would i too
grow limbs?

i meet my
shipmates on the ball
field to watch
streaks of light play chess
on guernica's back

floating through stars in
glass bottomed boats

 cold coffee . . .
waiting for the
man at 
to process my dream  

cold feet . . .
a salmon swimming

the people
shaped patterns in
my flashbacks
are laundry girls
lit with a torch

arid noon . . .

a sea turtle
laying eggs


All poetry, artwork, photographs, and prose
unless otherwise indicated, are by robert d. wilson
and not for use by anyone unless permission is
given by the author.

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