Flashback: An End Piece

A Poem by Richard Hartwell

I see two Vietnamese women, old, walking
Hand in hand, symbiotically connected,
Down a Southern California street,
Years away from the American War,
Yet somehow reminiscent of it;
Sisters? Mother and daughter?
What memories do they share?
What absences do they share?

Hand in hand with rifles slung, shoes tied together, over their shoulders,
Barefoot ARVN soldiers meandered down the highway.
Who wanted to fight? No one! Everyone. Someone?
It was to be a game of politics and posture, pressure and retreat.
Only with the push and prod of outsiders did the game turn ugly.

Paper-doll soldiers ”laughed at by some, related by birth and culture,
Connected by more than sweaty palms and common provinces ”
Were no match for organized masses from the North, or the East.
Divided by the War of Aggression, weren’t they still the same?
So what was the difference? What made their blood run thin?

I am so alien in the presence of these women,
I who should not be here, observing, questioning,
I who still belong deep in their native country, loving.
What do they remember of Vietnam?
What do I?
What do I think of their living here?
What do they?
Together, we three share so much that others will never know.
Too much has passed for us to acknowledge what losses we all remember most.

An end-piece first appearing in the novella “Flashbacks,” featured in Burnt Bridge’s “Those Who Served,” a D-Day issue published in June 2011, and now available in a Kindle Edition as Vietnam Flashbacks: A Personal Memoir.

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