Friday, October 15, 2010

The Special Forces Soldier I Met on the Trail

                    Army Basic Training, Fort Jackson, South Carolina

It was the fifth or sixth week, after we had gotten in the groove,
after we had been structured in routines of early morning PT,

rifle-range in midmorning, warfare classes in afternoon.
Then we ran the obstacle course through a dense jungle that reminded me

so much of the home I had left as a child eight years earlier.
My buddy & I sped through the trail, only pausing to crawl

under barb-wire nets, vault fallen logs—a walk in the jungle, for me,
swing across puddles of brownish water, scale up

& scramble down wooden walls. Suddenly we came to an obstacle
astride the trail; I forget what station it was: rope swing or wooden wall.

What I remember is the Special Forces soldier monitoring the obstacle--
lanky, stoop-shouldered, maroon beret pulled low

over his face, sergeant’s triple stripes & Special Forces tab adorned
his olive uniform. His eyes opened wide in shock when he saw me.

Where are you from?” he demanded.
“I’m from Laos,” I perplexedly replied.

And he nodded knowingly, as if he had only asked to confirm.
“Do you know where it is?” I asked with hope.

“Yes,” he said softly, “another country we invaded!”

Only as the years passed, have I come to understand
his enigmatic statement. He must have seen hundreds,

thousands like me when he was a White Star, sent to my far jungle
to train my fathers & older brothers how to hold a gun,

to strip & reassemble a weapon, to lay a field of fire,
to set tripwires & camouflage Claymores, to kill with efficiency,

to die. I was a ghost, trailing his guilt, to find him at last
in the midst of his American jungle.

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