War Our Only Business—Death Our Only Product; Oh Say Can You See

by Arlin Buyert

War Our Only Business–Death Our Only Product

blared the large banner
mounted near the hanger in Da Nang.
He was a Marine pilot
on his second tour.
With his H-34 helicopter
he strafed jungles, delivered supplies,
rescued downed pilots and transported generals.

But this flight was different,
with three prisoners
shackled in the cargo hold.
“Marine Intelligence”
could not get them to talk,
so the General decided to offend freedom.

At an altitude of five-thousand feet,
with the chopper hidden in a dark cloud,

a question was asked—silence.
First prisoner shoved out.

Question asked again—silence.
Second prisoner shoved out.

Question asked again—silence.
Third prisoner, out.

Silence.

 

Oh Say Can You See

As preamble
to high-school basketball games,
it felt fine.

As highlight
of Memorial Day
at cemetery,

it roused my youthful joy.
As crown jewel
of Saturday parades

in boot camp,
it drummed shivers through my blood.
As “bombs bursting in air”

became our bombs
bursting a village in Vietnam—
I can sing no more.

I saw.
I saw too much.

 

 

Arlin Buyert was born and raised on an Iowa farm and was formally educated at Macalester College and The University of Minnesota. He has published four books of poetry and his most recent book, Poemas de la guerra, was published in Spanish in Uruguay. Arlin teaches poetry at Lansing Prison and has edited two anthologies of inmate poetry entitled Open to the Sky, (Volumes 1 and 2). His poems have been published in the Rockhurst Review, Coal City Review, Tulip Tree Press, Veterans’ Voices and others. Arlin is retired and lives in Leawood, Kansas with his wife Kris Kvam.

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