A second poem for Veteran’s Day, 2019. This is important to me. The encounter was real. The emotions are, and were, real. This was first published in 1990. War holds those inside its fury in ways that never leave.
In VA hospitals,
old soldiers from all our modern wars
crowd into the same space of time,
mutely aware of common losses
that have shaped us.
Sitting on an uncomfortable island of vinyl
in a surf-rolling susurrus of voices,
I had cocooned myself inside a silence,
untouched by the misery and despair
that swirled like cigarette smoke,
stinging exposed nerves.
But I felt the touch of ancient eyes
and tentatively looked back at him
like a man afraid to look in a mirror
after long, dark nightmares.
How big a man he was, I’ll never know.
He stared at me from the mountain
his loose white shirt and brown suit made,
stuffed into the seat of a wheelchair.
His brown eyes flickered around the ward
like a sparrow, watching from a nest of old rags.
The woman stood behind him,
thin arms circling the chair
holding his shoulders
as if he might roll away – again.
He wanted to talk.
Asked what war I had been in
then, without my answer,
told me I would never know real war.
The kind he knew in the Argonne Forest
where artillery stormed
through nights when rain was steel.
The earth, ploughed
and sown with exploded metal
a treacherous place for man to walk.
They sprinted along trenches
splashing through partly-frozen mud
and huddled in bunkers;
fear of crashing shells almost lost
until the silence;
when the big guns stopped.
Ears groped through underground darkness
stretching to know
when slow, soft mortar plops signaled
sliding yellow death
that felt its way across broken ground
and found edges of earth where men hid.
The mustard gas, like a living predator,
seemed to find them by sensing their fear
and clawed bare skin.
prying at protecting seals of rubber masks.
I listened –
held by more than a soldier’s courtesy
due to an older warrior.
His images of war,
the “Great War”,
–hard to overlay on flickering sepia
or jerky black and white movies
whose soldiers in antique wool uniforms,
puttees and greatcoats
look vaguely ridiculous;
always smiling, waving to the camera,
holding bolt-action rifles
with absurdly long bayonets.
What did he and his diminishing comrades see
when television specials showed their war?
Did the old films move in their eyes
with smooth, strong strides of young heroes?
How did that mirror,
those old moving pictures, reflect the man
now shrunken inside a pile of old clothes?
As he held me with his stories,
I began to see pictures of my war—
news clips from Vietnam,
projected against the back of my brain.
Though these mirrors,
constant reflections, stuck in time,
begin to look archaic,
looking into them, I find myself again
chilled with the immediate fear
that swirled in battle like morning fog
and coalesced into rage,
forging a weapon
more lethal than simple tools of killing.
But, like fragments from a looking glass,
slowly shattered by the warp of changing seasons,
these broken pieces of a dead war’s face,
shards of reality,
reflect all that my sons will know
looking back at a father’s war.
Several years ago, I was talking to a friend who’s a widely published poet. She posed a challenge: “Write something moving about wallpaper.” The following piece is the result.
When I started writing, I didn’t know exactly where the poem would be complete.
It worked its way to the only conclusion possible.
The poem is a part of a Chapbook, published on Amazon, called Finding The Way Home it’s a Vietnam War collection of poetry.
The windows of my winter room face south,
days move in cyclic patterns,
shadows and light,
against the distant wall.
First touches of late dawn
dimly light flowers on the wallpaper
past curved green steel
at the foot of my bed.
Large petals, once bright
as the floral pattern of Mother’s dress,
vivid in the black and white snapshot
that shows her smiling,
holding a child that once was me.
Tiny wildflowers I can see in midmorning,
illuminate spring-day memories in green light;
a lake of blue forget-me-nots
the patchwork quilt, our private island,
Hard light of noon,
cold this late in the year,
brings out the stain,
(too far for me to touch again)
that seeped from inside and spread,
dark as old blood on a sidewalk
in Saigon’s Street of Flowers,
at Tet: The Year of the Monkey.
Long slanting light of winter evening,
(sliding quickly now, across the far wall)
glows red like nights of neon, there,
where slender black-haired girls
sold their flowers, wrapped in cheapest paper,
cut off in morning, shriveled by noon.
(I had not known roses could be garish;
The open door sucks up terminal light,
as into a black hole
until night drops like a collapsing tent,
a phantom weight where my legs once lay.
Mercury vapor lamps outside glow blue;
like parachute flares that began with a pop
then hung and fell,
swinging in metronomic quiet,
provoking quick machinegun spatters,
-tracers burning like quick meteors
into awful silence-
and moving shadows of winter’s skinny limbs
bounce their wind-dancing mockery
across flat, empty blankets.
only the cycling turn
spinning this vast wheel of darkness and light
touches me now
-since that hard, high flash:
that tied this shell as souls are tied,
over curving junctures of black and white,
yin and yang,
lying in detritus of yesterdays
-waiting with the rest for dawn.
A favorite, the tale of two young people who are coming of age in a world that has long been divided in two, after a cataclysmic war known as “The Rift.”
The pair, Freya and Kalev, are natural telepaths. They can easily communicate, using only their minds. They have been selected and trained to be a part of their society’s elite warriors, The Recondos. On their first reconnaissance mission—a graduation test—they witness a puzzling event and see, for the first time, the elite of their enemy society, Deciders—dictatorial rulers and those who guard them, Protectors.
As they watch the event, there is a possibility that they have been psychically detected.
My beloved wife, Marjorie Ann Hatfield Drinkard has created a trailer for the book at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gWVMG1M3C3U
The book is now also being published in paperback with a new cover, designed by Patti Roberts of Paradox Book Design and Formatting.
The book, “Devil’s Blade,” — a story of finding and bringing down a vicious serial killer has been available in digital (Kindle, etc.) format and audio format for some time.
Now, for the first time it will be available in paperback, very soon.
My favorite cover artist, Patti Roberts, has designed a cover that captures the terror and horrible pain that the killer inflicted on his victims. I think she did a superb job—as usual.
The audiobook is now available on Amazon. Take a look and listen to a short sample.
Nate has just “met” a chickcharnie and mentally hears the “voice” of Cato, the dragon.
The audiobook for Nate And The Dragon is almost complete. Adam Joseph Ferry, the narrator, is doing a great job. I just listened to three chapters and I’m quite pleased with the different voices Adam uses.
As usual, the publisher, ACX, will provide several “freebie” codes so that listeners can get the audiobook at audible dot com for free. The audiobook will tell the story clearly, but having a paperback or digital copy in your lap will enhance the story–so long as you’re not driving.
I’ll announce when the audiobook is complete.
The book inside is a Young Adult dystopian Science Fiction book I published several years ago.
Today, I was reading about how wind turbines, broken and useless, are a blight on our land.
Wow! I wrote that possibility into a book! The story has two protagonists, a young man, Kalev and a Young woman, Freya. They have been reared together in a hidden society after a huge civil war. They are telepaths and their gift has been carefully encouraged and honed.
in reading the following sample, telepathic mind-link conversation is shown in Italics followed by the “speaker’s” name.
I’ve begun work on a sequel.
“Listen. They’re coming.”
Kalev shuts his eyes and diverts the power of all other senses to his ears.
He relaxes, counts to thirty, and then focuses again on hearing.
There. A brush of tall grass against britches; whisper of branches pushed aside into leaves of others. Slow, but closer.
“Four. I saw them cross a clearing. Not Hivers—armed.”
Kalev hears Freya’s voice in his mind as clearly as if she’s sitting on the tree limb beside him. There is no sound and she, too, is in a tree, probably several hundred yards away.
Closer to The Hive.
“Coming this way. I haven’t seen them yet. A game trail runs in their travel direction. They’ll probably use it,” Kalev.
They are using the trail. The sound of their boots on bare earth is louder than if they were walking in grass.
“Use the Shopper anyway, don’t take a chance that they’ll see you,” Freya.
In an inside pocket of his leather vest, Kalev finds a device the size of a thick fountain pen. He uncaps both ends and spreads a conical fan from each. He points the larger cone at a point on the game trail where someone, looking up in the trees, could see him. The smaller cone is aimed over his shoulder. If anyone on the ground looks up, the only visible sight will be a picture gathered by the device and projected. They’ll see the tree limbs and oak leaves behind him.
“They’re on the game trail, not looking up. I’ve got the Shopper putting out a false sight anyway. What are they searching for?” Kalev.
Through summer oak leaves, thirty feet below and fifty feet away to the east, four men in green and tan mottled camouflage walk the trail, their tread—virtually noiseless. They’re armed with stubby automatic rifles and grenades hang from their belts. Protectors.
“Don’t know. After they’re far away, let’s go closer to The Hive. Something’s happening there. Protectors don’t normally come to The Hive,” Freya.
Kalev focuses all sensory power into his ears, listening to the diminishing tread of the patrol. When only silence touches him, he relaxes.
“Freya, send a locator. I’m coming to you.”
Immediately a silent, but strong, pleasant song, like a solo violin begins.
“Like the sound?” Freya.
He slides, limb by limb, to the ground. His feet touching with no more sound than a falling leaf. Lithe as a whip and maturing, he moves with easy grace.
He turns, seeking the music. If he veers off course, the song fades. Never traveling on trails, he reaches the base of an immense beech when the song reaches a crescendo. The trunk is probably five or six feet thick. There are no low-hanging limbs.
How to climb?
“You don’t need to go up. I’m here.”
Freya had moved behind the trunk when she sensed his approach. She appears from behind the huge tree’s base, smiling, her head cocked to the right—a mannerism she’s shown Kalev since they were six.
They are dressed alike. Short, brown leather boots, loden green trousers, lighter green shirt and a dark-brown, fringed leather vest with multiple pockets. Sheath knives hang from their belts.
Freya has her blond braids circling the top of her head. Pale blue-green eyes sparkle and a light dusting of freckles over the nose emphasize a mischievous grin on full lips.
The patrol has passed and the two can safely speak aloud, but they keep their voices low.
“How far is The Hive? You’ve been closer than I,” Kalev says.
He didn’t even ask how I got in and out of the tree. Let him try it. She holds back the thought and answers his question.
“We can get to the top of the eastern ridge line of the mountain chain in about thirty minutes. If we go to the north end—another half-hour—we’ll be able to look down on The Hive. It’s just below the cliffs. We’d better go in that direction anyway, those Protectors will be doubling back soon, if my guess is right,” she says.
A lift of her chin and movement of her eyes shows the direction.
“We don’t know why they’re here, but if they’re on a security patrol for some reason, but you’re right, they’re probably coming back this way soon. Show me the way to the ridges,” Kalev says.
Freya slips through the woods with Kalev following, her movement smooth and quieter than the breezes. No rustling of leaves marks her passage.
Kalev admires her fieldcraft, but as he watches her supple body, his throat tightens. Freya is a blossoming young woman. She is almost as tall as he, but while his shoulders have been widening, her figure has developed feminine curves that make him aware of his masculinity. He unconsciously touches his red-gold soft beard.
She has shifted back to mental communication.
“Let’s pause for five minutes. Your eyes are better than mine, and my ears more sensitive than yours. If that Protector patrol is nearby, we need to know. There’s a clearing ahead we’ll have to cross.”
“I’ll climb a tree and look for movement. You listen. After we’re sure, we’ll sprint across the open space side by side and wait again, just to be sure,” Kalev.
The security halt reveals no threat and within fifteen minutes, the two are in a dense hardwood forest that only begins to lighten and turn to evergreen as they climb higher. The refreshing scent of pines and cedars offsets the increasingly rocky ground.
“When we get to the top of the mountain, we’ll drop to our hands and knees. We’ll crawl toward the crest until we’re far enough away from the edge so that we can’t be seen from the ground.”
Freya doesn’t comment, but the silent sense Kalev feels is like she’s nodding her head. He takes the lead, watching for any sign of the Protector patrol.
Once the pair has reached the summit and turned north, they hear voices. Not individual speech, but the storming thunder of thousands in unison. Though loud, the words are unclear.
With no possibility, now, that they can be seen from the ground, Freya and Kalev jog through sparse trees and underbrush at the crest of the immense limestone ridge, toward the sound as it rises in intensity.
Another sound grinds its way through the mountain’s silence—a higher-pitched, scraping, screeching sound. Combined with the thunder of massed human voices, the sound increases tension and slows the couple’s feet.
As the two near the point of the mountain above The Hive, the words become clear.
“Plant food! Com—post! Com—post! Plant food!”
Over and over the rhythmic chant rebounds against the rock cliffs rising above The Hive like heaving waves breaking against a rocky shore in a storm.
Then, as the earth underfoot is almost all rock, the source of metallic screeching becomes clear. Almost at the edge of the cliff, a gigantic wind turbine rises into the sky. It once had three propeller blades, but now only two are full length. The third is a ragged stump. As the wind catches the remaining blades, they try to turn, but are unbalanced and howl with a sound like metallic pain.
Two more towering turbines once stood with the surviving structure and now lie fallen, useless and still.
Suddenly the deep, human chant from below goes silent. Within seconds, a clamor of cheers punctuates the end of the earlier calls.
“What’s that all about?” Freya.
Though the chance of their voices being heard is virtually nonexistent, she stays in silent communication.
“Let’s crawl to the edge of the cliff and see,” Kalev.
The Hive is a dense city made up of scores of high-rise gray concrete buildings forming a squared “O.” Growing plants cover the flat tops of the buildings. The open space is about a hundred yards on each side. Though the promontory on which Kalev and Freya lie is a towering limestone mountain, The Hive’s buildings are only a few hundred feet below.
People are jostling in the square, shoulder-to-shoulder around a black metal box with a shining top. They are dressed in identical loose gray shirts and baggy trousers. A lane through the crowd leads west under the buildings to a narrow exit road. Parked near the reflecting box is a black vehicle six or eight times the size of The Hive’s Lectrics.
The packed crowd avoids the paved area.
Beside the huge car, facing the box, are two people; a man and a woman, both dressed in long black robes that reach shining black boots. Hoods on the robes are thrown back. They stand—spines straight and chins lifted—as unlike the masses before them as timberwolves among animal shelter dogs. An armed silver-uniformed Protector stands beside each of them. From their training, Freya and Kalev know—these are Deciders.
The woman, tall, narrow faced, with shoulder-length dark hair, wide mouth and imperious black eyes raises her right hand. All crowd noise stops. In the silence, her mechanically amplified voice rebounds from the cliffs. Only the grating scrape of the wind turbine continues.
“Let any who would dissent remember!”
The male, tall, brown-haired and square-jawed stands beside her with arms crossed. A thin smile curves his lips. He raises a signaling hand.
The crowd, as one hoarse voice, responds.
“ Remember!” then goes silent.
“Let’s get a picture of her,” Kalev.
“No, don’t. You’d have to stand, exposed,” Freya
The two Deciders turn toward the car. Protectors hold two of the eight doors open. The male steps through one door and disappears. Just as she is about to enter the vehicle, the woman pauses.
She turns toward the mountain where Freya and Kalev lie. She lifts her chin and shifts her gaze like a questing predator. After several still, ominous seconds, she turns, enters the car and a Protector closes the door.
A group of four Protectors in camouflage uniforms trots into the square. The patrol. They join the Deciders in the car. Gray smoke trails as the vehicle departs and accelerates with a speed no Lectric could hope to match.
The crowd leaves the open square disappearing into the buildings, like gray water sluicing down open drains. Three people with white cloth bags enter a door in the side of the shining box. When they emerge, the bags they carry into the nearest building are half-full.
Kalev and Freya crawl back from the lip of the promontory, away from the cliffs. Once they are in the scraggly bushes, they stop to sip water from their canteens. Strange sights and the nauseous stench rising from The Hive clog their throats.
“What did we just see?” Freya.
“The ending of something. It was almost over when we got here.”
“I think it’s a good thing that you didn’t stand to get a picture. Even with the Shopper, it would have been too dangerous.”
“Probably, but we have to get back and report to Andrus. The scene we just saw was weird.”
They stand, without further discussion, and head south along the eastern military crest of the hill. Their path is just far enough below the mountaintops to assure they won’t be silhouetted against the sky. Sunset will be within two hours and the first Cave is at least ten miles away.
The ruined wind turbine’s moaning follows them as they move through the birches, deeper in the forest, like the trailing threads of a nightmare, after waking.
Their caution is lessened as The Hive falls farther behind, but unease about strange sights and sounds keeps their audible conversation silent and spare.
“Andrus must know what we saw and heard. He’ll understand what it meant,” Freya.
“I don’t know anyone but Andrus who’s seen a Decider. One of our instructors said she saw Protectors in the forest once, years ago. Remember, Andrus had her warn us about them in training,” Kalev.
“Why did the woman look up at the area where we were lying?” Freya.
“No idea. She couldn’t have seen us.”
Using an old fashioned mechanical compass and a map printed on thin plastic, the pair works through the forest— which at the lower elevation, is primarily hardwoods—toward their overnight goal. Their pace is steady and only caution slows their steps. Their presence is quiet enough that birds only briefly halt their songs as they pass and few rabbits scurry away in terror.
As the last gold of sunset filters through hickories and oaks Freya takes a round-cornered, thin, black metal box, less than half the size of her palm, from an inside pocket in her leather vest.
“We must be near the Cave. I’m going to check.”
She slides a two-inch square door open, presses her index finger on a plate, and then pushes a button. Immediately, inside the device a tiny light glows green and flashes. A yellow arrow points south-southwest.
“We are within a hundred yards of the Cave door. Can you see well enough to lead?” Freya.
“Yes, I’ll use my Seeker.”
Kalev takes his device, identical to the one Freya used, from an inside vest pocket, touches the identity plate and, following the arrow, pauses when the green light is steady. Their route leads them down the side of the mountain. A button, inside the Seeker, glows orange. He touches it.
A soft thump signals the opening of a door, swinging up and out, from the side of the hill. To one passing by, it would appear that a rocky outcrop rose, with shrubs attached, as from an earthquake. Another touch on the orange switch turns on a dim light in the Cave.
In the first part of this month, I listened to nine auditions by producers who proposed to narrate the audiobook, for Nate And The Dragon. The narrator I selected is Adam Joseph Ferry.
Today, I received the first fifteen minutes of the audiobook, which includes an introduction, the short prologue, and the first chapter. After listening to it twice, I know I made the right decision. Adam does a great job with the two voices and the narration of the story. I can hardly wait to hear his interpretation of the dragon’s voice.
I tried to attach the MP3 audio file to this post, but WordPress wouldn’t allow me to do so. I do, however, have the cover for the audiobook, with Adam’s Name in gold. As usual, Patti Roberts has done a superb job.
The audiobook is scheduled for completion by the end of July. Stay tuned…
As some are aware, the first book of a new series was published just a couple of weeks ago. The title: “Nate And The Dragon.” An Amazon page shows the terrific cover created by Patti Roberts and the “Look Inside” feature of the page allows you to sample pages of the book. Following is on the foreword page.
The island called Maybreage, it is said by the Wizards, exists between threads of the fabric of time. It is on none of the maps of humankind. Those of that race who have encountered the island, rising from the sea where the maps said only, “There be dragons here,” have been at first amazed; then frightened of what they thought could not truly be. Finally, fearful of the scorn and ridicule of their kind, they ignored the evidence of all their senses–and pretended to forget. For humankind, Maybreage–the name they have never known–is forever wrapped in foggy legends of the place humans call The Devil’s Triangle.
Yesterday, I finalized an agreement with Adam Joseph Ferry to narrate the book and produce an audiobook. The expected completion of the audio version is July 31, 2019.
Check back—within two weeks Adam will have a 15 minute “proof” ready for your listening pleasure.
I can hardly wait.
P.S. Book Two is underway. The tentative title is “Warlock.” What do you think? Let me know. I’ll give the first ten responders a copy of the audiobook.
My friend and mentor, Anne Carroll George left us too early when her heart bypass failed. She was a fine poet and a wonderful novelist. If you haven’t read her “Southern Sisters” series, get them and prepare to laugh and learn.
One of her books of poetry is titled, “Some of It Is True.” I’m stealing that title to share an incident from 1967 in Vietnam.
I was assigned to a super secret unit called MACV-SOG. We had “blanket travel orders” that allowed us to travel throughout the country on any US aircraft on a priority basis. We could “bump” anyone up to the grade of full (bird) colonel, by showing the orders and our SOG I.D. cards.
The following incident (fictitious of course) happened in 1967 to the protagonist of the book, “Where There Were No Innocents.”
The protagonist, Mack Brinson is traveling from Kontum to Saigon. There are few open seats on USAF aircraft. He decides to use his blanket travel orders. Remember, this is fiction, and an excerpt from the book.
“The operations building/terminal/control tower was a concrete block building surrounded by concertina wire and had air conditioning. For that, I was going to be grateful once I got inside. Even this early in the morning, the heat was stifling.
The sweat on my arms had caught some of the red dust as we drove and I was definitely going to need a shower when I got to Saigon. I was wearing “sterile” tiger-stripe fatigues—no insignia or name—and a bush hat. I also carried a Browning High Power 9mm pistol in a shoulder holster.
The Air Force guard at the entrance eyed my SOG identification card and travel orders suspiciously. He looked even more closely (enviously) at the nice Browning pistol.
“You can go in.” He said.
He seemed reluctant, but had probably dealt with a number of the SOG people before.
Inside, I stood at the end of a line of four people who were trying to get seats on the next aircraft going to Saigon. The chalkboard said that there was a plane going out at 0930. If I could catch it, I’d be in Saigon by noon.
The three men at the front of the line were young enlisted troops in jungle fatigues, and by their shoulder patches, were assigned to the local MACV advisory team. They probably had weekend passes and were trying to get to the big city as soon as possible. The other man in line was a heavyset Army lieutenant colonel wearing sweaty khakis. He was a Quartermaster Corps officer—a supply and logistics man. The USAF sergeant at the passenger desk told the three young troops the bad news.
“There’s only one open seat on the next aircraft, a Caribou, at 0930, so the rest of you will have to wait until about 1330 when we’ll have a C-123 going to Tan Son Nhut.”
“That’s okay, sergeant.” The colonel interrupted, “I’m going to take that seat anyway. I need to get to Saigon soonest. These troops can wait here together. They’ll probably enjoy it more, anyway. They’ll be together.”
He gave the troops a smug glance and moved ahead of them to the sergeant’s desk.
The Air Force NCO flushed but made no comment as he examined the colonel’s I.D. and travel orders. I’d seen enough, and was feeling a bit feisty.
“Excuse me sergeant, colonel.”
I stepped forward to stand alongside the officer.
“I think that these orders will give me that seat. I have urgent business in Saigon. The sooner I’m there, the better. Sorry colonel.”
The man nearly exploded, or at least he looked as if he might. He was a short, heavy man with a red porcine face and greased-down short brown hair. As I put my SOG I.D. and blanket travel orders on the desk, he snatched them up before the sergeant could read them and began sputtering.
“Who the hell do you think you are?” he said.
His double chins quivered and sweat ran down his too-long sideburns.
“I’m a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army and I’m not going to be bumped by some little spook with phony-baloney papers! You get your ass back in line!” he said.
The Air Force officer on duty, a major, came from behind his desk and asked for my credentials. The colonel reluctantly gave them up. When the major studied them—obviously having seen such documents before—he looked up at the furious officer.
“Sir, these documents are totally in order and are signed under the authority of the Commanding General of MACV. Sorry, but you’ll have to wait. There are plenty of seats on the flight that departs at 1330,” he said.
He turned his back on the colonel and handed the documents to the desk sergeant for processing. He didn’t smile when he glanced at me but I think there was a twitch at the corner of his mouth.
The fat officer wasn’t through. He grabbed my shoulder to turn me toward him. It was only because of many, many hours of discipline under the tutelage of my honored karate sensei that I didn’t deck him on the spot. He was still almost yelling.
“You little shit! I’ll remember you! By your haircut you’re probably some Army lieutenant or captain with one of them snake-eater outfits. I’ll see you one day when you’re in uniform back in the States and I’ll have your ass.”
Spittle was flying and dribbling down his chin.
I stepped back a bit to avoid the shower and did my best to present a calm, professional face.
“Colonel, I’m sorry to inconvenience you. I hope you have a good flight later today.”
I nodded and turned my back to him. I could hear him stomping to the door and everyone heard the door slam as he left the building.
The Air Force sergeant processed the information and booked me for the flight with hardly a smirk. The three young troops were openly delighted.
When I returned to the Jeep, Chance was sitting there talking to some Vietnamese kids, drinking an orange So Be soft drink.
“ Who stuck a thorn in that fat little colonel’s butt? You? Sir, am I to assume that my Đại uý bumped him off the flight?” he said.
He gave me an evil little grin and toasted me with the soft drink bottle.”