First blog post

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Audiobook Ready

Good news! The audiobook version, expertly narrated by Carl Moore, is now available on Audible.com and will soon be available on iTunes and Amazon.

Go to the following link to listen to a sample from Chapter 2. I think you’ll like it.

https://www.audible.com/pd/Sci-Fi-Fantasy/Swift-Co-Audiobook/B0777T4VTX/ref=a_search_c4_1_2_srImg?qid=1510418983&sr=1-2

I will have five (5) freebie codes available in about a week. These will be given (no strings at all) to the first five people who request them–starting at noon (CST) on 11/11/2017. To request, send an email to author999@gmx.com – Subject: Audiobook.

I’ll be looking forward to your message and your reactions.

Tom

Veterans Day, 2017

I may have posted this poem before. I may post it again next year. It’s based on an actual encounter with a WWI survivor, in a VA hospital. After meeting him the event stuck in my mind until I finally wrote the following:
____________________________________________

OLD SOLDIERS

Old soldiers from all our modern wars
crowd into the same slice of time,
-in Veteran’s Hospitals,
waiting together,
mutely bonded by losses,
-empty spaces that surround
and define us.

Sitting on an uncomfortable island of vinyl
awash in a surf-rolling susurrus of voices,
cocooned inside my silence,
untouched by misery and despair
swirling in the crowded air like cigarette smoke,
stinging exposed nerves.

I felt the touch of ancient eyes
-looked back;
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 out at me from the hillock
his loose white shirt and brown suit made,
stuffed into the seat of a wheelchair,
blue eyes flickering about the ward
like a sparrow watching from a nest of 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 which war was mine,
and, without an answer,
told me I would never know real war.

The kind he knew in the Meuse-Argonne,
where artillery stormed
through nights when rain was steel.

The earth, ploughed,
and sown with exploded metal
-sterile, unstable-
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
feeling its way over broken ground,
finding edges of the earth where men hid.

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 soldier’s courtesy,
due an older warrior.

His images of war,
the Great War,
-pinched in my vision,
superimposed over silent, jerky, black-and-white films
whose soldiers in wool uniforms,
puttees and greatcoats
look vaguely ridiculous;
always smiling, waving to the camera,
holding long, bolt-action rifles.

What did he see,
when TV specials showed his war?

Did the gait of those old films move
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 was seeing pictures of my war;
old nightly news clips from Vietnam,
-live firefights,
color TV with sound,
projected against the back of my brain.

Though these mirrors,
-constant reflections stuck in time,
now 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 at war’s end, survivors return,
with eyes of old soldiers,
-to insults or parades.

Apparitions that were young warriors
burned in mind’s retina
like lingering persistence of vision;
-portraits stamped on the face of a mirror,
forever the age of those whose names
old veterans read in monument stone.

Like fragments from a looking glass,
slowly shattered by the warp of changing seasons,
these broken pieces of a dead war’s face,
-unfashionable images,
-shards of incomplete reality,
reflect all that my sons will know,
looking back on a father’s war.

Free Kindle Book

From August 29, through September 2, 2017, the first novella of the American soldier/vampire series, V-Trooper – First Mission will be free:

What if a commander in Afghanistan had a soldier who was also a vampire?  He could take advantage of the man’s abilities to terrorize the terrrorists.

Come along for the action!

The following is a sample.

Prologue
Mustafa Muhammad was cold. Night in the mountains near Bamiyan, Afghanistan, chilled the Taliban warrior. His robes were not enough to block mountain winds that slithered as he squatted, watching the trails that led to his master’s encampment at the top of the hill.
No enemy will come, not even the infidel’s Special Forces, but the Sheikh would have my head removed if I left this post. Eight of us guard the Sheikh’s tent. If I have to piss, I can only go three meters away to a tin bucket, and I have to smell it until my relief comes at four in the morning. Then I have to take away the bucket, empty it, and bring it back for the next man.
My sergeant is sleeping in a comfortable bag inside a big, warm tent while I freeze.
A sound, like great wings above him, made Mustafa look to the stars and lift the barrel of his AK-47.
Nothing.
Then he was there, coming up the hill. A slim man in a black uniform, an American. He approached Mustafa without speaking. In the bare light of the sickle moon, the man seemed to smile. Before the Taliban guard could bring his weapon around, the stranger had grabbed the gun barrel. He was smiling, though there was a strange look to his mouth.
The intruder wore curved sunglasses and pulled them aside as he came ever closer. The eyes were red and glowed as fiery as the burning coals they mimicked. Mustafa released his grip on the weapon and turned to run. He opened his mouth to yell an alarm, but a hand as cold and hard as a knife’s blade covered his mouth and spun him around, drawing him against a body hard as dragon’s scales. The mouth the Taliban soldier thought was eerie, opened. Fangs, like those of a viper, glittered in the moonlight.

The only sound at the guard post was a slight drumming as the dead guard’s feet trembled in the dirt.

1
It started with a routine complaint from an Afghan farmer, and then changed.
“Sir, there’s a local man who says that someone from my company has been stealing his sheep. One of my troops says he knows who did it.”
The baby-faced captain had come to Major Vic Russell, reporting a problem that could adversely affect the unit’s relations with the local community. Russell was the commander of the 3rd Battalion of the 54th Sustainment Brigade. His unit was a bullets and beans command, providing supplies for combat forces. The unit was headquartered near Kabul, distant from areas normally infested with active Taliban.
“Have you had the Civil Affairs Officer look into the problem?” Russell said.
“Yes, sir. He’s with the farmer now. We were hoping that you could spare a minute to let the farmer know we’re concerned from the top down. Good Hearts and Minds stuff.”
The major levered himself out of his big swivel chair, pausing a couple of heartbeats, establishing his balance.
“Okay, Captain, I’ll speak to the farmer. Go with me. Who said he knew who did this?
“My Food Service Sergeant said one of his cooks, a private, saw a man carrying a sheep to an abandoned house at the edge of the Village. The man was an American soldier.”
“Tell me the whole story when we get back from our Hearts and Minds visit with the farmer. We’ll call in your Sergeant and the cook, if necessary.”
Russell, two captains and an interpreter met with the Afghan just outside the compound gates and listened as he told his story. Anyone within fifty yards could have heard the bitching. The American officers listened to the man’s complaints through the interpreter.
“What would two decent sheep be worth?” Russell said “About a thousand Afghanis, sir,” the interpreter said. The Major turned to the Civil Affairs Officer.
“Give him a little more, give him about $25.00 worth and he’ll have nothing to gripe about. I’ll sign the voucher for it.”
When the interpreter explained the cash windfall, the farmer was ecstatic and covered it poorly. The sheep he’d lost must’ve been skanky.
In the meeting with Civil Affairs captain, the Food Services Sergeant and the cook, the private said the man he’d seen carrying a sheep into the broken house was a sergeant named Boyd.
“There could be legal proceedings, so don’t talk about this with anyone. It could bite you in the ass. I’ll call you in when I need more information,” Russell said.
When the troops were gone, Russell called in his battalion Sergeant Major, a veteran of several wars, Bobby Flynn. He was a thickset man with dark, wavy hair and wild eyebrows. He wore Master Parachutist’s Wings and a Combat Infantryman’s Badge, uniform; decorations Russell also wore. Flynn had a leg-lift brace from a wound he suffered while assigned to a Ranger unit in Iraq.
When Flynn came through the door, Russell nodded for him to close it behind him and motioned to one of the visitors’ chairs.
“Who is this Sergeant Boyd, Bobby? I don’t recall meeting him,” Russell said
“Hasn’t been here long. He’s an MP with the security detachment. He’s been attached to us less than two weeks. You haven’t met him, because he pulls night duty. The new men usually pull those shifts. It’s a special courtesy.”
“Bring him to meet me. Stay close. I may need to call you in to witness.”
An hour later, Flynn escorted Boyd into the Battalion Commander’s office, stepped back outside and closed the door. The sergeant reported to Russell formally, coming to attention and saluting. He was blonde and lithe as a whip. He touched his heels at the same second his fingers touched his forehead in a salute.
“Stand at ease, Sergeant. Someone has accused you of stealing two sheep from a local farmer. Tell me your version of the story,” Russell said.
Boyd relaxed his posture to a parade-ground position, which wasn’t at all relaxed. His response came, respectful and quiet.
“Sir, I did it. I stole the sheep. I killed them, ” Boyd said.
The direct admission caused Russell to pause and fall back on military formalisms until he could assess the sergeant.
“Sergeant Boyd, as your commander, I have the duty to inform you that court martial or punishment under Article 15 may result if what you say is true,” Russell said.
“Yes, sir.”
“Boyd, you are admitting an offense that could get you into deep shit. Do you know that?” Russell said.
“Yes, sir. I wanted to clear the air. Major, can I ask for someone from the surgeon’s office to check me?”
“Why?”
“Sir, I’ve got a problem.”
“Tell me about your problem,” Russell said.
“Sir, this is going to take a few minutes. May I sit down and talk to you openly?”
Boyd said.
“Sure, sit.”
Russell leaned forward, elbows on his desk. “Major, I may be a vampire,” Boyd said.

~~~~~~~~~

Starting tomorrow, August 29th, go to Amazon and type my name, Thomas Drinkard, into the search box.  Scroll down to  V-Trooper – First Mission.  It will be free.

Have fun.

 

Audiobook Will Be Coming Soon

I’m pleased to announce that the audiobook for Swift & Co. will be in production soon. Carl Moore, who narrated the two V-Trooper soldier/vampire books, will be narrating the new book. He read the critical second chapter flawlessly in the ACX audition.
I expect that the audiobook will be available—through Audible, Amazon and the Apple App Store by the latter part of September.
P.S. There will likely be a few freebie audiobooks once it’s released.
I’ve become fond of audiobooks for several reasons. I wear hearing aids which are linked, via Bluetooth, to my iPad. I can drive or do household duties and listen to a book. Currently, I’m listening to Hemingway’s For whom The Bell Tolls. Just as a side note, it’s still a great book, but is showing its age in the use of the language. Still, the principal sweethearts, Robert Jordan and Maria, swear that they “…felt the Earth move.”

I hope to be able to share a sample of Carl Moore’s narration of Swift & Co. quite soon.

Space Opera Published

This banner, created by Patti Roberts of Paradox Book Publishing, says “coming soon.”

The book is “in publishing” on Amazon, in Kindle format. I expect that it will be available within 48 hours. The audiobook will take a few days and I’ll post an announcement about it and the narrator.

Swift & Co. is a book that took too long to complete, by my reckoning. The first two chapters virtually wrote themselves–quickly, but then I let the manuscript languish before getting into the action with the characters (that I now love) and letting them take me on the adventure.

I hope y’all enjoy it as much as I did.

New Book: A Space Opera

I can’t call the new book, Swift & Co. a Science Fiction book.  There’s a little science and lots of fiction.  It fits in the subgenre, “Space Opera,” best.

The book is one that I imagined after I was first introduced to Christopher Vogler’s book, “The Writer’s Journey.”

https://is.gd/hVLiKg

That was more than five years ago.  I put Thomas Swift and Co. aside for some time, but when I picked it up again, I remembered how much I’d liked “Swifty” and his team. It took a while, but the events in this book just began to take me along with them.

Vogler’s book is drawn from a massive, scholarly study by Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces.

Vogler takes the deep, difficult work of Campbell, and illustrates how, in popular literature and movies, the pattern of myth and literature follow recognizable patterns. He shows us how The Wizard of Oz, The Magnificent Seven, The Dirty Dozen and Star Wars are related in following a recognizable pattern.

I’ve tried to follow that pattern in Swift & Co. 

Thomas Swift is called to action.

He refuses the call.

Something happens to him that changes his mind

He builds a team.

The team is deployed and experiences combat.

They reach the innermost depths of their objective.

After serious combat, they prevail.

Peace follows.

I’m fortunate to have been introduced to Patti Roberts from Paradox Book Cover Designs.

https://www.facebook.com/ParadoxBookCoversAndFormatting/

Here’s her introduction to the book.  BTW, the book is being prepared for release in digital form soon.  Paperback will follow, then audio.

Promo1

 

New Cover for An Old Publication

I recently became acquainted with a premier book cover artist, Patti Roberts. Her company is Paradox Book Covers. She has beautiful web site and a Facebook page.
http://paradoxbooktrailerproductions.blogspot.com/p/book-covers-for-authors-by-patti-roberts.html

She has designed covers for the upcoming release of my SciFi book, Swift & Co. I said covers—in plural, because the book will soon be available in Kindle, Paperback and audio formats.

I’ll release the cover soon. Watch for it. I highly recommend Patti Roberts for book cover design and overall professional artistry.

I wrote a chapbook of poetry about Vietnam and I designed a cover that has very little appeal. Patti has designed an excellent cover for the small book. Now, I need to learn how to replace the cover on Amazon.

Take a look:

Sample from “Swift & Co.”

These are the the first few pages from the Science Fiction Novel, Swift & Co.

*********

It started off like most days: crappy.
I may as well not have had a sign on the door, Swift Enterprises, Photography & Investigations. Good thing I didn’t have a secretary. I wouldn’t have been able to afford her salary and, from boredom if nothing else, would have been fooling around with her.
Hey, if I hired a secretary, she’d be pretty.
The name, Swift Enterprises, doesn’t necessarily mean quick. Sometimes tasks take time. My name is Thomas Allen Swift, emphasize the Thomas. Calling me Tom Swift causes all sorts of smartass remarks about my “electric rifle,” or “flying submarine.” Most of these come from old farts that may have read ancient Tom Swift books as kids and think making puns on other peoples’ names is cute.
Most old farts think they’re cute.
Crap! The fax machine’s groaning. A pizza ad, no doubt. Maybe they have a special, doesn’t hurt to check.
I dragged my chair out from behind the desk (bought at Mike’s Used Furniture—with some interesting amateur carvings) and rolled across the flattened gray carpet to the multi-function machine. Didn’t want to stand up if possible. Weather must be changing, thigh aching.
Damn! Business—or, at least the prospect of a paying job.

Mr. Smart:
Our firm, Universal Exports, is interested in securing your photographic services for documentation of product condition in regard to insurance services.
Our principals will be available to discuss terms and compensation tomorrow, May 15th, at 2:00 PM if this is suitable.
Please call our offices or send an email in reply to this message if the appointment is not at a convenient time for you.
MP
There was a local phone number, and local address, upstairs. I’m on the sixth floor; they were on the ninth. The email address was mp@universalexports.com. I sent a message accepting—it wouldn’t look good if I immediately knocked on their door, and it wasn’t as if I had a tee time to interfere. I don’t play golf. Never took up the game.
Army sergeants have other things to do. When I retired in 2010, I was a Master Sergeant, U.S. Army Special Forces—yes, the fabled Green Berets. After two tours in Afghanistan and another looming within months, I pulled the plug—after 24 years. At 43, I figured I was still good for another career. I had a hefty amount of intelligence training and I was pretty good with a camera; hence, Swift Enterprises.
Unfortunately, I get the occasional inquiry about delivering packages. Maybe I should buy a truck. Not a helluva lot of room in my car. I drive a BMW Z4—big enough for two people—so long as they’re normal-sized.
I had a bit of money stashed away that neither Blanche—my ex, nor her foul, predator lawyer—knew about. I bought a house about twenty miles from downtown Mobile, in Fairhope, then the car. My office, is about the size of a medium-small medieval monk’s cell, but it overlooks Bienville Square. Not much space is necessary for a lone photographer/investigator, though. Most of my business, sparse though it’s been lately, comes from angry wives/husbands seeking photographic proof of infidelity.
Some of my in flagrante shots are priceless. Of course, the customer pays a hefty sum for the little gems, but then, he or she will get that back during ¬¬litigation—if the lawyers don’t take it all.
Phone. Turning out to be some sort of day for Swift Enterprises.
“Swift Enterprises, how may we help you today?”
“Mr. Thomas Swift, Please,” a contralto voice with a faint British accent.
“Speaking. How may I help you?
“This is Lois with Universal exports. We received your email just moments ago. We’ll be eager to meet with you tomorrow. I’m just calling to confirm our appointment at 2:00 P.M.,” she said.
“I’ve cleared my calendar until 5 p.m. in case we need to explore details. Shall I bring my camera?”
“No, not at this stage. Mr. Lee would like meet you and discuss your services before we begin.”
“Did you say your name is Lois?”
“Yes.”
“I’ll look forward to meeting you in person, Lois.”
“Thank you.”
She hung up.
I was hoping the woman I’d meet matched the voice. Smoky and feminine. I was unattached except for a professor named Lil, who taught in the master’s program in nursing at Spring Hill College. She spent frequent weekends with me. She said she liked the beach and fishing. She could cook flounder as tasty as I’ve ever eaten. We’re comfortable together. We’ve both been burned in marriages and haven’t ever talked about it for ourselves. Yet.

2
I stood in front of a solid mahogany door, looking at a heavy, old-fashioned brass plaque, five minutes early for the appointment. Universal Exports, the plaque said in deeply engraved block letters. My brain cells twitched a bit, but couldn’t find the reference. I pushed the door open.
The outer office was spacious and well lighted by windows and incandescent bulbs. It was furnished with polished wood furniture that looked a bit dated. The only person in the office, a redhead sitting behind a desk behind an old-fashioned electric typewriter, stood as I entered.
“You must be Mr. Swift,” she said.
Her voice, in person, was more of a Lauren Bacall sound. Husky, sexy.
“Yes, I’m Swift, and you are Lois?” I said.
She chuckled. Nice. She looked familiar, quietly sensuous in a tight sweater and skirt. Auburn hair, green eyes, minimal makeup. I had the same tingle I’d had about the company’s name.
“My voice gives me away every time. Mr. Lee is expecting you. Come this way please.”
She looked great from behind as she led me to the inner office. She partially opened it and leaned in.
“Mr. Swift is here.”
I heard a voice, couldn’t understand the words, but she opened the door and waved me in.
The office was spacious and well lighted. There was an immense rosewood desk. Two wingback easy chairs faced the desk. One was occupied, but the chair’s wings blocked his face. The man behind the desk, I recognized. He was the man who played the part of M in the early James bond movies. He stood and held out a hand.
“I’m Bernard Lee,” he said.
I stepped forward to take his hand, forgetting Lee had been dead for years. As I moved toward the desk, the man in the wing back chair stood up and faced me. He nodded.
“Bond, James Bond,” he said.
I nearly choked. He was a duplicate of the young Sean Connery. He wore a navy blue, three-piece suit, red tie and white shirt. When he stood, I was surprised at how tall he was. I’m six-one. He was a shade taller.
“Mr. Swift, please make yourself comfortable. I know that our appearance is a bit disquieting, but there’s a good reason for our masks,” the man who looked like Lee said.
I sat in the chair next to Bond/Connery. He gave me his ironic half-smile.
“Miss Moneypenny, would you please bring coffee and tea?” Lee said.
Damn! Lois Maxwell, Moneypenny. I decided to play along with the charade—didn’t seem threatening and my curiosity buzzed like a cell phone locked in silent vibrate mode.
“May I refer to you as “M”?” I said.
“Of course, of course. Our masks are for your convenience. Someday, we may show you our true physical forms. Just not now,” M said.
True physical forms?
“Since we’re working through James Bond symbols, I’d like to meet Ursula Andress or Honey Ryder—whatever you’re calling her,” I said.
M didn’t blink. Bond smirked. Our silent male bonding over the sensuous actress was broken when the Moneypenny clone showed up. She was carrying a silver tray with two pots and four cups. She set it down on the table between the chairs. She gave the Bond clone a special smile and swayed sweetly out the door. The coffee smelled wonderful and proved as good as the scent.
“Mr. Swift—may I call you Thomas?” M said.
“Sure, but you haven’t told me about Ursula,” I said.
These two characters looked so real that I figured the Andress clone would be astounding up close.
“Miss Ryder may join us after we make a few arrangements. Now, I’m sure you have a number of questions. I think that we can answer them best by showing you what we are going to ask you to do,” M said.
“First thing: just what in hell is all this masquerade about. You ask me to come here on the pretense of business and I’m confronted with people who look like actors playing in a movie. What do you want from me? I have a business to run,” I said.
Actually, my business was limping along. Sounded good, though. The Bond-looking/Connery-looking character hadn’t changed expression. He still looked bemused.
“Mr. Swift—Thomas—we do intend to offer a paying job. One, I might add, that you’re quite suited to do. Please wait until we show you,” M said.
A light tapping on the door: the Moneypenny clone stuck her head in.
“Major Boothroyd is here,” she said.
Until the man walked in the door, I had no idea who Major Boothroyd might be. I couldn’t remember the actor’s name, but he was “Q,” from the first Bond movies. The clone introduced himself as Peter Burton. As Q, he had seemed the archetype of the British scientific type: gruff and unbending with an encyclopedic knowledge of gadgets. The Brits called them “boffins.”
Still no Ursula/Honey. I let it slide. Nothing else to do anyway. They’d decided to address each other as characters in the Bond films. No threat, but I could feel my .45 nestled in the small of my back, under my jacket.
“Thomas, Major Boothroyd will set up a bit of equipment. We’ll first show why we require your services and then describe precisely our needs. We’ll answer your questions,” Boothroyd said.
“Watch closely, Thomas. Some details could be critical,” Bond said.
He hadn’t spoken since the introduction. His voice was grim.
The Boothroyd or “Q” character set six little boxes around the room. They appeared to be featureless. They were slick black and about the size of Bose sound cubes. He touched each of them—appearing to stroke their surfaces—and moved to stand beside M’s desk.
“Gentlemen, we are ready.”
“Proceed, Major,” M said.
The room we were in disappeared. We were in a triple canopy jungle.
I taught at the Army’s Jungle Operations School in the Panama Canal Zone in the early ‘90s. The illusion was accurate and powerful. I could smell the jungle. In M’s office, we were in a “Green Hell.”
The camera, if that’s what guided our senses, took us down a footpath to a village. To call the collection of dome-shaped woven huts a village was generous. A fire smoldered in the middle of the open area and I could smell the embers. The sensations of heat and humidity were so real I felt sweat on my back.
A man and a woman: humanoid, but different, squatted on hard-packed ground beside the fire. The woman was holding a skewer with chunks of multi-colored objects over the fire. She and the male—obviously male, but, again different, chatted and nodded. The sounds were clear, but unintelligible. The skewer dripped into the embers, sparking sputtering flames.
They were naked except for loincloths. The two were basically humanoid, but their skin had a pale green tinge. Their ears were smaller than one would expect on a human, and rounder. Their hair was straight, black and appeared to be very fine-textured. They were slim in the way of Olympic swimmers.
I could smell the meat cooking.
The male stiffened, trying to stand. A spear with a metal point pierced his back and thrust out his chest. He dropped forward, dying.
The female dropped her skewer and ran down the footpath, into the jungle.
What stepped into the clearing and jerked the spear from the dying male was less humanoid. It wore a short skirt and a vest made of something that looked like armadillo hides. Short boots of the same armored skin completed its ensemble. The creature was approximately the size of an extra large NFL offensive guard, with a face ripped from nightmares. A pelt of pale brown fur covered the brute where there was no leather. The nose was like the first inch of a pig’s snout and twisted as he sniffed. The eyes, under heavy brows, were red. But only when the thing turned, could one see narrow vertically elliptical, black pupils. When it snatched the spear from the body, I noticed that it had eight fingers on each hand—if one could call them fingers—the nails were heavy black claws.
Whatever device Q was using, panned to the face in a close-up. The beast had fangs Dracula might have envied.
The scene/illusion disappeared.
We were back in M’s office. Boothroyd picked up his cubes and, nodding to the three of us, left.
I drew breath again.

For Memorial Day 2017

   I lost two college friends to the war in Vietnam.  Frankie Lee Wallace, from Cherokee, AL and Felix King, from Birmingham, AL. A buddy who was in my Special Forces Officer’s Course, Kurt Binion, was KIA within months of our graduation.  There were others, of course, but these were the closest.

I may have posted this last year, if I did, forgive my memory lapse.

This piece originated in a real experience, in the VA Hospital in Birmingham, AL, back in the late ’80s.  It is not meant to be a transcription of that meeting, rather it is a recording of the encounter filtered through the emotions of a Vietnam Veteran.

Old Soldiers

¬In VA hospitals,
old soldiers from all our modern wars
crowd into the same space of time,
waiting together,
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
-sterile, unstable-
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,
incomplete images
reflect all that my sons will know
looking back at a father’s war.

Thomas Rowe Drinkard, 1990

A Post For Holocaust Remembrance Day

In 1971, Marge and I were on Honeymoon in Germany. We had been in the lovely village of Garmisch and were going north, toward the end of our stay. We saw the sign for Dachau and decided to get off the Autobahn for lunch in that historic city. The following piece took many years for me to write. I’ll let it tell the story.

**************************************************

ARTIST’S CENTRE

“Visit Dachau, the 1200 years old artists’ centre with its castle and surrounding park offering a splendid view over the country.”
Sign along the Autobahn, May 1971

It seemed the appropriate thing –
driving North,
after Munich’s beer halls,
toward the marching torchlights of Nuremberg,
filled with Bavarian spring glory;
pause,
– as a traveling artist might
for schnitzel and beer;
visit,
for a May afternoon,
where so many lived their lives
too short
or long.

THE GASTHAUS

“We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds . . ..” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Houses and shops stand like unmoving spectators
edging medieval streets
whose cobbles pound our tires,
slamming in rhythmic thumps,
echoing from claustrophobic walls
like jackboots at quick march.

The gasthaus windows hold blurry leaded panes,
ancient as its yellowed mortar and bricks.
It slumbers the days beside shops with newer glass
-a comfortable quiet neighbor,
as old as evil.

Our host, bespectacled and fat,
knows us for Americans,
and waves aside our bookish German,
welcoming in robust English.
We sit in sturdy oak chairs,
before a round hand-made table
under shelves with pewter plates and tankards
high above, on clean white walls.

Dark lager (cold for tourists),
and bratwurst with potato dumplings
blend with holiday gemutlichkeit,
fill us with stealthy languor
until the question
stops genial smiles,
stops talk that had eddied in holiday air
like swirls of pipe smoke.
“The camp,
yes,
where is the prison camp?”

The concentration camp.

He doesn’t know,
can hardly understand;
-business keeps him close,
perhaps another can tell,
good-bye, thank you,
good-bye.

The waitress has heard;
-is young, with a dirndl only for work.
Follow the old railroad;
look where a branch splits in weeds to a siding
where things were once unloaded.

We will see chimneys,
then, the road inside is near.

She tells us a story she had heard;
…the host,
when only a youth,
had crept silently in the night
to throw loaves of bread over the walls.

*****

It was always closer than we knew.
From any higher vantage,
-a public building, standing tall
or church with a strong steeple,
we might have seen the camp before,
but persistent soot darkened their windows,
hiding the sight.

We traveled on the prison road
before we knew where it led.
-tracks appeared;
once bright hard German steel
that barely flexed under loaded cattle cars—
lie obscured now,
camouflaged in rust and silence.

“ARBEIT MACHT FREI”

Work will make you free,
the sign above the gate promised each morning.
Everyone worked then,
The Fuehrer led us to our tasks.

I typed and filed for the SS Doctors;
-precise records:
race, nationality,
crimes against The Reich,
camp discipline,
experiments,
and deaths,
cross indexed by tattoo number
and name.

All the family has poor vision,
-I’m almost blind without heavy glasses
given me by the party-
but wanted to wear the black shirt;
had envied hordes of SS ranks at Nuremberg,
following swastika standards,
stepping to the pagan roll of kettle drums,
emblazoned with lightning and death-heads.

That night in thirty-four, my family joined the march;
bearing our torches toward The Fuerher’s stand,
down that dark path
where a column of spotlights pointed skyward,
and disappeared in emptiness.

The doctors gave me the storm trooper shirt
pinned with silver runes and skulls
-made me one of them
as an honor,
after I assisted in a medical experiment.

-I only followed orders,
only kept records.

They called him their Test Pilot,
-laughed at the irony of a Jew
dressed in Luftwaffe flight gear,
testing North Atlantic water survival
beneath the walls of Dachau.

He sat in a wooden tub,
chained to his task,
submerged to the neck in icy brine
that mocked the life vest he wore.

How long, the doctors had asked,
should we search for pilots
downed at sea in winter?
-How long, they wanted to know,
would it take the Jew to die?

I held the stopwatch.
watching both hands circle,
until his work had made him free.

Late in the night,
as the SS doctors drank and ate,
telling stories and laughing in our gasthaus,
I stole bread from the kitchen,
found my way in darkness,
and threw loaves over the wall.

*******

The picture hangs in the camp museum;
-part of the records we kept-

A doctor counts the Jew’s slowing pulse,
another ensures the water is cold enough.
Two others watch.
I stand away, to one side,
wearing the SS shirt that doesn’t fit,
looking down at stopwatch and clipboard.
Everyone else looks at the camera.
Everyone smiles
but me
and the Test Pilot.

No one in town knows
-or tells-
who that young clerk was.

*******

THE MUSEUM

Now, the path into the camp;
-a long entrance way,
whose high, whitewashed walls,
blank and mute,
keeps all sights enclosed.

One blind guard tower watches the gate.

It could be a schoolhouse,
an innocent white frame building,
where children hang bright crayon drawings
down long hallways with fragrant oiled floors.
It was once camp headquarters.

Inside, we submerge into the Third Reich:
black and white pictures in iron racks,
enlarged beyond reality,
stare back at us.

Hitler points and screams,
his grainy, sightless, long-dead eyes
storm from the poster
with erupting blackness
like a sudden rush of vulture’s wings.

Snapshots:
–a man chained in a wooden tub,
freezes in ice water.
Doctors in SS uniform watch.

–a “Test Person” locked in a steel tank,
– a series of pictures
taken through a small thick window,
panics as his air is sucked out,
claws his face,
contorted in the vacuum,
until his lungs rupture.

–bodies, living and dead,
like stick-figures drawn by an insane child,
stare out from their wooden sleeping bins,
or lie stacked in a pit;
arms, legs, necks jutting in broken angles.

Exhibits:
–Ledger books
written in a precise hand
translated on another book to English,
to French, to Russian,
to Hebrew,
as exact transcripts of torture and death
-a daily journal
of ordinary horrors

–a long, slatted oak table,
concave across its breadth,
specially made for beatings,
-stained from its work,
stands highlighted by a sudden shaft of sunlight.

*****

I am only a simple carpenter
my thoughts lie in my hands,
-my tools,
and follow the grain of German wood.

I could not see the crooked Nazi design
beneath the lines and print that held their plan.

They used my work
…stained my pride,
bloodied the pores of clear young oak,
shaming the art of my ancient trade.

I am only one man,
…a poor carver of wood,
I made the tables where they drank at night,
-and whipping tables for their prey.

What would you have me do?
Is a carpenter,
the son of a carpenter,
-to try to save the world?

*****

We see nearly all of it now,
tall schoolhouse windows admit the sight.
The May sun is still not warm enough,
but we surface into newer air,
limestone gravel crunches and echoes as we walk.

Only one hut stands,
a replica from new wood,
-a reminder.

For the rest,
empty ranks of concrete foundations,
like indelible tracks from an army of giants,
stand squarely aligned in stone formation;
like casts of dinosaur footprints,
-silent evidence
of what once stood here.

Two chapels at the far end,
grown on this dead ground
like bright fungus
leaching sustenance from a fallen tree,
distance themselves.

Even from this vantage,
where once we would have smelled them,
we still cannot see gas chambers
and ovens.

THE CHAPELS AT DACHAU

Like constructs from an alien reality,
the chapels sit on this barren ground
along the path to gas chambers.
Catholic and Protestant, they lie
unaligned with the vacant, squared foundation ranks.

Their modern concrete,
unstained,
sweeps in flowing curves,
and brown rock from distant quarries,
artfully forms a vertical cylinder,
holding its sheltered crucifix behind a steel fence
with points like tips of bayonets.
No sanctuaries;
comfortable backdrops for pictures,
or sites for occasional brief prayer
by pious tourists who come to visit.

These would have been a place to pause,
where those driven down this trail,
could kneel in meager comfort,
before a cross whose arms were not deformed
into a swastika.

But this dead earth lay unblessed,
churches and their architects — distant:
the Vatican tending her own affairs,
and preachers, heeding the voice of Luther,
could not see
beyond the Nazi walls.

*****

We finally make our turn,
where the walls seemed to break,
finally see-
what we knew without seeing.

The gas chamber,
the ovens,
three tall brick chimneys;

modest,

even insignificant
by later production standards
-at Auschwitz, at Buchenwald,
and others,
nevertheless, sufficient
for Dachau.

Short, thick, white candles,
burn in stretcher-shaped iron beds,
-that had committed the flesh to the flames-
sending thin guttering smoke
up chimneys still crusted inside with darker soot.

*****

Like an oasis,
like water in desert places,
standing aside from the “Fumigation Chamber”
surrounded by greenery, flowers and grass
a small statue of a small man,
dressed in tatters and a too-large coat
focuses tired, resigned bronze eyes
on a place beyond our view.

A symbol, the sign says,
of all who suffered here.

*****

There were always the walls,
it seemed.
as a man, I could never see Germany beyond the ghetto,
could only hear the rhythmic stamp of boots,
grinding whine and clank of tanks,
shouts and commands of Nazi officers;
noises in the distance,
nearly unreal.
My violin, my brother, Bach, and other friends
made music a comforting blanket
covering our small spaces in practiced familiar sound.

Then the night of torch lights,
doors smashed open,
armed men cursing, laughing,
their dogs growling, snapping,
herding us down streets we no longer knew
shoving my twin against me,
packing a boxcar in a strange rail yard,
new in the town
where I was born.

Wind and train whistle screamed,
tracks of the Reich hurried from our origins,
distance stretching terror inside like violin gut,
bowed with constant rushing slap of steel to steel,
moaning in discordant minor keys.

Brought at last to Dachau,
because we were twins
because our hair was red,
because we were “untermenschen”
because we were Jews;
we piqued the Nazi curiosity
we made amusing subjects
for the doctors’ experiments.

*****

I am Nathan.
I was here,
stacked like cordwood
waiting for fire.

My life was dirt
beneath the Nazi boots.
Fire transformed the last of sinew and skin
to ashes.
The grinding wheel of years made me dust.

Dust, with all the others.

I am Nathan,
I am here.
I am dust.
Dust on your shoes you will carry away;
dust you breathe
-even as you try to hold your breath
my dust with the dust of millions coats your lungs,
seeps in your veins
without remedy.

I will be here
-always.
I will be with you
-always.

TD `93-`95