Dedication and Prologue -

To My Brothers and Sisters in Arms - (Apocalypse From Time to Time):

I try to speak to a common experience in us, the 1% of Americans who went and came back...more or less alive. Being one out of a hundred makes us not quite unique, although at times it does feel like it.

I have found that our experience is not unique in history: the common marching cadence, "We're here because we're here, because we're here..." was sung in World War I; and when soldiers, during the Inquisition, asked their superiors how to tell the heretics from the good Catholics, the answer was, "Kill them all, God will know His own," echoing the common helmet scrawl in Nam: "Kill'em All And Let God Sort'em Out."

Picking back up where we left off was easy for some, difficult for many; and for others, impossible. For some of us, the costs assessed in VietNam are paid on the installment plan...we have an apocalypse from time to time.

I am one of those, and each of these writings is a payment. We are not alone, and the payments can be withstood.

To All Those We Came Back To - ("Someday this war's gonna' end..."):

The person who went away is not the same one who came back. The changes may be slight or great, but no one escapes a war unchanged. Every moment in life is a turning point, but some turns are sharper than others; and VietNam was so extreme that some of us are still skidding in the curve.

For my sons, who weren't born and so didn't know me before the war, perhaps this will help explain some of your dad's strange behavior. Sometimes we require more of your patience than we deserve. Understanding is often a slow process, but someday this war's gonna' end. Perhaps these writings will help.

Whirling Blades:

Every war, it appears, has its own characteristic trigger...some small event, usually associated with hearing or smell, that ignites in its veterans a set of emotions and memories, a kind of flashback.

After WWI, the smell of decay brought back the trenchwar to its survivors. For Normandy veterans, the smell of apples (from the French orchards?) always brought back D-Day. For me, the smell of every gas station with a diesel pump plays a mental VietNam tape in my head; but the sound of whirling helicopter blades is the worst.

In Nam, I could ID them from klicks away, the Hueys, the LOH's, the Cobras, the Chinooks. Back here, after 25 years, I've grown older, the chopper has evolved, and I can't tell 'em apart anymore. But I can still hear 'em before I can see 'em and there's always that "Oh, Jesus!" feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Standing in a crowd, you can tell who's "been there" by watching their eyes when a chopper flies over. These poems and thoughts are an attempt to explain that look in those eyes ...our eyes.

Copyright © 1995 James M. Hopkins


               The combat soldier,
                   do not forget;
               who, (for perhaps years),
                    will toss and sweat,
               waiting for sleep
                     that won't come.           

               What his eyes
                    have seen,
               and the things
                   he has been,
               are buried in dreams,
                   mute and dumb.                
               No one escapes
                  a war unchanged;
               and there is scant cure
                  for a mind deranged
               by smoke and fire and blood.                     
               And the enemy blood
                   is just as red
               as the stained stones kissed
                  by the allied dead
               when the memories come back                  
                  in a flood.                                 

Copyright © 1995 James M. Hopkins

No Nintendo - No Anesthetic

If you elect for War,
Remember this,
that War is
an agreement to agony;
that those selected to fight
are to be marked as DEAD.
It cannot be made less painful.

If you would design
for a Humane War;
(to push a button
then go out to lunch
while thousands die
at the end
of a trajectory);
Remember this,
that THEY too
may have THEIR buttons,
and that YOUR Children
lie on the end
of someone's trajectory.

Copyright © 1995 James M. Hopkins

Energy at a Distance

Being familiar
with weapons of war;
sharp flying steel,
explosive's mad roar,
changes wild forged and destroyed
in an instance,
projectiles deliver
energy thru distance;

Lead bullets, sharp words,
flash fires, sharp swords,
good movies and books,
some poems, some looks,
the music to change us,
catalytic assistance,
we are the product
of energy
at a distance.

Copyright © 1995 James M. Hopkins


                  HOW IRONIC
                      AND CYCLONIC
                        TO BE READING OF VERDUN;
                          TO BE SITTING IN A HOLE
                       IN VIETNAM AND READING
                    OF WORLD WAR ONE.

                 "THE WAR TO END ALL WARS",
                    MY FRIEND,
                     "TO MAKE THE BULLETS STOP"
                        (BUT SOLDIERS,
                     FIFTY YEARS APART,
                  LOCK & LOAD
               AND GO OVER THE TOP).

Copyright © 1995 James M. Hopkins

Assault in Primary Colors

The sky was blue, the grass bright green;
The whitest cloud you've ever seen
Drifted gently, all alone,
Over the wire in the killing zone.

The sun, a yellow disk, burned bright,
And put the morning mists to flight;
The song of a bird in the high clear air
Came through amid the napalm's glare.

Around the world is darkest night,
The moon and stars glow shiny, bright,
Mothers tuck children snug in bed;
My boots are full of blood, bright red.

Of all the things that I have seen,
The jungle is the deepest green;
The ocean gently laps the sand.
I hold a grenade in a trembling hand.

Our shots flew true to young men's hearts;
The barbed wire full of body parts.
My days seem filled with remembered screams,
But I can't, as yet, remember my dreams.

Copyright © 1995 James M. Hopkins


I hear an army, beyond the near hill;
the stamping of a thousand horses, anxious,
nervous to run.
The dust of a thousand wagon wheels,
soon to carry the soon dead, drifting
a yellow fog, beyond the near hill.

A thousand swords, jostling and clinking
a thousand shields; the glitter of sweat
from beneath a thousand bright helmets,
winking in the sun.
Heat waves rising from black iron cannon,
barrels roasting in the sun.
Heat waves rising from the sun-scorched thighs
of a thousand mounted riders, armored
in brown leather, gripped tight
around a thousand anxious horses,
steaming to run.

I hear an army; hear the mumbled curses
at sweat stinging a thousand eyes,
squinting and waiting in a yellow
bright fog of dust and sun
and anxious horses. Hear
the muffled bumping sound of reins
held taut by hands burning in gauntlets
of leather and iron.

On bright Sunday mornings, I hear an army;
when children sit up sleepy-eyed.
And fathers, picking up the morning paper
from the dew-soaked lawn, pause...
and turn a puzzled gaze toward the near hill;
...when mothers pause... at brushing their hair
in front of mirrors, and stare
toward some odd clanking noise
beyond the window.

I hear an army on Sunday morning,
waiting in hot yellow dust,
on stamping horses;
among jungle vines and leeches,
dripping with malaria;
in slit-trenches of waist deep mud,
in stinging cordite fog;
lying behind dunes of griddle-hot sand,
in strange deserts;
in tossing landing craft just off beaches;
in wet nausea and fear.

The oddest thing... on Sunday morning,
I pause at my coffee, cup half raised...
I hear an army, clear as day;
a thousand swords, sharpened to molecule keeness;
a thousand shields, polished to mirror brightness;
a thousand horses, anxious, nervous to run...

Copyright © 1995 James M. Hopkins

Night Event

Blood-mist in a broken dream,
ghastly black-on-orange scream.
Soundless detonation, flash,
concussion, shattered eardrum, smash.

(Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright)
atomized flesh diffusing light,
moans reduced to bubbles fight
for breath through splintered jaws that cry,
(What Immortal Hand Or Eye)
(Could Frame Thy Fearful Symmetry?)
spray blood from what was once a mouth
(flash...concussion, somewhere South)
onto what was once a chest,
twitches quiet to that rest
that awkward Death can lone supply.

Glasses cracked in blood-fogged air
condense a pinkish film that smears.
Muffled silence, eyes blink blind,
flames throw yellow light behind.

Copyright © 1995 James M. Hopkins

The Thing That Almost Happened

Some breakthrough eludes me.
Each time the pencil touches paper,
the brush canvas,
the eye a darting swift,
I feel a verge.

While the wrestlers are locked
in mock combat on Channel 27,
the wind blows off a shingle
that exposes a long-dark roof beam
to light that has travelled for years
in a straight line
from Arcturus.

Someone touches someone's face
somewhere, eyes meet,
gentle hands stroke the cat's ear;
we watch the sun set in red
and orange and white.
Tired petals fall from a rose.
Something waits to happen.

Children die of starvation in Africa
while their fathers in Ireland, Somalia,
and Yugoslavia kill each other
over injustices done to their grandfathers
by Ottoman Turks.

Historians in southern universities
begin editing second drafts
analyzing the Battle Of Shiloh.
The Lone Ranger and My-Three-Sons
are launched into space again and again
at the speed of light.

Twelve year old boys stand at trackside
as the freight rumbles by,
then step up on the rails to feel
the vibration through their feet,
as cotton clouds
twist in a blue, blue sky.

Women wake before their husbands,
and looking at the stubbly face
made slack by sleep,
roll away and do not love them

Autumn moths float in on the dark
to have their wings singed
by bulbs that light patios
where men stand alone
and smoke cigarettes
and stare up at Orion.

Copyright © 1995 James M. Hopkins


(Twenty years ago),
Forsook the earth, and leaned
Against a spray of steel,
To drag a blasted comrade
Into the ditch;
To die among friends;
And not out there amongst
The blossoming of shells.

Copyright © 1990 James M. Hopkins



The cat flows like smoke
thru the mist of the grass
then glides without motion,
stretching forelegs and claws.
She flops on her back,
on the cool of the lawn,
and with eyes not quite closed:
resonates the stars in her throat,
as fluid as mercury.

Veteran's Haiku

When you turn away there is no dawn, to speak of, Oh, America.

Copyright © 1995 James M. Hopkins

The Fire in the Forest

There's a fire that sings
in the jungle;
a howling, tornadic moan;
and a circle of earth
round the spiraling heat,
where nothing has ever grown.

Seen from afar,
thru the forest at night,
thru the dark, dripping trees,
there is orange and black;
and a deep basso hum
that reflects in the throats,
and a deep orange light
that reflects off the coats
of the big jungle cats
that have come.

The flame seems constrained
by a circle of bones;
twenty-eight bony hands,
linked in life long ago.
Fourteen skulls in the glare,
with the eye-sockets bare,
that the tigers leave strictly

There is silence,
except for the fire's low whine;
and the deep, thrumming purr
from the tigers who watch.
In the vigil each night,
each big cat in its turn,
seems to wonder, but can't know
what it is;
what it burns.

Copyright © 1995 James M. Hopkins

Comfort Where We Can...

Green grass uproots broken sidewalks,
once busy with tricycle wheels;
and all of the once proud tall buildings
have crumbled to red rusted steel.

The stars burn lightly in heaven,
the moon circles cooly, sublime,
the photos of children, lost families, and friends
fade as the solstice keeps time.

The bright silvered mirrors all shattered,
the silver washed into the sea,
now silently waits in the mud of the deep;
tectonics once more sets it free.

All of the books and the poems,
all newsprint, all things made of wood,
are pressured and fused in deep magma;
oil pools where libraries stood.

California colliding with Asia,
new mountains range at the joint.
New shape for Tierra del Fuego,
no longer the southermost point.

Volcanos erupt in north Texas,
Dallas shares fate with Pompeii.
They say that the reptiles may come back again
now that mammals no longer hold sway.

The stars burn lightly in heaven,
the moon pulls the seas in soft tides,
and photos of family and children and friends
dissolve but the earth still abides.

Copyright © 1995 James M. Hopkins


(For K.)

Like you, I have learned
to love the dusk,
when the night sky comes down
to cool the flame of day.
"My favorite time of day...", you said,
and I could see it in your eyes.

No better time of day exists,
I am sure, than this -
The Eastern sky of deepest blue
overtaking the clear white
of the West... Slowly...

The birds go home to rest,
to dream each tiny bird dream;
the trees black against the sky...
And the stars awaken, to continue
their harmonic dance of heaven.

Copyright © 1995 James M. Hopkins


Storms are growing in the east,
lightning from clouds, low hung.
The air has the feel
of lightning-rod steel;
and tastes copper to the tongue.

These are the best of the worst of times,
all things go downhill from here.
The galaxies blur,
strange omens occur;
and the stars cannot help us to steer.

The world with titanic momentum,
in a slow scream disemboweled.
The rich all deny,
the helpless comply;
cement coffins, resigned to the trowel.

Who is accounting the total?
Who keeps track of the pall?
Not politicians,
nor statisticians,
there seems no accounting at all.

Stripped of all selfless endeavor,
the law of the jungle applies.
The strong grow stronger;
the weak no longer
survive in a world built on lies.

Copyright © 1995 James M. Hopkins

Spanish Dancer

Something is missing here,
in this engineered world
of numbers and forms.
Tolerable, yes, this drifting;
down... down... inert;
but somehow... disconsolate.
Are we drying, slowly drying, to fall,
a final withered fig?

And taking stock,
I am not one (up to now)
to grasp the muleta;
to stop the bull's mad charge
with a sliver of iron
and adrenaline.

Suerte is for Spaniards;
castanets, dancers -
clickity- click!,
clickity - bang!
Heels stamp down
and flare...
matador's cape.

No macho thing, but
the missing spark;...
Cloudy pernod at a table,
bare-bulb lit, in a cafe
with a sawdust floor.

Ruffles swirl red,
in dark ballet,
clickity- click!,
clickity- bang!
Gut-string guitars
spang out jagged Gypsy rhythms,
Seguiriyas, Zambrillas.
Brilliant laughter, orange, unmuffled.

Grasping Life by the throat,
even if - even while It has you
in Its jaws.
The harder It bites,
the more we laugh.
Swirl, Flare, Snap!,
Clickity- Click!,
Clickity- Bang!

Copyright © 1995 James M. Hopkins

Instant Replay...Again

I have this book: "Complete Poems, ee cummings, 1913 - 1962". Now ee cummings writes very dense verse, and no one (well, almost) can understand what the Hell he's writing about! I've always liked his poems, like our two minds were gears that almost meshed, but not quite.

Anyway...I was sitting on the couch tonight, watching TV, 'Complete Poems...' on my lap, and this line:

"I have seen all the silence filled with vivid noiseless boys"

flashed in my mind. - And then I thought:
"Thats ee cummings!! - I've SEEN that! - I know what that is!"

That's a ground attack at night, where the noise is so intense that all you hear is roaring silence, while they sneak thru the wire, trying to kill you! And you peek (ever_so_slowly) over the berm, and in the flash of the arty direct-fire and claymores, you see: FLASH-people, stark white, vivid against black !
And you hear: Nothing.
And you feel: THUMP - THUMP in your chest from the concussions.
And the recoil spring in your M-16 makes this "SPROING - SPROING" feeling in your ear which is pressed up against the riflestock.
And you think: "This Goddamn'd 16 is tickling my ear!"
And you get a little smile on your lips.
Then you think: "JESUS!, Here I am SMILIN' and tryin' to ITCH my ear with this fuckin' gun, while I'm pullin' th' trigger, tryin' to KILL people out there!"
FLASH-people...vivid noiseless boys, in a roaring silence.
Then you think: "TIME-OUT, Godammit! I've got to scratch my stupid EAR!" which is so obviously absurd that you HAVE to laugh. This is so stupidly crazy that you have to laugh. So you do,...but you can't hear it. Then the magazine's empty and you're out of ammo. SHIT! And while you're fumbling mags, like a dumb-ass, there's this terrific ...CLANK !!... And you sure as Hell heard THAT!!
Then (all at once) you're at the bottom of the berm. And you pick up your helment, and there's this nifty gash in the cover, and a neat crinkle in the steel pot. "JESUS H. CHRIST!!"...,and you're not laughing now. And nobody's firing from your position 'cause you're sitting on the ground, staring at your stupid helment, no ammo in the 16. The 16 is sticking barrel down in the dirt like a fucking TENT-POLE. And (by the way) there's a gook out there that thinks he's killed you, and he's probably moving like Hell (RIGHT NOW!) for the hole in the perimeter where you used to be.
And you turn your head and see the balloon of fire from the muzzle of the 105 and feel the THUMP of the concussion in your chest. You slow-motion scramble up the berm and grab the M-79 off the sandbags. You look up, see a muzzle flash, fire the thumpgun... And you WATCH the grenade fly... like some crazy looping throw from short-stop to first... SNAP SNAP !! in your ear; she's shooting at you. "It's a WOMAN ?!!? I think it's a Woman!"... You're frozen there, SNAP, stuck there, SNAP SNAP! staring as the grenade hits her, waist high. FLASH - yellow sparks - Nothing.
She's just GONE!

And then,...

I'm sitting on my couch; the TV's on,
and it's an hour later than it was a minute ago.
Their mouths are moving, on TV, but
I can't hear what they're saying.

Copyright © 1995 James M. Hopkins

October Flights

The Monarchs fumble over my back fence
like autumn leaves blown horizontal
by the North wind...

Hugging the browning grass,
jumping shrubs like drunkards,
to jerk up and over the patio roof.

And once - on a crystal night,
the disembodied honk-honking
of Canada geese
caused me to look up,
and, Oh!..., there across a full silver moon -
the imperfect Vee ...
pointing South...
a sight so improbable
that werewolves must be real.

Copyright © 1995 James M. Hopkins

The Xmas War

On Christmas Eve in '69
I watched our tracer bullets fly;
And in their flight,
Their bright red light
Lit up the earth and sky.

Then from the dark,
From guns unseen,
Their shots flew back at us,
Bright green!

And back and forth,
Throughout the night,
We fought the Christmas colored fight...

(...back home, happy children
Unwrapped gifts of toys,
Barbie dolls and toy cars...)

...while we killed our brothers,
In the Christmas War.

Copyright © 1995 James M. Hopkins