An old warrior, relegated to obscurity in the backwaters of San Diego Bay with the rest of the Navy’s unwanted fleet, waited. A destroyer, unable to serve her country after a crippling collision that amputated most of her bow, the USS Tingey was disabled, decommissioned, and cast aside. Guns removed from her decks, stripped of every piece of machinery of value, no longer able to fight, she lay naked, aging, and lonely, secretly wishing for rehabilitation or death. From her remaining superstructure, she could occasionally see the proud fleet leaving the bay for the real action in the South China Sea. She longed to be with them, cutting the waves at 30-plus knots, protecting aircraft carriers, looking for Russian submarines, or shelling the enemy in some far-away jungle. Instead, rust ran rampant through her decks, passageways, bulkheads and bilges, eating away at her insides like an inoperable cancer. But the worst was the neglect. No one worked on her, no one visited, no one cared. Nothing but silence, except for the occasional wave lapping at her rust-oozing sides, as a tugboat brought in another old hulk. How long could this idleness and humiliation last?
San Fernando, CA: Tia Chucha Press, 2021. 187 pages
Seeking the most powerful healing practices to address the invisible wounds of war, Dr. Ed Tick has led journeys to Viet Nam for veterans, survivors, activists and pilgrims for the past twenty years. This moving and revelatory collection documents the people, places and experiences on these journeys. It illuminates the soul-searching and healing that occurs when Vietnamese women and children and veterans of every faction of the “American War” gather together to share storytelling and ritual, grieving, reconciliation and atonement. These poems reveal war’s aftermath for Vietnamese and Americans alike and their return to peace, healing and belonging in the very land torn by war’s horrors.
We publish here two poems about the war in Iraq by Peter Yeomans. Peter is a pioneering Veterans Administration psychologist with a successful methodology for treating moral injury.
One steamy night, the summer of 1969, at Marble Mt. Air Base near Da Nang in Viet Nam, a rocket exploded near me and I died. There was screaming, explosions, dust, smoke, chaos; I had no torn flesh, no blood in the dust, but I died.
My flesh did not die but I had shattered. In death, I became a ghost. In life, a shadow. The ghost dominated the shadow. That domination has meant self-destructive behavior, an obsession with suicide and suicide attempts. Self destruction. Who, what is self? My body? My heart? My spirit? I had to destroy all that might be self. I had to destroy self completely, my complete self, even though there was no complete me.
Humberto Ak’abal is a poet from Guatemala. These poems were written in K’iche and translated into Spanish by Humberto. Further translation from the Spanish into English was made by Miguel Rivera with Fran Quinn. All poems are extracted from the book by Humberto Ak’abal In the Courtyard of the Moon, Los Angeles, Tia Chucha Press, forthcoming in April 2021. We kindly thank the publisher for permission to publish these poems.
Seeking the most comprehensive and holistic healing of war wounds possible, I have been leading annual reconciliation journeys to Viet Nam for veterans and other war survivors every year since the twenty-fifth anniversary of the end of the war in 2000. Encounters between survivors of all sides squeeze long-ago memories and feelings out of American and Vietnamese alike. Through poetry I record the voices and stories of women and men who lived through extraordinarily close encounters during war and again on meeting today. These encounters show the depths and complexities of our emotional lives during times of warfare and its aftermath when we can transform fear and hatred into understanding, compassion and love.
This poem starts with the Hebrew words for left (Smol) and right (Yameen). In the Israeli army, they are loudly called out during a cadence march. The poem then moves to the very different environment of a Zendo in NYC. Years later these words came back to me during walking meditation, creating a disorienting sense of unreality, even astonishment at this new setting. What does it mean for a soldier to find himself in this still, serene environment? Is it not mere pretense to walk with such beatific air? As a gay young man, I did not see my fellow platoon members as brothers in arms. I saw aggression and pride in their new-found power, exemplified by the M-16 in their hands. They would most likely have laughed at this new group I’ve assimilated myself into, walking with the foolish idea that slow steps and a soft gaze can bring us to enlightenment. Is it possible for me now to let go of my boots and helmet when these Hebrew words assert themselves at every step I take?
Read Smol Yameen, by Yoav Ben Yosef
Dear readers of Close Encounters in War, we are delighted to publish another poetic contribution about the Vietnam war, this time from the perspective of a Vietnamese veteran: Trần Đình Song, who served in the Southern Vietnamese Air Force and was in the re-education forced labour camps after the war. This beautiful poem was written in 1966, and although the horror of civil war war haunted the Author and his country, his words are full of love and hope. We publish the poem in its original version, accompanied by the new English translation that the Author made with his friend and member of the CEIWJ Editorial Board Edward Tick.
Dòng suối quê hương (The Streams of Our Native Land), by Trần Đình Song
Stories and poems of close encounters in war
Close encounters in war are, before anything else, life experiences that change in depth those who make them. As editors of the Close Encounters in War Journal, we have always been aware of this simple but basic fact and therefore decided to open the third issue of the journal (2020) to creative writing. We wanted to propose an experimental encounter between scholarly research and forms of creative and non-fictional writing whose roots go deep into experience and imagination.
After that exciting experience, being aware that stories and poems of close encounters in war deserve a place of their own in the website, we are happy to announce the launch of the new section “Stories and poems of close encounters in war“.
This new section of the journal is divided into three subsections (Poetry, Fiction, and Testimonies and Autobiographical Essays) and is meant to be a space for creativity and exploration of all those forms of writing that help us understand war more thoroughly as a multifaceted and complex experience. We invite storytellers, veterans, practitioners, relatives and friends of veterans, poets, therapists, and much more to feel free to submit their contributions to the CEIWJ. We will be happy and grateful to read year round your original and unpublished works about your encounters in and with war, real and imagined. We will select and publish the best, more insightful, and inspiring contributions.