"I Have Not Heard This Before," "Searching Amongst Pictures of the Killed" and "Tin Soldiers and the River Burns"

I Have Not Heard This Before

I have not heard this before,
not the boom of the marching drum,
rat-at-tat field snare triplets,
slow and steady, like
caissons crawling
carefully constructed causeways
on causes carefully concocted,
rolling across connivances, contrivances,
have not seen before
guidon flags flying brazen
in dessert sirocco,
not seen silent widows drained of tears,
not seen swift fury mutate
into creeping sorrow heroes
laboring on slow wheels,
withering over imperturbable sidewalk
suction cup stick and release
concrete and crutch rubber,
not seen streams run
the color of raspberries
or sand the color of the sun
streaking daybreak warning sky
to sailors of wind blown dunes,
not seen hot red and yellow
blue flame spitting shrapnel before,
not heard concussions
over cowering cities before,
not seen brass band brigades,
not heard blood stirring marching music,
not heard burnished-like-bronze bugle blow taps,
not heard roar of engines pierce
peace of rice paddies,
not seen streaks of vapor trails
over flaming villages,
not seen Fourth of July napalm
rolling like lava over
disappearing fields of green,
not seen carpet bomb threshing machines
harvest fragile stalks of life
gone in stilled heartbeat,
not heard orphans cry in empty nursery,
not heard mothers cry in burned wheat field,
corn field,
rice field,
killing field,
black as soil charred
like bodies not seen
human cinders under
stealthy black sky bomber night,
not seen talking head mouth
gesticulate lies for justification,
not heard mumbled expletive
beneath articulate pronouncements,
not seen covert jungle assassins,
not heard bullet bracing body,
not heard saints and sinners
sing solemn songs in unison,
not seen shadow soldiers stand
like silent phantoms,
not seen tricolor boxes
on dead of night tarmac,
not seen red sky,
not seen towers crumble,
not seen sand ignite,
not heard a last feeble sigh,
not seen an empire die.



Searching Amongst Pictures of the Killed
(August 24, 2005)

Three Hernandez’s,
the last name of
a former student,
who trained harder than most,
wanted karate skill
and something
to believe,
and enlisted in January 2001
after drifting in and out of school,
from job to job
until nearly thirty,
Ramos next, though,
wife living nearby,
I’d likely hear
Finding the face of
Staff Sgt. Gene Ramirez,
dark and handsome
like a movie star,
but screen heroes
never die in Al Anbar,
Pfc. William C. Ramirez,
19-year-old scowl
a reflection of dread,
as if his photograph knows
a roadside bomb
waits to claim his life.
Pfc. Christopher Ramos,
a child’s face pulled
Marine Corps taut, and
Lance Cpl. Hector Ramos,
who departed this life when
his helicopter crashed
near Ar Rutba,
so far from his family
in Aurora, Illinois.
Sgt. Miguel A. Ramos-Vargas
has only a helmeted silhouette,
not even a real picture,
killed when an enemy rocket
impacted near his position
in Baghdad,
who came from Mayaguez,
Puerto Rico, where
you must pay taxes
and obey the laws of
the United States of America,
but have no say
in the election of
a Congress,
a Senate,
a President
who can send you
to die on foreign sand, like
Spc. Aleina Ramirez-Gonzalez, of
Hormigueros, Puerto Rico,
killed when a
mortar round struck
her forward operating base
in Tikrit, and
Sgt. Joel Perez, of
Rio Grande, Puerto Rico,
who was aboard
a CH-47 Chinook
helicopter when it
was shot down by a
surface-to-air missile
near Falluja, like
Sgt. Juan M. Serrano, of
Manati, Puerto Rico,
whose friends and family
could not vote for
or against the men
who sent him to die
in Iraq, like
Staff Sgt. Kendall Thomas, of
St. Thomas, Virgin Islands and
Staff Sgt. Salamo J. Tuialuuluu,of Pago
Pago, American Samoa,
killed when his
Stryker military vehicle
received enemy fire
during convoy operations
in Mosul.
An empire marshals armies
from beyond its borders,
from captive lands held
by coercion, persuasion,
edict and sword,
sends the children
of those without privilege
to die for imagined glory,
for dynasty,
sends citizen soldiers,
who leave behind
wives, husbands, kids,
parents and lovers,
high school buddies and
heart-broken sweethearts,
children recruited in
high unemployment and
low wage peacetime,
from The Bronx, New York,
Shelbyville, Indiana,
Odessa, Texas,
White Bear Lake, Minnesota,
Kannapalis, North Carolina,
Howell, Utah,
sent from Anytown, USA,
but not from
Cape Cod,
Pebble Beach,
Hilton Head,
not from mansions
in the Upper West Side,
townhouses in
majestic colonials
on Beacon Hill,
not from
not from
Wall Street
but from
side streets,
not from
the secure streets
politicians and
lobbyists live,
not from
the prudent houses
of Supreme Court Justices
not from
the homes of those
who dispatch the sons
and daughters of America
to die for an empire,
their blood
the cost of conquest,
the calculus of lives
counted only as
the price of doing
the empire’s business.



Tin Soldiers and the River Burns

On a road trip to Kent
with a five-piece reggae band,
way in the back of the van
listening to Four Way Street,
thinking of Ohio.
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young;
“Tin Soldiers and Nixon comin’,
We’re finally on our own,
This summer I hear the drummin’
Four dead in Ohio.”
And it’s 1970, and we
stand on the open green,
on a campus nobody’d heard of,
drumming in our child hearts
the rhythm of peace, while
drumming fear into the hearts of
children in green uniforms,
who dodged The War by joining The Guard,
and then the shit came home
to Ohio.
Wisps of tear gas, a true blue sky,
a Viet Cong flag held high
above the chanting crowd,
the drumming growing loud,
the drumming growing loud.
On route 59,
sitting up to notice steep hills
thrusting skyward from the Cuyahoga,
the river that caught fire years ago,
long before passion, anger and fear
lit the campus.
Wondering if the town remembers
when the drumming was
hearts beating, bodies
pulsing back and forth,
thub-dub, thub-dub
a surge of babies in bell bottoms,
a line of babies with bayonets,
hearts beating
thub-dub, thub-dub,
louder and louder,
louder than the cries
and the crack of rifles,
and the burn of bullets,
blood from the bodies,
and the fading pulse,
faint beat of the drum on
the campus along the Cuyahoga...
Thinking about an old song,
“Burn on, big river, burn on...
And the Cuyahoga River,
rollin’ into Cleveland
to the lake”...
Wonder if I’ll touch the river,
or walk along the campus,
stop and stare across the green,
and revisit what once seen is
forever obscene,
watch again as red-blooded
Americans gun down
red-blooded Americans,
a blur of blue sky, tie-dye,
green and red blood
running like the river
to a lake overfull,
the blood overflowing,
where the memories go.
Can’t remember the name of the club,
maybe never knew,
just the long, hard climb up
a claustrophobic stairway
to another dingy room
painted brown and gray gloom,
like every grimy joint in
every college town in America,
where mediocre bands play
the soundtrack for cheap beer.
Thick clouds like halos
around the empty skulls of
chain-smoking sophomores,
parent’s life savings paying
for phony id’s, low-rent fashion,
and cars to drive drunk.
The bands play to pay
for greasy grub at roadside stops,
for cheap hotels on desolation highways,
and gas to keep the van going,
to the next dumb gig.
So we haul the gear
up steep, skinny stairs,
and carefully set up for
one more sound check
before another search of food.
Then it’s me and Sledge,
who toured with The Temps
after a tour with SF in Nam,
wondering where he was
May 4th 1970...
Was he face down in a jungle somewhere,
belly between the stench of napalm
and the fecund fumes of monsoon mud?
Was he hearing the same
cries of the same searing pain,
heart pounding the drum beat
of bullets and bodies?
We round the corner to see Taco Tonto’s...
Over beans and burritos,
he talks in a voice
like reverb,
a faraway lilt,
he talks
of a young medic in a red beret,
of saving lives and taking lives.
I tell him it’s a shame he had to go,
and he says, “Yeah, it’s a shame.”
And it was so long ago,
and who’s left to blame?
We just shake our heads,
mumbling, “It’s a goddamned shame.”
On a tiny stage in a dark corner of Kent,
just a few miles
and a quarter century away
from the green and that nightmare day,
a world away from Khe San and Hue,
we play our thub-a-dub rub-a-dub Reggae
as two heavy hearts throb beneath the beat,
and our suburban dread fans
skank like limpid zombies,
stoned on opportunity and opulence,
eyes like haze, smoke swirling,
seductive like dying.
We play as tear gas swirls
sinister as smoke and rifle fire,
the rat-a-tat beat of the Rasta high-hat,
the crack crack crack of an AK-47,
an M-16, and the kaboom kaboom
kick drum like mortar fire and tear gas
canisters and the
thub-dub of hearts beating
in breasts bleeding and
this summer,
next summer,
each summer the drummin’
since four died in Ohio.



Phillip Henry Christopher

Poet, novelist and singer/songwriter Phillip Henry Christopher spent his early years in France, Germany and Greece. His nomadic family then took him to Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio and Vermont before settling in the steel mill town of Coatesville, Pennsylvania, where he grew up in the smokestack shadows of blue collar America. Escaping high school, he made Philadelphia his home, alternating between Philly and cities across America, living for a time in Buffalo, New Orleans, Fort Worth, even remote Fairfield, Iowa, before settling in Indianapolis. While wandering America he has placed poems and stories in publications including The Caribbean Writer, Gargoyle, Lullwater Review, Blue Collar Review, Haight Ashbury Literary Journal, Blind Man’s Rainbow and New York Quarterly.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Thursday, July 23, 2020 - 22:17