W. D. Ehrhart  
 
   

Letter

 
   
to a North Vietnamese soldier whose life crossed
paths with mine in Hue City, February 5th, 1968
 
    Thought you killed me
with that rocket? Well, you nearly did:
splattered walls and splintered air,
knocked me cold and full of holes,
and brought the roof down on my head.

But I lived,
long enough to wonder often
how you missed, long enough
to wish too many times
you hadn't.

What's it like back there?
It's all behind us here,
and after all those years of possibility,
things are back to normal.
We just had a special birthday,
and we've found again our inspiration
by recalling where we came from
and forgetting where we've been.

Oh, we're still haggling over pieces
of the lives sticking out
beyond the margins of our latest
history books—but no one haggles
with the authors.

Do better than that
you cockeyed gunner with the brass
to send me back alive among a people
I can never feel
at ease with anymore:

remember where you've been, and why.
And then build houses; build villages,
dikes and schools, songs
and children in that green land
I blackened with my shadow
and the shadow of my flag.

Remember Ho Chi Minh
was a poet: please,
do not let it all come down
to nothing.
 
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    Copyright © 1978 by W. D. Ehrhart
Empire, Samisdat, 1978
This poem is currently published in Beautiful Wreckage, New & Selected Poems, Adastra Press, 1999
 
       
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