W. D. Ehrhart  

Second Thoughts

for Nguyen Van Hung
    You watch with admiration as I roll
a cigarette from papers and tobacco.
Hanoi. The Rising Dragon. 1985.
You can't do what I can do
because it takes two hands

and you have only one, the other
lost years ago somewhere near Laos.
I roll another one for you. You smile,
then shrug, as if deformity from war
were just a minor inconvenience.

Together we discover what we share:
Hue City. Tet. 1968.
Sipping Lua Moi, we walk again
familiar ground when you were whole
and I was whole and everything around us

lay in ruins, dead or burning.
But not us. Not you and I. We're partners
in that ugly dance of men
who do the killing and the dying
and survive.

Now you run a factory; I teach and write.
You lost your arm, but have no
second thoughts about the war you fought.
I lost a piece of my humanity,
it's absence heavy as a severed arm—

but there I go again: those second thoughts
I carry always like an empty sleeve
when you are happy just to share
a cigarette and Lua Moi, the simple joy
of being with an old friend.
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    Copyright © 1990 by W. D. Ehrhart
Just for Laughs, Vietnam Generation & Burning Cities Press, 1990
This poem currently appears in Thank You For Your Service: Collected Poems, McFarland & Company, 2019
Copyright © 2011 - W. D. Ehrhart - homepage
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