“Oracle” Cam Ranh Bay
At the end of my first day in country
the screen door of the mess hall slaps
behind me. My black and green jungle boots
scrunch onto the still-warm, dirty white sand.
Dazed, my sleepless brain beyond the dateline,
I halt to get my bearing and catch sight
of something strange—a heron’s angled back,
hunkered over a pile of something,
I can’t tell what. He does not look at me.
I can see he’s old—a wrinkled papa-san
in thongs and ragged shorts and pointed hat
crouched over a heap of vegetable peels.
The bloodshot sun flings fire on green hills,
falling, and slants on the olive sandbagged
bunkers and gray tin roofs of hootches
where, at night, new soldiers toss, dream, wonder.
I stand there watching him. The evening breeze
smells of the sea, of rotting food and piss.
He sorts the trash as carefully as jewels
or the ocean-creature entrails of a bird,
bent taut as a ravenous fisherman
or a reader lost in thought—tranced, planted
on cords of calves and strong brown toes, his statue
face in shadow showing nothing, nothing.