by Tom Sheehan
I remember Lake Hwachon.
There was nothing to do
on this side, that’s for sure.
We boated over. There
was nothing to do on
the other side either,
but die, or stand in line,
or check out your gear.
No rentals. No two-piece
suits catching up the sun.
No hot dogs in short buns.
No sand-oil grit spread.
Dale Morgan lost a calf
muscle to a Bouncing Betty.
Oh, there were lots of them,
They made stupid noises
that said, “It’s too late, pal.”
Those were the only umbrellas
at this lake, you can bet.
Tony M. was luckier at calves,
losing both, and everything
you can name in between. Waco
used to be his hometown.
He didn’t like lakes, this one.
When we crossed on pontoons
and rafts and dories with out-
motors, I watched him undo
his booted laces, then unstring
his weapon, set his small pack
under his butt. He smiled at me,
telling me about water, rivers
he must have grown up worrying
about. How to hold your breath.
We knew about mortars’ impacts.
Water does them up funny.
I talked to old Ski in Chicago
just the other night. He’s buried
his Japanese wife in Arlington,
his daughter is dying, he’s sad.
He had so much shit then, and now,
it piles up again. He didn’t like lakes,
not that one, or the one that’s sifting
its swim of cancer around Chi-Town.
Breda’s near Mattoon and he says
the Old Polack’s just not the same,
got this old-time look in his eyes,
like when we beached and he asked
what date it was and counted there,
right in the open, his goddam points.
He’d been through Frozen Chosen,
Hungnam and all the stops between.
Oh, he had a before and an after:
the Philippines, Kwajalein, Saipan,
not necessarily in that First Cav order,
and then Chi-ROTC for years, and death
still hanging all around him like turds
on the bottoms of his boots. And tears
on the phone he can’t hide, tough old
bastard he is, two-wars dying at that.
He didn’t like the lake shore either.
I bet he still doesn’t. I can see him,
even all these years later, stepping
ashore, rifle down-range, ears picked
up, more a cougar than a deer, intent;
a Polack with a piece of Apache in him
trying to find its way out of his eyes.
Maybe a New World Comanche in tow,
Perhaps, I often thought, an old Prussian
bloodline left over from short guard duty.
But lakes have a way of undermining you,
make you sit too easy on the fat duff,
make dreams and nightmares quick-wedded,
stick it to you where you least expect it,
make it happen. Ski happened. He exploded!
I shut that mastery out of mind. You fail,
too often, in its measurement, its contrast.
But still he’s sad and hates lakeside, shore,
waters of the giving and taking lake, time.
Old Man Mac was right; Ski’s just floating
away on the invisible waters, drifting off,
leaving me, finally, way down the line here,
like the others promise, numbers mounting,
this strange way of saying goodbye, comrade
I met in a hole, the Seventy-sixers, in alien
hands, screaming over our heads all that so
ungodly night, over half century ago still here.