Dennis Maulsby

CHANGELING

We pace in the sauna-hot Saigon sun.
Khakis, washed by village women,
smell of thick brown jungle rivers.
Sweat forces out the stink
of rotting plants,

animal piss and mold.
One hundred men, aroused lovers,
worship the taxiing bird coming to
take them back to “the World”.
We almost float without weapons,

ammo and paddy mud on our boots.
A crowd of wrinkled, silence-chained
replacements shuffle off the plane.
The two groups repel each other —
the north poles of magnets

unable to touch.
Shouts, prayers, and cheers
from the loading veterans lapse
into cat-calls and “you’ll be sorry’s”
tracered at the green troops.

A few muffled “fuck you’s” come back.
On the return flight men twitch
in REM-sleep, sharing bloody
guttering dreams — clearly,
we are not finished

sacrificing for our Country.
At a stateside airport,
we roll on the ground,
dogs in misplaced ecstasy,
and kiss dusty tarmac that smells

of oil, vomit and chewing gum.
The drive home takes us
through the Iowa countryside.
The car is not in a convoy.
Unblinking eyes scan the tree lines

for the barrels of AK-47’s.
In wooden masks, my parents say
I move too quietly … not the same.
Their child is lost,
replaced by something

hollow — it is helpless.
In dry-acid heaves, it feels repressed
fear snake-squirm loose.
The bed sheets weep into shrouds
for the dead it can never leave behind.

Author’s Note: From his book, “Remembering Willie, and all the others