I had a brother at Khe Sahn
Fighting off the Viet Cong
They’re still there, he’s all gone
– Bruce Springsteen, Born in the USA
I’m not afraid to die. Hell, I already died once,
Duffey says, from the malaria after the war.
I was on the other side, it was beautiful,
no pain, all your questions answered,
like why there’s gophers, dumb shit like that,
he says, a little grin curling around
his dry, cracked lips, a quick flash of light
in his gray, opaque eyes.
I had a choice and I chose to come back.
I don’t know why. No, I’m not afraid to die,
hell no, Duffey says, across the kitchen table
of his cluttered ranch house off El Camino
where’s he’s lived thirty years a bachelor
after his wife left, mother of his two children.
Now she’s trying to come around, take care of me,
he says, knows there’s money, might get some,
but I say, it’s thirty years, goddamn it,
leave it alone, just leave it the hell alone.
Duffey, lean and long limbed, loose t-shirt
and sweats, his face sere and gaunt,
the backs of his hands purple from IV’s,
head shaved, just a hint of mustache
where the handlebar used to be,
working on the sandwich we brought him,
wiping away the sauce with the big knuckle
of his index finger.
On the wall beside the table, an old framed
picture of him, smiling, straddling his hog,
the ghost of who he used to be
haunting him from the past.
Started in the lungs, then got into the brain,
Duffey says. They tried to zap it
but didn’t get it all, and then the chemo,
but, hell, the cure is worse than the disease,
so I says, that’s enough, I’m not
afraid to die, let’s get on with it.
After a tour in Okinawa,
Duffey re-upped and went to Nam,
Had to save my brother, Duffey says,
never had any luck, none at all,
poor son-of-a-bitch. I was a sniper
and he was a radioman, a walking target.
I shot officers and his opposite on the other side,
and they shot him at Khe Sahn. Never had
any damn luck, no damn luck at all, he says.
A sheet of yellow paper
taped to the kitchen wall reads,
Duffey is a hospice patient.
If you notice a change in him
do not call 911. Call…
Hell, I’m still showering myself,
happy here on my own,
food in the refrigerator,
but they want to help,
so I guess I’ll let them,
but I’m not afraid to die.
Hell no, Duffey says, not me.
Already died once, goddamn it.
Will Jones writes, “I am a native Philadelphian, a graduate of William Penn Charter School, class of 1966, and Susquehanna University. I have lived in San Luis Obsipo, California, since 1979. In 2011, I retired from a career in public education as an English teacher and high school principal. My poems have appeared in local publications and in an anthology of poems celebrating the 30th anniversary of the San Luis Obispo Poetry Festival.”