Posted by: Thomas Drinkard | October 19, 2011

Poem, “Losses” from the Vietnam Chapbook


Second birthday,
with Mama Lou and Papa Jeff

The picture shows a small boy in shorts
between a tall man and a handsome woman;
both have a hand on the boy’s shoulders.
Everyone has been told to stand very still,
-smile for the Kodak.
The boy smiles stiffly, holding his breath,
squinting into the Alabama summer sun.
A cake with two candles sits in front on a stool,
Behind them stands a white frame house and rose bushes.

Theo, Louis and Max
ready to leave for the war.

This, a special shot on the next page:
cousins in uniform, posing with the boy,
-before going to the Pacific;
Army, Navy, and Marine Corps,
-splendid and brave.
Everyone saluted for the camera at first,
but laughed too much,
just smiled then, and hugged the boy.
still suffusing the creases,
shines the worn black and white.
This is the album’s only picture of the Marine.

Vacation Bible School Intermediate Class

Turn a few pages. The boy is taller,
this time with other boys in neatly-pressed pants,
and girls in frilly pale dresses;
a Vacation Bible School photograph.
They stand together,
grouped on the steps of the Baptist Church.
Each morning, they pledged allegiance to the flags,
-United States and Christian
and sang,
“Onward Christian soldiers . . .”

Portrait in uniform

This picture covers the full page.
The young lieutenant has answered the call,
“. . . bear any burden, endure any hardship,
support any friend, oppose any foe. . .”

His green beret sits carefully positioned,
-adjusted several times.
A small, determined smile-
given after much urging-
challenges the camera.

In the background, standard for the Fort Bragg PX,
an anonymous paratrooper swings under his ‘chute,
below darkening clouds.

With Dai Uy (Captain) Bac
Da Nang, RVN – 1967

Polaroid snapshots fill the page,
yellowing and smeary,
-protective coating worn away.
The U.S. Special Forces Captain grins confidently
casually dangling an automatic rifle,
looking tall beside the South Vietnamese Captain,
whose grim eyes give lie to the smiling lips.
Brothers in arms,
comrades in the fight against Communism.

The black background surrounds each picture,
shapes and limits,
as houses that once stood, or causes-
or people that once were;
shape and form with losses,
the way an empty sky defines the silhouette of a man
alone on a bare hilltop.


  1. Very touching. Very nice.

  2. Beautiful and sad.

    • Thank you. The subject is painful, so the poem is sad.

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