Bringing Home the Bones

Bringing Home the Bones

Ed Coletti

Cover art by Jonathan Allen
88 pp perfect-bound
dPress 2006 Sebastopol

Rigid body tissue
cells embedded in

collagen and calcium phosphate,
structured support for
mechanical action
protection of soft parts
including the brain
container of marrow.
Our lodge poles
or girdering
this structure
an inscape
the bones form
our framework,
these hangers
and shapers

But now so many years
after “Vietnam” here
in Vietnam,
a new “Vietnam”
in a place called Vietnam,

witnesses describe
the helicopter’s weaving
in air before
it plowed
a mountainside
in central Vietnam
on a pleasant Saturday.

What was this “weaving?”
What fabric this?
What dyeing of this?
What of the chopper’s
midair artfulness

Those killed in action
advance team to work
at six Vietnam MIA
recovery sites
“I heard the helicopter flying very low.
the engine made a big noise,
we heard a big explosion.
It was very foggy
we couldn’t see very much.”
                      (Nguyen Van Minh, now 45)

The Wonder Horse

Trigger expired at 33.
Roy Rogers, his partner,
a cowboy on TV,
is said to have “stuffed” him,
but that isn’t the case.
The horse hide was stretched
over a plaster likeness
rearing up on two legs
then put on display
as centerpiece of
Roy Rogers’ Cowboy Museum.
The Wonder Horse Trigger is
mounted, not stuffed.
He was skinned, draped and painted
like a carousel horse
or a corpse in a coffin.
Wonder Dog Bullet and
Dale Evans’s Buttermilk
received the same treatment
and now stand beside.

Generally speaking,
with human remains,
neither mounting nor stuffing
are ever employed
although certainly we do
possess the technology
not only to recover
but dispose of remains
in crypts or
below ground
(as Roy Rogers himself)
and to mountain-top predators
or in furnaces spitting
long tongues of fire
(chunks of bone are known
to remain following burning,
something always
seems to remain)
and, for those few who
might want to do so,
stuffing or skinning
with mounting and painting
certainly remain as
creative options.

What did they do with Trigger’s bones?
They rebuilt Trigger without his bones.
They rebuilt nothing of the Vietnam dead.
They rebuilt little of the survivors
or of the families and familiar attempt
to rekindle sparks from desiccated bones.
Leave them alone. Leave it all
where death had no purpose.
Nothing can be gained
nothing good can grow
from asinine carnage
Forge no myth
from lime and lye.
Not all of them or us
who’d played with tin and plastic
soldiers, not all,
very few of us
who sought to please our fathers,
none of us were warriors.

Let’s not make heroes of bone
in place of tin and plastic soldiers.
But the children’s war glory
games do persist
in purposeless flights and deaths
leading to more flights and deaths
in pursuit of further illusion
the possible delusion of closure.

Finding America’s missing military members
costs the government $100 million annually.
On the other hand, figuring the value of lives,
or even one life,
at times appears to be less pressing than
a fully-baked rotisserie chicken counted
by Boston Market
to be worth a mere $1.99 with all the meat still on it,
but afterwards the carcass can be used for soup.
The poet confesses to some guilt
born of his irreverence.
Aren’t the dead to be reverenced?
Or is it the memory of the living
who walked and laughed and
suffered fear that the end had stared
them down and all they hoped
to live would die with them?
If so why guilt for writing down
what makes no sense?
For example, in terms of preservation,
signification and meaning,
what of the Stuffed Gopher Museum,
Torrington, Alberta, Canada
where fifty-four gophers
play hockey and little league baseball,
get a hairdo, preach a sermon,
shoot pool...even rob a bank
with the teller told
“Put your paws up!”?

         may be begging the question:

                     It’s an elemental urge
in human beings to treat the mystery of death
with proper deference….
…you see this in
prehistory and today in our national cemeteries
and our government’s determination to
recover and identify remains.

           —Bill Jayne
           Director of Veterans Affairs Cemetery Grant Program

So it appears in fact
the evidence lies buried
under governmental repetition
of prehistoric customs and policies.

Earlier, entire infantry companies,
then even the teams of military morticians
sent to retrieve their remains
once moved by skeletal muscles attached
to bones when muscles contracted,
pulling upon bones, causing movement.
With this muscling long gone
to raptor and insect sustenance,
movement proves unworkable
except perhaps during
The Day of the Dead,
but that is in Mexico.
Dem Dry Bones!

Ezekiel connected dem dry bones
I hear the word of the Lord.
Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk aroun'
Dem bones, dem bones, gonna walk aroun'
Dem bones, dem bones, gonna walk aroun'
I hear the word of the Lord!
Disconnect dem bones, dem dry bones
Disconnect dem bones, dem dry bones
Your thigh bone connected from your knee bone,
Your knee bone connected from your leg bone,
Your leg bone connected from your ankle bone,
Your ankle bone connected from your foot bone,
Your foot bone connected from your toe bone,
I hear the word of the Lord!
I hear the word of the Lord!

Than Trach, Vietnam

The very name connotes
the war we,
military or student
congressman or parent
wife or orphan

And this bone recovery too
resonates with choppers
with rescuers recovering
the bodies of troops
who died searching
for the dead.

Why would congress
November 2000
pass the Bring ‘em Home Alive Bill
promising a permanent U.S. vacation to
       any national of Vietnam, Cambodia,
       China or any of the independent states of
       the former Soviet Union who personally
       delivers into the custody of the USG
       a living American MIA or POW
       from the Vietnam War

when, in startling obvious
point of fact,
No MIA’s or POW’s
from the Vietnam War
still lived or live?

Politics cynical politics
meat on the bones
                                hope on the hopeless.

(A Roman Aside)

What you are we once were.
What we are you will be.

to the
Cimetero Monumentale
dei Padri Cappuccini
provides a panoply of bones
hundreds of skulls, femurs, finger bones,
jaw bones, toes, knuckles, knee caps, and teeth:
the bones of 4,000 Capuchin brothers who died in the 1500’s.
While these monks had family
no one seemed interested in their return.
“Closure” lay in the role their bones would play forever.
The complete skeletons are draped in Franciscan habit,
their habitual mode of dress in this their permanent address.

More likely the inhabitant’s remain was a skeletal part,
a piece in a mosaic arch, column, grotto or other creation
in this reminder of a rich and creative cult of the dead
during an era when great spiritual masters meditated
with a skull in hand, life is short, death has dominion,
a place where an individual monk has no place,
a non-place where no one knows your name
merely and meaningfully subject
of the inscription there:

What you are we once were.
What we are you will be.

One Shovel of Earth at a Time

Nearly 2,000 Americans remain missing
after the Vietnam War.
For 15 years, U.S. recovery teams
have tried to find them
                          one shovel of earth at a time.

Da Nang, Vietnam

World War II gas mask
oxygen hose, Vietnamese
man sinks in a pond

Submerged for an hour,
sucking out muck from an F-105
down 35 years.

Finding that fighter
just one more piece solves
little,             jogs memory

Spans mountainsides, ponds,
bamboo jungle, rice paddies,
farm fields,       dim memories

The Army maintains,

“The goal is to biologically identify every one of them.”
                      —Lt. Col. Franklin Childress
                                 Joint Task Force Full Accounting

“That's really what brings the
final chapter to rest for families.”

Recovery teams— nine military members
too young to have fought in Vietnam,
plus an Army civilian anthropologist.
Each mission— a month,
team members away from home
up to half a year.
15 years, these teams,
working with Vietnamese officials
from the central communist government
down to local village elders,
looking for clues
to mysteries of the missing.

While these two nations once fought each other,
Americans now face a different enemy: time.

Back home,
the parents and spouses
who kissed the GIs goodbye
are aging, and many are passing away
without answers.

In Vietnam, witnesses also are dying,
those who remain carrying faulty memories.
Villages stand where once there were rice paddies.
Scavengers in search of metal or
human remains with black-market value
have disturbed many sites.
Remains have been moved
multiple times, and what's left
is consumed by the tropical climate.

The detectives— medical personnel,
linguists, equipment technicians, ordnance experts,
anthropologists and others -- make 10 total trips
Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia each year.
They meet counterparts,
hire local workers to help
with excavation bucket brigades.
Sift soil through mesh,
look for bits of bone and teeth or U.S. equipment
a data plate, belt, watch,
piece of boot, hope of helping
families gain closure, or
perhaps better answers.

“To be standing here in this land,
digging in, searching for my fellow comrades, is
the most important thing I could ever do in my life,”
said Army Sgt. 1st Class William Young,
a recovery team sergeant and a licensed mortician.
“We're all working for one goal,
to bring Johnny home.”

The substantial aluminum caskets, designed
to accommodate the body of the average American male, and borne by traditional
pallbearers, belied their usually meager
contents—a single tooth,
a fingernail-size fragment of bone.

                                     The New Yorker

                                     October 25th, 2004

Do families require, need, desire
such derisory understudy,
or, as in Sri Lanka
following the great Tsunami of ’04,
where bodies decomposed so rapidly
from combined effects of heat and water,
before burial in mass graves
fifty yards wide
by six or eight feet deep,
index fingers were removed,
not to provide someone a surrogate,
but for purposes of positive identification.
Perhaps the finger and some jewelry
will be returned to the family,
but not in a six-foot coffin
which somehow, to me at least,
becomes an ossuary of falsehood and excess.
Could it be?
Is it possible?

Families seek the knowledge
not body parts.
However, while I cannot presume
on behalf of all families,
what I can do is believe
that if such a thing as “Closure”
can ever exist,
it will dwell in knowledge
and not in bones or parts.
From a mother in Mississippi:
There’s nothing to take hold of,
There’s nothing to say,
This is what happened.
You’re wondering all the time.
until I know for sure if he’s alive or dead,
Getting answers would really and truly
be wonderful.

For those who seek
tangible remains
no matter how scanty, the choice is theirs.
The recovery team brings incense, a 6-inch candle,
a bowl of mixed fruit.

The incense is supposed to help ward off evil,
The candle represents the light of life and the fruit, the fruit of life.
For an hour, the candle and incense waft
smoke across the cemetery and fields
where the Marines are thought to be buried.
Local custom requires the ceremony to protect
the searchers from bad luck
for disrupting the gravesite.

$40,000 ground-penetrating radar looking
for disturbances in the soil. They fill buckets with dirt,
passing them down a line of workers to be dumped
under a plastic tarp atop bamboo shoots.

American service members
wearing jeans and T-shirts,
local villagers with long-sleeved shirts, pants
& those conical straw hats, sift soil
through screens or with rakes,
hunting for artifacts or human remains.
No soil wasted,
nothing found except the water table.

In Quang Tri Province
recovery team and helpers
dig into a wet farm field fertilized
with animal and human waste.
They use hoses to wash mud through screens,
seek evidence of two Marines,
a corporal and a sergeant,
missing for more than 29 years.
These two among seven Americans and up to 50
South Vietnamese troops on a Sea Stallion
helicopter that crashed July 11, 1972.
Five Americans and six South Vietnamese survived.

The mud surrenders their aircraft's data plate,
offers watertight evidence
the searchers have found their quarry—
the tip of a belt, a safety pin made in the U.S.
snap hooks, poncho pieces, aircraft wreckage,
a tooth blackened by fire,
fragments of bone.

“It's the most satisfying thing I've ever done.”
—Brad Sturm,
team anthropologist                                                

Sturm was a teen during the Vietnam War but knew families who lost loved ones.
“It’s not hard for me to imagine what it would be like
not to know what happened,” he said.
Recovery efforts often can be boom or bust.
A few days earlier, at another site in Quang Nam Province, searchers looked for a
Marine believed to have drowned in 1969 during a failed helicopter
rescue from a bridge.

What they found amazed them:
the barely worn sole of a size 7-wide combat boot,
a Timex watch, a St. Christopher medal stamped
with the Marine Corps insignia, and at least one tooth. Further research and examination,
which could take years, will have to determine whether the evidence is related
to the drowned Marine.

Since 1975, the Defense Department has
identified 597 Americans, some whose remains
initially were thought to be unrecoverable
because the service members were lost over water. The 1,986 cases that remain open
tend mostly to be aviators,
and some are among the toughest to solve
because the sites are remote.

Not all found remains come from U.S.-led missions. Some are returned by Vietnamese citizens,
others by the Vietnamese government,
which confiscates them from remains dealers.
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Robert Marty Flynn,
operations NCO at JTF-FA Detachment Two
in Hanoi, said black marketeers in SE Asia sell remains to people who falsely believe
they can get to the U.S. by reselling them to Americans.

He also issues stringent safety guidelines
for his team members. Health issues in the tropical climate are a big concern,
but the threat of unexploded ordnance
is even more significant.

Vietnamese officials say rural villagers
Are injured nearly every week by unexploded
ordnance, while plowing fields or trying to
remove explosives for sale to fishermen
or stone masons.

Each joint field activity trip in Vietnam
costs an average of $1.3 million,
including compensation for labor and property, lodging and helicopter transportation.

On Bones As Evidence

In remote Rwanda, a woman asks
to see what she believes to be
her uncle’s remains…
Clea Koff, a forensic anthropologist
carefully places a skull atop a body bag.
The Rwandan woman explodes into tears.
She will not approach what little remains.
The Washington Post Reviewer concludes
along with Clea Koff that
“The truth…within the graves, is
a miserable truth
of limited comfort to the living.”
I turn to The Bone Woman (Random House, 2004)
for help with understanding
the bones, Clea Koff, intimate of bones.
The Post reviewer cannot help but wax poetic.
Bones are the stuff of poetry:
“The beauty and significance
of Koff’s work and her drive to do it
come through most powerfully
when she is crouching over a mass grave,
untangling limbs, scraping off dirt
from a corpse’s clothes and finding
within what most of us would see as horror,
something human that speaks.

John Balzar of the Los Angeles Times writes,
“She studied the bones.
She listened to the bones,
piles of bones that grew
into mountains of bones…
She could be a model.
The Bone Woman has long thin bones,
lithe movements and the aura and energy
that surround people whose emotions
are contained very close to the surface of the skin.

Instead she devoted her 20’s to being
a global crime scene detective…”
in Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia, where
she tugged bones from loose soil and refrigerators,
studied the bones, listened to them,
“Now she talks for them.” She says,
“I find it inordinately satisfying
to lift bodies I’ve excavated out of the grave…
These are people whom someone
attempted to expunge from the record,
The very bodies perpetrators sought to hide.”

The controversial word “closure” once again
arises. Does the bone woman use the word,
or is it an understandable and familiar choice
by the Washington reviewer who writes,
“Confronted with a prodigious pile of corpses,
Koff does not feel helpless: She feels
constructively engaged…Indeed
bound to the victims and survivors of genocide
by ‘silvery threads’; to surviving relatives,
she hopes to offer closure
in the form of a body for burial.”

Perhaps more important to some families,
she provides
“an explanation of how and where a loved one died.
To the dead, Koff imagines she offers release
from the anonymity of mass burial
and a sort of justice in the form of
incontrovertible evidence…
they were civilians killed in cold blood…”
She skewers denial with bones:
“Some Rwandan skeletons exhibited
severed Achilles tendons that prevented
victims from fleeing as they were slaughtered
by blunt trauma to the skull.
Yugoslavs had their hands wired behind their backs…
their bodies riddled with bullets.
In a mass gave in Ovcara, Croatia,
Koff exhumed the bodies of hospital patients —
—one with a set of X-rays hidden in his pajamas,
as though he might need them where he was going.”
The bones become evidence.
Her words are like photographs.
Koff becomes Christ.
The bones rise as Lazarus.

(An Israeli/Palestinian Aside)

Zaytoun neighborhood east of Gaza City
May 12, 2004
Six Israeli soldiers blown to bits
in an explosive laden personnel carrier
Palestinian militants keep the body parts
to trade for Palestinian prisoners in Israel
(Bones Held Hostage)
Israel continues its incursion with increased meaning.
Soldiers will die to recover the bones of its dead.
Something there is about a bone:
Yasir Arafat tells the militants
to be good Mohammedans
and return the bodies.
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat pronounces
Arafat’s call for release to be based
upon Palestinian morals.
Egypt also offers to mediate.
Israeli army forces
carry out house-to-house searches
for the remains.
The bones have a new life of their own.
Elsewhere, AP (June 7, 2004) reports:
“A bone sent to Israel by the Lebanese Hezbollah
did not come from the body of
captured Israeli airman Ron Arad…
“Hezbollah sent the bone
as part of a prisoner swap.”
Wrong bone,
No swap.

Than Trach, Vietnam, Again

Rescuers on Sunday
April 8, 2001
the bodies of seven Americans
and nine Vietnamese
who died in a helicopter crash
while searching for the remains of
US soldiers missing in action
from the Vietnam War.
—Associated Press

13 lives lost to bring back bones
9 Vietnamese and 7 Americans—
Vietnam’s enduring war
the rift that keeps on living...and dying…

Where have all the protesters gone?
We know where all the flowers went...

Who else is to protest
humans on pointless
soldierly missions
in Vietnam’s jungles
again and again
whether to desiccate
or bring back the bones
of a military time
not long forgotten...
...gone to bone yards here and there.
…And if dem bones could speak,
what would they say
about spending
a hundred million dollars
per year after year
to find them?

The New Yorker

October 25th, 2004
describes the effort
as an epic involvement
with eighty-eight thousand
unrecovered remains
stretching from World War II
right into the cavernous Gulf
we nose-dived to the future.
Half are unrecoverably entombed
deep in the pacific.
It will take the United States
four hundred and nine years
to make good on its pledge
to bring back the bones
forty-five thousand sets in all.
A reader named Ron Dahlen
from Perkiomenville, PA
responded to USAA Magazine
with another point of view,
writing that the effort is noble
but misguided: What about
those bones from WWI?
the Civil War and
the American Revolution?
Just because
we have the technology
to do something
doesn’t mean we should do it.
He suspects that even the fallen
would prefer to see this
expenditure of money and effort
used for something productive
such as educating our children
rather than looking for our bone fragments.
Let us rest in peace.

Joint communiqué from Dem Bones:
“While some of us are flattered
having so much time, attention,
and waste of lives directed at finding us,
all of us would prefer that you let the matter rest.
Instead, how about spending
the hundred mil a year
on some things which matter,
for the moving bones we’ve left behind
for example for our father,
the devastated New York City
fire chief who’d lost a son and finally
very sadly admitted that
“Finding Joe’s body was bittersweet.
It was a body, it wasn’t Joe.
Not finding Joe’s body
wouldn’t have mattered.”

The Ones For Whom No Incense Burns

But there is no escaping
that finding the bones
does matter to many:
Tahseen Ali Hassan cries out
for the body of his wife Margaret
executed by insurgents in Iraq:
“I need her. I need her back to rest in peace.”
And families in Vietnam
if death occurs in
an unfamiliar place,
the soul of the deceased
may take fright and wander
causing much mischief
before it can be coaxed
by incense and prayer
to the family’s ancestral altar.

The Vietnamese treat American
recovery teams like
a strange monk
from a distant land,
something to do with
bringing back the dead.
According to The New Yorker—
The exact number
of Vietnamese killed in the war
is unknown but approaches
a conservative 2,000,000.
The found are buried,
when three years have passed,
their bones are exhumed,
lovingly washed and reburied
so that the soul may forever
live in peace.
Relatives tend the graves and
pray over them often.
They treat the dead as
still-living members of the family
worshipping them in every home
at altars (with)
fresh fruit and flowers placed
talking with them
through psychics
burning small paper replicas of
clothes, TVs, electric fans, and
beautiful homes
so the dead may live comfortably
in the afterlife…
This isn’t superstition.
It’s about
faithfulness and showing
serious feelings to your ancestors.

          —David Lamb
                    Vietnam Now.
                    Public Affairs

Santa Rosa, California
Press Democrat
May 29, 2005
Willits Pilot In Vietnam
No Longer Missing In Action
Airman killed in 1966
identified by DNA tests
on bone found by farmer

Larry Adams
35 years ago
27 years old
blew up and crashed
in his F-105
hit by enemy fire
over Quang Binh province.
One of the enemy,
one of those simple
Vietnamese farmers,
no name is given,
preserved Lee’s bones.
See above, and
Something about reverence,
Buddhist faith
souls unburied
wander aimlessly, forever lost.

Pity the souls of those lost thousands,
They are the ones for whom no incense burns.

                    —Nguyen Du

loving act
Jessie Adams
teacher poet
left her work
when her son
became a poet
quoted Lee’s
first letter home,
Just returned from
my first mission…
War is not the Answer!

Mother poet
teacher teaches,
What politicians
are telling you,
you don’t accept
at face value.

(A Personal Aside)

The Search For My Dog Lady Who,
Struck By A Car,  Ran

Every shadowed rock or shrub is Lady.
Every acorn dropped on fallen leaves
Birds in bushes, jackrabbits springing.
The family of three deer swushing
brush below the forest hill
near where my dog Lady surely died,
make noises similar to those once made
by our own little family of three
on a walk in the woods.

I stare from my office window hoping,
half-expecting her bright blackness
to saunter nonchalantly into view.
But she departed doing what she does best,
In a full-burst charge of mindless blazing glory.

We resume and end our search at sundown.
The eastern flame no more.
On our harmonica, I play my final Taps for Lady.
Holding onto that last note
for as long as I possibly can.
                    December 22, 2004

Despair cannot exist without hope.
In fact, much real depression
is caused by inability to give up a useless hope…

                    —Randolph M. Nesse

                    The Evolution of Hope and Despair

Friends and family counseled hope.
They “knew” she would return.
Society is biased toward hope.
How could they know?
Be of good cheer.
Both gloom and cheerfulness are contagious,
Who would choose the first affliction?
I did. Despair seemed less painful.
Why is hope more painful than despair?
Hope hurts too much, lasts to long.
Give up, and it’s all over
except for a terrible emptiness
along with
intermittent convulsive spasms of grief.
Can despair be a palliative?
Hope, when it lingers, dwells with uncertainty.
It’s been said that mental health
or spiritual strength derive
from learning to live
alongside uncertainty.
Faith without work being dead,
I must say that maintaining hope
certainly requires work.
The work involved
in propping up the edifice of hope
can be a bloody mess indeed.
It is not the type of false hope fostered
by so many — the “hey,-he-or-she-died,
in-heaven-if-you’re-good” sort of thing
where “death has no sting.”
If not, why are family members so intent
on retrieving mortal remains as if
that’s all they’ll ever see again
of their Jim or Jenny if they’re lucky.

With my dog Lady Lost,
I was kin to those who lose family
to war
No body
no certain knowledge of death
Only the corpse would tell for certain
no one would ever return
I asked myself how long
how many days, weeks, months,
without a body
might it take for me to know.
Without a carcass, how could I ever
This is the point at which despair works best.
To abandon hope. To banish it and also
those who proffer it,
that is when one lives “as if,”
As if the loss is truly complete.
When the wife of a missing serviceman
finally abandons all hope,
she enters a new reality and remarries.
When my dog Lady, lost,
Returned to our front porch
on a different day,
she intruded upon my new reality.
I sensed her as I would a ghost.
She had already died to me.
My loss, in progress, was
had been
And that’s a dog for crissake!
Of course I joyfully welcomed her
though her death somehow
was also real to me after
I’d held on to that last note of Taps
as long as I possibly could.

…and somewhat earlier

Months pass back and forth
like seconds used to
the month of April 2004…
The keyboard keys click open—
another linking back to Vietnam
a panoply of vibrant color
shrouding boxed lifeless bodies
“the flower of our youth”
blossoming red, white, and blue
stars and stripes and endless
row on row of more and more
flown again to Dover, Delaware
an endless procession with
no beginning or end of days…
…at least, this time
the bones are boxed not bagged
are colored not blackened
are draped not slung.
I want to see I want you to see
I want my country to see
I want these colors of war seen
I want to see the bodies in the boxes
with the flags of freedom’s colors
I want to see, I want the president to see
I want every body every BODY to see
every body what his caprice has caused to cease
to be even the memory of what we once were and were to be.
Presidents must never
and always will fire employees
for offering to share the truth.
These whistleblowers,
these dignified little children
pleading with their elders to notice
not that the emperor has no clothes
but that his clothes are soaked in blood
that even comforters of red white and blue
will not conceal what lies beneath the lies.
A photograph of rows of coffins
draped with rows of flags
is not the rows of coffins draped with rows of flags
and certainly is not a row of bodies turned to bones
and a far cry from a row of boys and girls
marching off on a children’s crusade
in row on row of little soldiers
dress-right-dressing neat abstractions
without the barest clue of how
an AK47 or a mortar shell
will tear apart their flesh and pulverize their bone.

The Poet As Survivor Assistance Officer

Earlier, young Lieutenant Poet-To-Be
flies away from Vietnam to finally face it
long before recovery teams return there
to Trach Than seeking all its bones.

Bearing meager offerings, he seeks out
the wives and parents:
“Would you like, could you want,
G.I. insurance paid in blood:
Military funeral with flag and bugle?”

“Why, yes, of course,
Stevie would have wanted it that way.”

What they do not, cannot fathom:
what the nailed-shut coffin bears:
“Arriving 2300 hours Dover Air Force Base:
those remains of Private Stephen Doe
comprised of left upper extremity
extending from the elbow downward.”

How about a shoebox and a sand shovel?

The poetry flies right into him,
the too-young Survivor Assistance Officer,
as each loved one (literally) takes wing
howling upon the very first screech of “Taps,”
tortured souls wrapped forever
in the ever-so-carefully-gift-wrapped
flag of the country that took
their boy away and left instead
a box of unseen bones.

“ …the Vietnam War again
we ran to see if we could
help” any from the crash

only one man lives
a Vietnamese soldier
discusses his team
he dies is carried
with bodies on stretchers down
Bo Trach Hill, Quang Binh, far south of Hanoi.
just who they were not released
until their families heard
while officials probed
the cause of the accident.

“The goal is to…
biologically identify every one of them,”

said Army Lt. Col. Franklin Childress,
spokesman for Joint Task Force-Full Accounting,
the U.S. military outfit that runs the Southeast Asia joint excavation missions.
“That's really what brings the
final chapter to rest for families.”

Or does it?