Sunday, March 30, 2008

A Very Human Interaction

The following poem presents an interaction between an older experienced war veteran and a young soldier. The incident in this poem occurred while both soldiers were serving in Vietnam. However, the interaction depicted here has a universal aspect: it could have happened, with minor variations, during any war throughout history.

Platoon Sgt. Francisco Royas

In Korea at
Seventeen he’d been
A squad leader—a killer:
Royas was tough.
In this next war he’d
Been tough on us too.
Abundant respect’s what
Us youngsters gave ‘im.

I remember this incident
During a combat operation:
We’d set up, and
Across the perimeter, lookin’
Like an Asian pit bull,
He comes toward me.
With some dread, I’m thinkin’,
“What’s he want?
Wa’d I do wrong?”
Reachin’ me, he’s got
This excited glow and says,
“Tree! I got this new Ham
And Lima Beans* recipe:
You pour out some of the
Juice, put in some crumble
Crackers and a hot pepper,
Add a can a cheese, and heat it up.”
Radiant, almost like a child,
He says, “It’s great!”
And I’m thinkin’,
“He likes me?”

*A C-Ration unit

Robert Jost
Credit: First published in Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace, edited by Maxine Hong Kingston, Koa Books, Kihei, Hawai'i

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


The writings concerning war that I have posted thus far give a picture of the violence of war. It is important to portray other scenes that depict a different types of events. The scene depicted in “Perhaps” allow one to realize that even in the midst of war some things transcend that terrible environment.


It seems that I would never get
first guard. Usually I was in the
position with my squad leader.
Sergeants always got first guard—
privilege of rank. The advantage
was, first guard gave you time
to get sleepy before your first
two hour of sleep. Most
importantly, it gave you the best
sleep of the night—those two hours
just before dawn. The other two
of us in the position gambled
in some way to get second guard
and avoid the Dreaded third
guard and that numb raw feeling
in the morning. It seem that
I always lost. But then,
sometimes I just gave second guard away.
My legs ached so badly after walking
through mud and in water all
day that I couldn’t sleep well
anyway. I spent those hours
before my guard gazing/meditating
on the vast starlit sky that the
night many times afforded.

Can there be tranquility and peace
in the midst of conflict, in the
midst of war?
Perhaps, God willing.

Friday, March 21, 2008

A Good Friday Poem

This poem is the first that ever that I wrote. It opens my masters thesis. I wrote it in 1996. It comes from an intense place and relates an intense experience.

In Ponchos

They had been kill/died
The day/the night before.
Now they lie in the distance,
Fifteen/twenty, lined
Side by side on a narrow
Rice paddy road
Wrapped in ponchos
To be flown away.

“But we sleep wrapped in ponchos.
They’re just asleep!
It’s ten o’clock in the morning.
The sun’s hot.
It’s too hot &
Too late to sleep!
I’ll run to them &
Shake them & yell
Roll Out! Get Up!”

But they’re

Monday, March 17, 2008

For the Parents--Revised Introduction

"For the Parents" is as relevant today as it was when I went to war. A discussion I had a few years ago with friends concerning how parents might feel if their child went to war prompted this poem. As a parent, this conversation prompted me to think about how I might feel if my son went to war. It is not meant to agitate parents whose child or children are in war or parents whose child will be in war. It merely reflects my understanding of war and how parents might deal with the emotional, psychological, and spiritual difficulties related to having one's child in combat. The "variations" speak of the support that family and community could give to war strained parents and their son or daughter soldiers.

For the parents whose child is a
combat soldier in war:

Don’t think
of the odds: sixty percent
wounded, ten percent killed,
and many deeply scared.

My child is dead.

Then Pray,
'cause in war
survival's a

For the son or daughter whose father and/or mother is . . .
For the sister or brother whose sister and/or brother is: . .
For the wife or husband whose spouse is . . .
For the partner whose partner is . . .
For the grand parent whose grandchild is . . .
For the uncle or aunt whose niece and/or nephew is . . .
For the cousin whose cousin is . . .
For the woman or man whose sweetheart is
For the neighbor whose neighbor is . . .
For the in-law whose in-law is . . .
For the mail deliverer, grocery clerk, dry cleaner, baker, etc. whose customer is . . .
For the councilperson, mayor, senator, etc. whose constituent is . . .
For the president, prime minister, etc whose fellow citizen is . . .
For the country whose citizens are . . .
For the citizen of the world whose fellow citizen is . . .
For the human whose fellow human is . . .
For the God whose loving creation is . . .

Robert Jost

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan

This weekend I have been listening to Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan on KPFA. Winter Soldier is not widely covered in the mainline media. This conference of soldiers who experienced the trauma of war in the Middle East is patterned after the first Winter Soldiers report that took place in 1971. In the first Winter Soldier conference, American veterans of the war in Vietnam told their stories of incidents in war that had deeply scarred them. These were stories of combat, dehumanization, and atrocities that they had been involved in or witnessed while in country. That Winters Soldier report fueled the protest in this country that helped bring the war in Vietnam to a close.

In the present Winter Soldier report, held on the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, soldiers again speak of the atrocious situation of war. They again speak of combat, dehumanization and the pressures of war that brought them to the point where the harassment, wounding, maiming, and killing of civilians has become common place. These soldiers’ stories are heart wrenching. I encourage others to listen Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan and consider the situations in these countries where our soldiers, under the stresses of combat, multiply the devastation of war. KPFA will continue to make these soldiers’ stories available on its website:

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Praying For Death

In the Passionate Mystic of the Double Abyss, an important spiritual document, Blessed Angela of Foligno speaks of the deaths of “my mother who had been a great obstacle to me” and her sons and husband’s deaths as a kind of gift. Angela had recently entered the mystical “way.” She indicated that it was “bitter for me to put up with all” of her sons’ and husband’s “slander and injustice.” Bitterness, slander, and injustice might indicate that Angela was in an abusive family situation. She may have longed for these family members’ death because there might have been, in her mind, no other feasible type of release. Angela felt consoled at these family members death, deaths that she had prayed for so that she could more fully enter mystical union with Christ.

Angela’s prayer for her abusers death reminds me of a story a friend told me. Joe said that his Irish mother occasionally “prayed” for people like Mary Kelly. “I don’t like that woman,” she’d say, “and I wish her an early and holy death.” She always qualified her statement with “and that’s not sinful.” Joe, her son, a good Catholic boy, tried to argue against this sentiment. However, his mother adamantly asserted that her prayer was completely moral. *

I wonder if the tradition of Blessed Angela’s pray for the death of family members, difficult people in her life, has carried down through the centuries, altered somewhat.

*Story compliments of “Spider” Joe Burke.

Saturday, March 8, 2008


A couple of months ago I decided to learn the geographic locations of each country in the world. In reality, I was endeavoring back into fifth grade geography. My desire to learn each country’s location came out of frustration. I felt irritated with myself because I did not know the exact location of countries in the news such as Serbia, Guatemala, and Myamar. After taking a few minutes each day studying my compact world atlas, I became somewhat proficient at locating each country on the world map. My testing tool continues to be a website devoted to geography:

After learning the location of each country on each continent, I wanted to retain my newfound knowledge. However, going over each continent regularly became boring. Then a thought came to mind. I can retain in my memory of each country’s location and do something positive at the same time. While I was trying to think of a non-tedious method of retain my knowledge, I remembered that the author Flannery O’Connell, when lupus had nearly drained all of her energy, read only the newspaper and the Bible. The implication of this routine is that she read about and prayed for the troubled peoples and places in the world. (News is usually troubling.)

Somehow, the memory of O’Connell’s routine translated into the idea of going over a continent or two daily praying specifically for the peoples and governments and particular circumstances in each country. This I try to do, praying for those countries in the news that are especially troubled. Praying for the countries of the world allows me to retain what I studied and to integrate what I learned to a spiritual exercise. Obviously, this is something that a grammar school child might figure out on her or his own. That it took me over sixty years to learn this might say something about my late blooming intellectual and spiritual desires. It also might say something about becoming a child of God. Now, when I locate Kenya, East Timor, Kosovo, and Sierra Lione I trust the spirit to inspires in me simple and effective prayer.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Three Shots

"Three Shots" is a poem that I had wanted to write for quite some time. I wrote it late last year based on an incident in which I was intimately involved. I did not witness parts of the incident and wrote based on others' accounts. However, a friend who witnessed what I did not see confirmed the accuracy of what I wrote. I have placed an image that he gave me in the poem's last line. I wrote "Three Shots" without moral evaluation; it is merely a graphic image of war.

Three Shots—A Narrative

We hear, “Get Down! Choppers say there’s
VC coming our way!” Behind a

rice paddy dike, a hundred meters from a river,
I lay,
peering over the dike’s top,

The V.C.—
two young men in shorts,
stripped to the waist, with
no visible weapons, run out
of the bush into the open.
They’re 85 meters away. As they cross

our field of fire, we open up. In the
barrage, I fire hitting one.
He falls.
In exhilaration I shout,
“I got the motherfucker!”

As we move forward, the man
raises his hand and
Is he holding a grenade or is he surrendering?
A shot rings out. Pierced
through his eye into his brain,
the young man falls back, still
alive. When he

reaches the man’s position, our captain draws
his pistol and extends it at
arm's length. Standing

over the young man, he kills him with
a shot him through the head as
the young man,
without words,
with arms outstretched,
begs for mercy. In a few minutes, after

exploding grenades in the river attempting
to kill the man who escaped,
we gather into squads and platoons.
Walking on,
we continue our mission while a
young man’s brains leak out
onto the earth.