“Tenderness” was the second poem I wrote. It was twenty-seven years after the fact. I hadn’t thought of this incident until the fall of 1995. The memories that forms “Tenderness” came to me in parts. I wrote a first draft, however, I knew something was missing. A few days later, while I lay on my bed relaxing the most intense memories that make up this poem slowly appeared in my mind.
I remember a few days or
A week or two before the night we
Had a couple of good conversations—
The ones that touch to the depth.
We talked of combat, of your being
Wounded twice and, I’m sure,
Of the simple things that moved us.
That night in Anu Tan, on
December the 10th, in the midst
Of the battle, while I was on
The chopper pad ready to
Send more wounded out on
Dust-offs*, I saw you coming
Toward me, helping—bringing
A wounded brother in. When
I looked I saw that you were
Wounded, but you said,
“Only slightly,” “There are more
Wounded on the perimeter,” you said.
Then you turned to go back and help.
I almost let you, but something
I sensed said, “Don’t let him go.”
Then that something from
Deep within me welled up
And I said, tentatively,
“Get on that chopper,” but you
Couldn’t hear from the noise.
Then it welled up to fill me
And it broke through. I ran
To you as you walked away
And grabbed you by the back
Of your fatigue jacket, and stopped
You. When you turned in
Surprise I looked at you and in
The fear that I couldn’t persuade
You and almost in desperation,
With all the strength my twenty-
Year-old spirit could muster,
The words exploded out
From me: “Get on that chopper,
Get the fuck out of this
Don’t go back and get killed!”
I said, “I’d get on if I could,
But I ain’t wounded. This is
Your third time**. It’ll get you
Off the line, so go yourself since
You have the chance!” I begged—
Almost forced you to leave.
I don’t remember your name, but
I will never forget the look we
Shared through that open
As that chopper lifted off, when
I stared into your dark face,
Into your eyes, as we were
Surrounded by the noise and
The turbulence created by the
Motor and those blades that
Drowned out the sound of sporadic
Small arms fire and exploding
Rounds; we shared that quick,
Yet intense look
Lighted by that flare-lit night.
I will never forget the Love.
**It was customery in Vietnam that a soldier who was wounded three times would be given a rear position away from combat.