Tell the Men, by Dean Metcalf

Tell the Men

by Dean Metcalf

Dean Metcalf1985: I came home to California from one of my freelance journalism trips to Central America, feeling pretty ragged. A friend recommended that I see an acupuncturist known for her ability to balance a person’s energies. As I was lying on the table, she was “reading my pulses,” the term she used to gauge what was happening inside a patient.

After a short time, she dropped my wrist and stepped back with a somewhat stricken look on her face. “Where have you been?” she asked. “… and what have you been doing?”

I replied, in a rush of words, that I’d been in southern Honduras, in a Contra camp on the Río Coco, which is the border with Nicaragua in that area. I told her I’d spent 8 days with 3 mercenaries – two North Americans and one Cuban who was a virulent anti-communist and who held his garotte in front of my nose with a smile like dry ice, after he found out I had sympathies for “the other side.” Also in the camp were a couple of dozen young Miskito and Sumo Indian warriors who never worried about where their rifle muzzles were pointing. They weren’t threatening me; they just weren’t trained to handle their weapons otherwise.

So I looked down a lot of rifle barrels that week.

I had a dream when I got home. I dreamed I was in command of a military detail. We were attacked from the air, and machine gun bullets were punching holes in the corrugated steel walls of the Quonset hut near my head.

This poem grew out of that dream, and out of experiences in Vietnam, Laos, Nicaragua…

Tell the Men

by Dean Metcalf

 I. I am the dream commander.

       All around me
       along the smoky runway
       men fall, strafed
       I scream, but
       they will not believe:
       our own
             top secret
             quiet rotor
             radar guided
             night vision
             heat seeking
       dream metal dragonflies
       have returned
       to kill us.

 II.   "But they're ours!" men scream
       as they stand, are hit, and fall

       Running, my body floats above the runway
       among thumb size neon red tracers
       borne upon their own wind: puffs of it
       pass between my ribs.

III.   In this dream, only I know:
       are weapons.

       All around me, men see,
       trying not to see.

       Men fail to aim their words
       at the real enemy.

       Men drop their books
       or read absently

       standing in the open
       as if life were not dangerous.

 IV. Sergeant!

       Work your way along the line.

       Tell the men:

              Fill sandbags with words.
              Build a parapet to fight behind.
              If they are the right words
              you live.

       Tell every man:

              Dip each fifth word
              in your own blood,
              so your shots will glow red:
              tracers to locate your targets
                     in the dark.

       Tell every man to sharpen one word.

              Say, You must choose:
              "yes" or "no."
              Snap it onto your rifle,
              for when this gets down to bayonets.

       Tell all the men:

              It's not the men of darker skin
              who broadcast our blood upon the land
              as a poor shopkeeper tosses water
              from a red plastic pail
              to settle dust on an unpaved street.

       Tell the men:

              We toss our own blood in the dust
              where crimson arterial spurts of it
              roll into powdery skins
              like water in flour
              no longer recognizable as blood
              it could be any dark liquid:
              it could be used crankcase oil.

       Tell them:

              We live and die
                     by what we think
                     by what we write
                     by what we say
                     by what we do.

        Tell the men:

              Get your words.
              Get in the trenches.
              Here they come.

This poem was first published several years ago in the online journal RIVEN, edited by Michael Spring. Tell the Men© 2012 Dean Metcalf

Rattlesnake Dreams, by Dean Metcalf

About Dean Metcalf…

Dean Metcalf is the author of RATTLESNAKE DREAMS: An American Warrior’s Story, and a world-traveling journalist whose articles were distributed by Pacific News Service, San Francisco.  His work  has appeared in publications such as Denver Post, Cleveland Plain Dealer, San Jose (CA) Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, Village Voice, South Africa Weekly Mail, Oakland (CA) Tribune, Sacramento Bee, and San Francisco Review of Books. Read more about Dean here.

Purchase RATTLESNAKE DREAMS: An American Warrior’s Story here.

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