Kathleen Trew Swazuk was an Army nurse at the 93rd EVAC Hospital in Long Binh during her 1969-70 tour of duty in the Vietnam War. Her “scars have taken years to heal,” she writes in Wartorn Heart: Poems and Art Inspired by the Vietnam War (Blurb, 48 pp., $41.49)
This large, thin, and beautiful book contains very short poems bolstered by art work by many different artists. The poems and the art resonate with, and support, each other. And they resonate with the reader.
The poem that spoke loudest to me is “Agent Orange.” It’s almost as if the poem was written for me, or by me.
Sprayed orange in a yellow war.
Breathing in and out the pixie dust that coats the air…
Seeping into body trying to destroy the soul.
I am old now. The body is racked with pain
bones soft and bones broken.
Lungs no longer willing to expand
and let in the reborn air of spring.
Inert too long, I must climb out of this
bunker I have built,
to isolate my wornout
body to try and heal my war torn soul.
There will be no choppers to rescue me.
Escape must be on my own.
I wave the white flag of surrender
so that I can move into the light.
I walk toward the sunrise
and brightness of a new day.
A new beginning…A new landing zone
where the dust is no longer orange.
The book contains many photographs of the people and the work done at 93rd Evac during the author’s time there. The horror and pain of the butcher’s bill of war are well communicated in this book. It takes a place of honor in the literature of nursing in the Vietnam War.