My Brother’s Keeper by Rodwick Padilla

Rodwick Padilla is a Marine Corps veteran who served a 1966-67 Vietnam War tour of duty. He tells us that his brother, Ronald M. Padilla, came home from Vietnam after six months “in a green Zip up bag.”  Rodwick Padilla,  a member of Vietnam Veterans America, was nineteen when he volunteered to go to Vietnam “to avenge his [brother’s] death.”

My Brother’s Keeper: Poems of the Vietnam War (America Star Books, 84 pp., $17.95, paper; $7.99, Kindle) is made up of “the raw war poems of Vietnam Marine Cpl. Rod Padilla,” we are told. “They are a spontaneous outpouring of his battlefield experience years after the event. The voice is authentic. The poems are unedited.”

Honesty is the best policy my mother always told me. Given his publisher’s disclaimer, it would be churlish of me to take Padilla to task for his poems not being well-edited or proofread. However, the lack of editing still bothered me. Maybe it’s because I am a guy with a degree in English writing from the University of Washington and I have no experience as a Marine—two things that made it difficult for me to fully appreciate Padilla’s rawness and honesty.

I’ll quote a tiny bit of one of the long poem, “Between the Cracks,” to give a sense of how the poems are written:

I had a feeling that Ski had been shot

If you guest where, you would be right

Yea, where the sun don’t shine

Yes, right up his be-hind

Most of the poems in this short book are in rhyme or verse of a sort, and Padilla keeps them simple. We encounter K-bars, poisonous snakes, punji pits, John Wayne, and baby killers.  Also what he calls “Sea Rations.” Padilla refers to the AR-15 as a little plastic toy. He says we weren’t defeated in this war, if you call it a war.

We are told that the author has spent time in a penitentiary, but no details are given. We are also told that he was abandoned as a baby by his mother. He uses the expression “pineapple” to refer to himself, as he is from Hawaii. He also uses the term “little grass shack,” which I’ve heard in songs.  

The book is a physically beautiful one, with a great illustration of Padilla on the cover, his sweet, innocent Hawaiian face in a half-smile. He looks a little bit Vietnamese. There are lots of tiny black and white photos in the middle of the book showing him in-country.  

Marines “drop like flies” when “the shit hits the fan” in this little book. So if these expressions don’t bother you, and you don’t mind struggling through the un-proofread lines, this book of Marine Corps verse may appeal to you.

 It is a lovely book to look at.  

—David Willson