The poet D.S. Brown served as a medic with Bravo Company in the 1st Battalion of the 14th Infantry Regiment in Vietnam in 1969-70. He is the author of three poetry collections: Returning Fire, The Other Half of Everything, and Assuming Blue. His poetry also has been anthologized in American War Poetry, Carrying the Darkness, and Unaccustomed Mercy.
In his latest collection of poetry, Ghost of a Person Passing in Front of the Flag (Bloomsday, 88 pp., $16, paper), the text is augmented with appropriate photographs. This beautiful book—with cover art by Randy Twaddle and interior photos by T. J. Amick, a 196th Light Infantry Brigade vietnam War veteran—is filled with one damned fine poem after another.
Brown starts off with a bang and does not let up. This is the first poem, “Ghost of a Person Passing in Front of the Flag”:
When I was king in Vietnam
they loved us for the body count.
We choppered everywhere
searching for some peace with honor
These four lines pack a hell of a punch. “Fractured Fairy Tale,” which comes next, presents words that have resonated in my head ever since I first read it:
“teenagers posing johnwayned
them in fucking salad suits
hand to hand in syllables
and no bread crumbs
These fractured lines and invented words communicate the madness of the Vietnam War better than any well-ordered, regimented format ever could do. W.D. Ehrhart, the poet and Vietnam War Marine Corps veteran, seconds that thought.
“War is chaos,” Ehrhart says about this book. “Combat is an incoherent jumble of grunts and screams and shards and fragments and flashes and fears. It is not linear.”
Thanks for that comment.
I served in Vietnam, but never saw combat as Brown and Ehrhart did. This book gives a taste of the confusion and chaos of battle that would have gob smacked me.
Read D.F. Brown to experience the disorder of war. Prepare to be disturbed.