Savage Pastures: Poems of Strife and the Vietnam War (71 pp. $8.99, paper; $4.99, Kindle), by John Partin is a collection of poems about the war, bookended by verses about struggling to survive working in the red-dirt rural South. From 1966-72 Partin was a finance officer for a bank on contract with the Marine Corps. That work included duty as a financial liaison for U.S. Marines in South Vietnam and their families back home. That put Partin in contact with many of the men in-country, as well as families of those who didn’t make it home from the war.
In “A Train to Catch,” a young man has enlisted in the military and preparing to do his part in the Second World War:
As the world blackened in war,
A cancerous presence that so radically changed our lives.
Into the gathering darkness.
The time was here.
The train was coming.
Almost eerily, the trees changed into looming immobile spheres.
Long shadows draped Warren, a horrible enveloping foreboding.
Once we arrive in the Vietnam War, there is “Pastures to Lie In.”: Medics in helmets of white crosses/Screaming-pushing multiple compresses to/Land mined ghosts of legs
In “Homeless,” a Vietnam War veteran is wearing an Army green coat, faded, frayed/Sargent striped remembrance of life
All the while, he is living in An America grown silent/To men of war
In “War Death”:
And the go-go bars of Court Street in Jacksonville,/Where Vietnam comes back/In black light and pulsating probe,/Illuminating the dancers
Hovering in iridescent bluish splendor.
The flurry of wings
Etching a beating helicopter blade memory
Rooftop staccato rhythm to belching bullet casings
Blazing streams into Vietnam rice paddies
The mounted door gun a death appendage
Hunting peasants working, defecating in fields.
The first killing an ethereal horror
That evolved to lust.
In “Distant Thunder”:
War cannon lighted nights
And deserted prayer.
Prayer screamed in horror
Until the heart closed to faith.
Lost. Abandoned. Devoured.
In “Butterflies of Vietnam” we read these hauntingly beautiful lines:
Menacing cobra head in a bottle
On a half-broken shelf
Once in a brothel in Saigon,
The brothel a searching last hope of angel’s touch
To minds no longer able to feel
And eyes no longer able to see
The unseen coiled terror of days.
The chopper landed
And butterflies returned
Floating white to the field.
There is death in John Partin’s poems—in combat and in the rooms of a VA Medical Center. This is a short but solid collection that holds up well on rereading.