Fred Rosenblum served in the Vietnam War with the 1st Marines. He says that his first book of poetry, Hollow Tin Jingles, “began as an exercise in expurgation.” His new book, Vietnumb: Poems (Fomite, 104 pp., $15, paper), is a result, he says, “of my inability to retch-up and rid myself of that entire toxic mass that’s kept me bellyaching all these years.”
Rosenbloom sees his poems as “a lyrical analgesic to others who bear some degree of residual shame for that era.” He goes on to write that “the war machine thrives today as it has never thrived before.” I can’t argue with that.
This short page book of short poems deals with many of the same issues Rosenblum dealt with in Hollow Tin Jingles, but it is well worth reading and revisiting those subjects. I started noting my favorite poems as I read the book, until I realized that I had marked most of the poems in the book. Finally, I winnowed out poems until I had just two favorites: “Confessions of a Recluse” and “The S.O.B. Was Just Like Me.”
“Confessions of a Recluse” grabbed me because of the lines “I am a bearded man/with a long moustache that collects debris from meals
My hair (what’s left of it)
Is in a constant state of dishevelment
I wear overalls that are filthy
And grimy from my war in the woods
With the beavers who are trying to flood my property
My wife hounds me about my slovenly nature
And if I am not wasted I will submit to her requests to clean-up
Brush my teeth,
She keeps records of my medications and dispenses them
Per the prescribed instructions
It is too difficult for me to remember what pill and when
It should be taken
The man in this poem is not exactly me, but he’s close enough so that I don’t need to write that poem myself.
The other poem deals with the Seattle VA, a place where I’ve spent a lot of time having my head examined—and if not my head, what’s left of my feet. Fred Rosenblum says that the place is “sort of institutional dump that had the feel of incarceration.” He nailed it, for sure.
In his poem, he runs into a friend from the past, just as I have several times. I was born in Seattle, educated in Seattle, and drafted in Seattle, so it’s no kind of miracle that I’d bump into folks at the VA that I’ve known off and on for fifty years.
Rosenblum describes a mutual acquaintance of ours: “Lester was mad as a hatter/and had croaked from the fusion/of alcohol and pharmaceutical inclusion/that one might imbibe and ingest in those days
The concluding stanza is: “a kid I’d known/yet the S.O.B. was just like me/ancient, anhedonic, Vietnumb
There it is.
Thank you, Fred Rosenblum, for writing these poems.
He refers to “the Duke” in these pages, the man that many young men sought to emulate by becoming Marines. Sad fate for them, which reminds me that Lee Ermey just died—the Drill Instructor in Full Metal Jacket, from the book by Gus Hasford, a man I’ll never run into at the Seattle VA, as he’s long since dead. RIP Lee and Gus.