"Welcome Back to Earth"
by Adrian Matejka
—after Yusef Komunyakaa, & for C & my uncles
Since Vietnam is Vietnam & whatever it takes
to get bodies there: brass-band parades, flags
flown on all the major buildings in the sparkling
cities & patriotic local singers, tonsils like exclamation
points when they sing home of the brave. The draft,
too, where the draftee leaves the most important
pieces of himself spinning at violent speeds from
over here to over there. Propeller rotation by propeller
rotation, tour rotation by tour rotation. C rations
nobody wants to eat & they’re left on jungle trails
like inedible directions. Fire fights night & day
& even the words fire & fight aren’t enough to blot
the tracers from eyelids. Finally, left arm looped
as tight as one day warring is to the next—one
puncture at a time, one flamed rotation at a time,
in latrines & closets, behind fronded trees
& their columns of shining ants. Loop, poke, puddle,
repeat—all the way back to the States after the third tour.
The next thing you know, you’re in Los Angeles
& the whole party is laughing at you behind pointy
birthday hats & cigarette dragons while you try
to undo your pants to pee with hands like mittens.
The record spinning Mothership Connection
but you’re not dancing. You’re not even trying
to get up off of the awful green couch when a country
of wet divides on your jeans & the smoke gets into
your mouth like the smoke is in all the smiling mouths
at this welcome home party like a redacted apology.
Adrian Matejka teaches creative writing at Indiana University in Bloomington. Matejka is the author of several poetry collections including The Big Smoke (2013), which was awarded the 2014 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize. He is also the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Lannan Foundation, and his most recent book is Map to the Stars (2017)."Welcome Back to Earth"