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Robert Wrigley



They had five cigarettes going. Also a joint
         and a foot-and-a-half high hookah brimmed
with cannabis above and 3.2 beer below.
         A pale blue smaze hung against the high ceiling.
The six who lived there were lotused around
         four unfolded pages of the San Antonio Express-
News, stemming and seeding several resinous pounds of pot,
         three of them still in uniform, fatigues at least,
just back from a day at "Special Training Detachment,"
         or as it was emblazoned on their helmet liners
"STD" (a sequence of letters not having, in 1971,
         the resonance or implication they have today).
It was a holding company for the hopeless
         and the hopeful. American soldiers, that is, such as they were.
Also in uniform, person number seven. Call him Sergeant Blinks.
         He'd lost an eye in Vietnam, and he was
their dealer, their source, and he liked them more 
         than seemed reasonable or right and promised them
each a free nickel bag for their custodial work.
         And even as they worked, he was strapped off and shooting up
with one of the good sterile syringes 
         they'd copped from Central Medical Supply.
That was why he liked them, they figured.
         Come home a junkie, he seemed happy
to be here, since they were to have been medics
         and had stolen those syringes long before
Porter developed the bed-wetting problem and Denton
         and Speigel decided they were queers (gay, in those days,
meaning only excessively happy), and before the rest of them
         pleaded not merely ordinary fear
but conscientious objection. They said they meant it, in other words,
         even as they wondered how killing Nixon could be anything but right.
When they could talk at all they had those kinds of conversations.
         They thought about what was wrong and more wrong.
Blinks sat in the room's only chair, spike withdrawn now,
         head lolled off to the side, a kind of fractured baleen
of spittle lip to lip across his open mouth.
         The pot was so sticky they each paused now and then
to work the goo of it up and off each digit, and rolled it
         into black boluses they dropped in a communal coffee cup-
finger hash, it was called, and they couldn't take their eyes off it,
         redolent, drop deadly, and very much desired.
It would be, at the end of their stem-and-seed-parsing,
         what Sergeant Blinks offered in exchange for his lark:
if he could skin-pop them all with a drop or two of his horse
         in the backs of their six left and mostly white hands, it was theirs.
A long pause then. How bad could it be? they wondered.
         Meaning how good. Meaning they wanted what they wanted
and didn't want what they might come to want more
         or too much of, though what was too much
and what did they really want, after all?
         Well, they wanted that cup of finger hash
enough that no one said no, so happily
         Blinks rigged up five new times: syringes
from the dozens in the stolen box,
         a couple cc's from the bent-back cooking spoon,
and then, in between each of the four metacarpal ridges
         across the backs of their newly brave and unheroic hands
he eased-so gently, so skillfully-the needle's slender bevel
         just under the skin and made a series of blisters there,
wens, tear-shaped sebaceous cysts of the same stuff
         he had not long before plunged a pistonful of into his vein.
As per his instructions, they flexed their fists 
         and slapped the dabbled backs of their hands
with their undabbled others, and felt come rushing up their arms
         a kind of other-coming, overcoming smolder.
Wilson, the one black man among them, studied his biceps
         and said again and again hot fudge, hot fudge.
It was like entering a large perfect mouth,
         a kind of woman-wetness they were up to their shoulders in,
their necks and ears, until there wasn't anything to say
         and even if there had been no mechanism by which to say it.
But it didn't last long, and as far as they would ever know none of them
         did it again. And Blinks left them their nickel bags and the sticky stuff,
and Spiegel boiled up the stems and made iced tea from the water. 
         They were so wrecked they forgot to eat and sat
on the sun-busted front porch for hours, watching swallows cruise for moths.
         They even stood to salute at sundown and faced up the block
to the base's back gate at Taps, 
         and for some reason this was not at all ironic.
Tra-la they would not kill alas, they would not die. 
         They couldn't see the base flag going down,
but the gloaming coming on from the east
         promised another day when everything would be better.
There were bats coming out, hunting.
         America, someone said. Beautiful country.
And it was.

                       -from Beautiful Country

Watch Robert Wrigley read this poem at the Boston Court Theater in Los Angeles, CA.







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