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.
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
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
dealer, their source, and he liked them more
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.
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
pleaded not merely ordinary fear
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Blinks sat in the room's only chair, spike withdrawn now,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
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
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
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
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.
the one black man among them, studied his biceps
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
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.
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
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,
the gloaming coming on from the east
another day when everything would be better.
There were bats coming out, hunting.
America, someone said. Beautiful country.
And it was.