Sunday, November 30, 2008

~Small Talk
Okay, so it may come down to the fact
I was never very good at conversation.
Sure. I’ll grant you that.
But now listen:
I was all of nineteen years old and
being Midwest bred and raised,
I was pretty far from worldly.

You’ve got to understand that
on this particular topic,
I had no worthy opinions;
absolutely nothing of importance to say.
Perhaps… Perhaps I just looked knowledgeable.
What with the fact of my wearing a uniform,
it may have appeared
I’d automatically have some insight
into all things military.

If a manual exists on the fine art of conversation,
I figure there’s got to be a passage
about initiating discourse with
some element of small talk.
You know… Something mutually inclusive.
Common ground.
Common experience.
Small talk.
Yea. But this was not…
small talk.

And so…
I share a room with a man
who had entered only five minutes ago,
and there in that short span of silence,
I’ve certainly noticed his long hair;
his civilian attire;
the fact he’s a good ten years my senior.
And then…
And then he decides to engage in small talk.
He turns to face me
and from his mouth come the words:
“Have you ever killed anyone?”

You know. Small talk.
Being as I still qualified as teenager,
it was relatively easy to do a
body count in my head and
come up with a summation of none.
But of course I refrained from
answering too quickly.
As an expression of machismo,
it’s important to give
the appearance I’m pondering the
trail of bodies left in my lethal wake.

“Hmm? No.
Let’s see. That one guy?
I believe he managed to crawl away.
Um… And I’m certain she’s still quite alive.
Pretty sure that one bus load of kids
made it to the hospital in time.”

How fucking ridiculous!
But… with a somber face,
I simply returned his awaiting gaze and said,
“Umm… No.”
And no sooner did I reply
but did he quickly come back with,
“Well, I have. Yea. Numerous times.”

“Now aren’t you the over-achiever.”
That’s what I should have replied, but no.
I was nineteen years old, and
it’s rather difficult to dive into a conversation
about serial killing or mass murder
when you have no point of reference.

“I was in Viet Nam,” he continues. “Were you?”
“Were you in Viet Nam?”
This was 1979.
I… a young man, fresh out of high school.
This conversation was going to be a bit one sided.

“No,” I said. And to this he chimes back with,
“Well, I was.
Shot some gook in the face with a shotgun.
You ever shoot someone in the face with a shotgun?”

Pretty sure my response to that one
matched all the other answers I’d given so far.
And for the next thirty minutes,
this man I did not know,
proceeded to regurgitate
every violent homicidal act
he’d ever been involved in.

Why? … Why?
Why was I deemed worthy of his
sole soul repository?
Something to do with the fact
the cloth against my skin was olive drab?
That he’d spent the last five, six, seven years
with this orgasmic power point presentation
locked and looped there in his head and now,
seeing that cloth…
Seeing a certain insignia upon my sleeve,
there in his mind,
a door unlocks in some dark cranial corridor
and the bloody viscera splattered foliage
of some distant jungle
comes spilling forth at my feet.
The popping sound of rotor blades;
the buzz of an M60;
the thump of a mortar round;
the smell of white phosphorus
as it burns its way through human flesh.
All of this dying to get out of his head.
All of this dying,
a perpetual loop of validation
that he was most certainly alive.
Dying to be alive.
Dying to be alive.

And anything…
Anything less than the jungles
and hills and grasslands of Viet Nam
was a lesser form of life
and greater form of death.

Somewhere in between these two extremes
a man seeks affirmation,
and all he asked of me was small talk.
A faint nod of the head.
A hushed whisper of “I hear you.”

And here now, so many years later,
some post traumatic grandpa
shares the couch with his post traumatic grandson.
One of the two with his foot still buried
deep in a distant fetid swamp.
The other with his boot in scorched sand.

And were you to walk into that room,
all you’d see
would be two men
sharing a couch.
Just two men sharing a couch.
But there in between lie severed legs.
Severed arms. Severed lives.
Whilst severed dreams
lie buried and forgotten
in far distant lands.

Here are two men locked
in that moment of loss.
Both quite alive
and both quite dead,
whilst there in their heads:
small talk.

©07 Jack Hubbell

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