Roger Dorsey

Roger is a geologist with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  He has been writing poetry since 1991.  Roger served with the U.S. Marine Corps in the 1st Amtrac Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, located in I Corps near Da Nang in 1965 and 1966.




Two Young Men, Silent


Two young men, silent

in their darkness,

wait in a shallow earthen hole. Now,

I didn't say that they have guns


resting on their knees,

that nearby, in its blue sleep, is a still pond,

glimmering like a cup of silver,

nor did I imply


that overhead, there are flights of waterfowl

sculling the rippled sea of air,

incoming over rumpled mountains.

I didn't?


but you may have guessed:

they do have guns, and,

yes, there are flights above--

the shrill whistling, the heavy landings,


as though dropped pools of mercury,

and the air buzzing like cities of bees

after the quick coming

in of a sharp stick.  And


then there are the other noises?

And did I tell you of the smells,

of the flies, of the blue-white flashes.

Did I mention there are no ducks?


Danse Macabre


Roly-poly Roland James

A bull of a boy

Swaggered life

Rode it like a horse

Spurred it in the flanks

Then held on for dear life

Which reared up

All wild-eyed     ears laid back

And kicked him in the head

Life did

And South Philly Rollie

Staggered     dead

A sledged steer

A hundred-sixty-grain freight train

Roaring through his brain

Sent him reeling round himself

Boot heels ripping up the ground

Wild-eyed     ripped up     blood-clabbered

Falling down in a dance of death

A blind-stagger two step

Last chance to dance

So he grabbed it   grabbing air

No partner to hold him up

No priest to hold back the done deed

The shadows closing in on him

Corporal Roland James

More or less

Now   less than the sum of his parts

Now departing

The dearly departed heading home early

Bagged and tagged and sent aloft

Dead-weight cargo   lashed down

Strapped up in a flying boneyard  C-130

With a short delay in Dover

Hung up in a hanger on a set of sawhorses

Draped in Glory

                                                            Say Amen

Play the bugle  bang the drum

Slowly fold the flag

The Totentanz is done

So hurry up and fire up the hearse

Aim it north along the Delaware

Yo   Philly     Good-time Rollie's

Rollin' home.


May 1994


Dead in the Water


Young private Campbell may he rest in peace

went AWOL from his unit one stormy day

in September near Sardinia

in a most unusual way

way before going AWOL to get away

from killing or being killed became the choice

of the sadly chosen and inducted

but not fully brainwashed

who like private Campbell R.A. 2080437 USMC

would play at killing in the Mediterranean

where the wine was sweet

and the whores were cheap

or shall we say inexpensive

for young private Campbell Baptist son

of the eternal Confederacy who loved

the cross though he said he'd

burned a few would never judge

a woman's virtue for this he learned

from Jesus and anyway even a whore

had a mother as Campbell had

a mother he must have cried out to

as the sea filled his lungs

but she could not hear him

nor could we who watched him sink

from sight a sight to see

a boy die a man's death

while playing war a year before

some of us who and some of us

were black saw and dived and

came up empty died in shallower

water behind dikes in full view

of water buffalo and with leeches

draining what metal shards

had not fully drained and two weeks

after being swept to death

overboard in full view of those

of us who were about to die

later but did not salute those who

gave the orders he young private Campbell

hater of blacks and all blackness

and his mother's only begotten son

washed up on shore black and

bloated with his face in the

guts of various indifferent crabs

and we who could not save him

and later could not save ourselves

wrote lies to his mother but

Jesus gave her comfort

and forgave us our indiscretions.


Killing Time


Those who had done this before agreed

the waiting was the worst part.

I, who had not, know it will be the killing.


Seven corpsemakers are half-submerged

in shallow water, shouldered in

to paddydikes. Waiting.

The saffron afterglow melts

down the night side of the distant ridge.


The death watch continues in the darkness

of a tiger's mouth, in the stench

and heat of his breath.


The palpable night sucks at our heaving lungs

drawing out our humanity through dry throats.

Now we are not men. Now we are predators

driven by instinct alone.


We know the dread that assassins know

who with measured shallow breaths mark time

awaiting victims they might love.

We are armed with the righteousness

of men who know God guides their actions.


Cutthroats, we lie in wait to steal

from those who carry His gift

within taut sinews and weathered skin

draped on insubstantial frames?

dark-clad phantoms who float dreamlike

along animal trails toward our ambush.




They will come soon.

They will have loved no one.

They will have no families.

We will kill shadowmen.

There will be no pain.


A faint sound! Death draws near.


In owllight, eyeballs dart searching

for him, for them.

We exist without breathing

(to prove we are not human?).

The shape clears the treeline

and steps boldly into the killing zone.

"It must be a deer?O God,

it must be only a deer!"


 March 1992



Panel 18E, Line 115


I found your name today among the

divisions of the dead printed chronologically

as you fell like dominos (benedicamus Domino)

in an unbroken line: 1959 to 1975.


Bloody battalions there for all to see

in the Tibetan Phone Book of the Dead, listed

by panel and line, corresponding to etchings

inscribed on polished diabase.


As I brailed your name with middle-aged

fingers that have pointed, clenched, bled,

caressed countless times in the

three-quarters of a billion seconds


passed by since that one black second

when you passed on, I saw my face thrown

back at me from the dark mirror

that reflects the living and retains the dead.


Why did all those whose names appear

on this desolate wall, like Humpty Dumpty,

have a great fall? Why did each

Jack memorialized here, who slogged up


nameless hills fall back down and break

his crown of thorns? I watched

as others passed by the wall.

Some were on a pilgrimage of grief,


some expiating guilt for surviving

the war, some for marrying another,

and some for forgetting the sound

of his voice, the color of his laugh.


Others just ambled by with the

indifference of browsers

who come into the shopping mall

only for the air conditioning.


Passing the wilted wreaths, oblong

boxes filled with tarnished bronze stars,

yellowing photos of young men

in Dress Blues, and plastic-covered


letters from mothers to dead sons,

I thought how you died along the banks

of the Song Cau Do in a burning vehicle

not in a rocking chair

overlooking the Charles.



June 1991




The morning air hangs breathless

in the Asian furnace.

The village, slumbering in the wake


of its timelessness,

is gone by noon,

consumed by rage.


And there above the pounded earth,

a sky of fraying clouds

is filling up with smoke


and startled souls in transmigration.

Beyond the flames, a soldier

hunkered down within himself,


is rocking?

his hands holding up his head

as if they held a heavy stone


heaved up through earth

by numbing frost.

His face, that hides him from himself,


that shows him nothing but his skin

and angled shape of bone,

is shrouded in his grip?


unfisted hands, sad parentheses,

holding in a child's dream,

walling out some dreadful truth.


The soldier, tired of being what he is . . .

what he has become,

is rocking?


there, within himself,

darkly moved by some internal music?

out of the carnage mindlessly rocking.


September 1993


Something Retrievable


How can I tell you how it was?

in war when I was young

a man lost in a place of madness

and rockets and napalm and rain

as I sit here graying peacefully in the shade of maples

sustained by the slow dance of a monarch

above the poppies hovering

with my life grounded in the everyday

moving seamlessly between

my interior and exterior worlds

the empiricist and the lover

of the imaginative



thirty years a prisoner of memory

silently sorting through the clamor and terror

to find something retrievable

an image

as sharp as the well-honed edge of a blade

to bring back: gleaming from the full brunt of heat

from the murky grass-choked estuaries

the airless shadow-stippled trails

where a crouched figure like a folded knife

still keeps predatory vigil

in a timeless season of violent death

in that spectral landscape of dreams

where the dying hover above themselves

lying opened-eyed in small clutches


in sun-shafted forests

or alone uncoiling from their frail humanity

immersed in the green ruins of paddy rice

always with the outstretched arms

of ghosts gesturing from the far side of the river


what can I tell you of war?

> other than it endures

> in the mind and the marrow

> as regret as fear

> in clots of shame long after the killing

> has drained itself bloodless in some

> land of overarching sorrow well beyond

> the remedy of words.

> June 1999




Do you come from high heaven or from the abyss,

O beauty?



Pinned down beneath the Southern Cross

by our own sundering guns?

155's firing H.E. and Willy Pete?

and he says to me

"you know there's beauty in all things,

if you'll only look for it."

And all the while the choirs of cannon

poured out their fierce dissonancy

from those dark chancels beyond the mountains,

he lay there, calmly,

at the bottom of the swale

gazing up through the thatch


of forest canopy, transfixed

by the night's new resurrection of stars,

fingers interlaced

between hair and grass,

arms splayed out in frail wings,

as if a molted Archangel

rigged down to earth

on ropes and pulleys

from some far-off heaven

of the absurd.

And when he spoke

the stars went out.


The breathed night air,

sucked from his lungs, ignited

and the startled words

that leaped fiery from the last

of his tongue came to nothing

above the ashes, as black went white

in a shimmering incandescence.

And he became suddenly nothing

but soul lifting from his unmade madness,

drifting amid the withering light

of incineration-?

a risen, dark mystery of night.


January 1997


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