Gretchen Sullivan


Gretchen, an MFA student at George Mason University, is the daughter of a Vietnam veteran who served from '67 to'68 with the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, Headquarters and Maintenance Squadron-13, MAG-13, in Chu Lai, Vietnam. 


In her own words: "As the child of a Vietnam vet, I felt like Vietnam was in my bones from the time that I was a little kid. In my family, some of my dad's stories were whispered or not spoken of at all, and some of them were stories that were with us, overtly, all the time. My dad took me to my first POW-MIA demonstration when I was 10 or 12 or so, and that was when I knew I had found a community of people that would be part of my life forever.  few years later, my dad and I got into his falling-apart Subaru station wagon and started driving from Connecticut to D.C. for Rolling Thunder. At a rest stop in New Jersey, he let me get out of the car and jump on the back of a Harley for the rest of the trip. That Memorial Day, when we gunned up in the parking lot of the Pentagon, I felt like I was home.My dad won't get on a motorcycle, but he was there on Constitution Avenue waiting for me to roll by with my ride, and I don't think I've ever felt so humbled or so proud in my whole life, seeing him there waving at me from the sidewalk.


My poems are like that, I hope - I'm trying to ride for my dad. All my life, I've grilled him for all the details of his Vietnam stories. No matter how hard the telling is, he always tells me. I don't want those stories to be lost. Even when the stories are brutal, as they often are, I feel like it's my job to tell the truth - whatever ambivalence or pain that may reveal. I think of my work as poetry of witness - writing that tries to tell the truth of horrific events, in the hope that we will never forget those events, and in the hope that no one after us will have to suffer in the same way.

I'm indebted to my father, to all of his Vietnam buddies, and to all of the amazing vets I've met along the way, for entrusting me with their stories. I won't ever know what they've known first-hand, but I'm honored to be a part of their family.  I hope that the work I do with language and poetry always serves vets, as they served us, and always offers both a recognition of what they live on a daily basis, and a vision for thanks, healing, and peace."


 More Than Brotherhood


Tet, Chu Lai, January 1968.

Eddie "Tomatoes" D'Amato

drags your stoned ass

from the hootch down into the open

bunker when the VC drop a rocket

on your bomb dump.  You'd missed

the rocket's suck through air, sat mesmerized

in the flash, concussions like music.

This ain't no fucking fireworks, Tommy.

He hauls you by the band of your skivvies,

grateful, later, under the lip

of dirt, that you wasted time

to grab the flask.  The GAF bunker,

you'd called it, for give a fuck.

After Tet, you and Tomatoes cover it

with runway matting and sandbags.

Three months later, on night supply

with Tomatoes, stoned in the early morning,

the rockets hit again.  You run

across the sand under fire, crab-wise,

back to supply from the bunker

to find Eddie's cigarettes and a canteen

of coffee.  A brother knows

what a brother needs

to keep him from shitting his pants.

Later, you remember these small things:

whiskey, cigarettes, coffee, heat of bodies

in a bunker.  Not so small.

Thomas, geminus, twin.

D'Amato, amare, to love.


The Eye


I was not the man on the ground

belly-down to the jungle bugs

and the dirt soaked with rain and

blood.  I was not the man who humped

the dead and near-dead through night paddies.

I was not the man at My Lai;

I did not break for lunch and eat

slowly so bound fathers could watch

their wounded daughters die in ditches

at my feet.  No, I was only the air

man, the drop boy, Vietnam a sponge

of green under the chopper.  I just

threw their food, their guns,

my own gun rusted to my hip.

But I saw the hootches burning.

I watched them kill the children and animals

when all the men and women were dead.



Oral History


My mother, Catherine Josephine,

small phrase, thin remnant,

the haunt that hung at the windows nbsp;

and smoked.  We will not speak

about sickness in this house --

my father's command, as she

beat her devils down the drainpipes

with ammonia and burned

her ghosts back into the wallpaper

with a hot iron.  We will not speak

about sickness in this house, as I sang

the Mass for an infant brother, born dead

and soft, never named.

And later, for my own father, Richard Barry,

whom I carried to the toilet

four times an hour for two years.

Dead from hacking on his own stomach,

the pulp of cancer dried on his lips,

the sickness that sealed them.



Winter 1988

for my father and brother


What I remember most about that winter

in our father's cabin is kerosene

and the hunger of the four brown stoves.


And the clatter of wind on the roof's

metal skin, and each rusted pipe

that gave up from November to March.


The dust-colored birds that pecked

at scraps of the cake he let us eat

for lunch.  His bone-scrawny Shepherd


that watched us chew turkey from aluminum

tins.  Do you remember the lake there,

brother, Dog Pond'  Vexing name,


silted water, and we skated it that winter

on soaped moon boots, under the scum-gray

light of the sun.  There were mice


under the pocked wooden sink and a kingdom

of feral cats in the abandoned lean-to.

Abandoned.  It has the right sound and feel


from here, as I lift the memory and hold it up,

locked like a daguerreotype, and see

three refugees and their animal comrades,


wintering, frozen in a scene from a familiar

documentary.  What I remember most is gratitude,

later, for meat with bones, hot water, insulation,


the demise of the KeroSun stove, and him,

leader of a fractured tribe, a man who shouldered

weight as light, said pioneers, not exiles.



Year of the Monkey



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