The shape of it bending like an eel
or disfigured quarter moon, pink and green
and brown, like a rainbow trout. The wall
along my bed covered with the map I cut
from the newspaper, and next to it the fishing
calendar from Abonauder’s Texaco. The square
cages of days with their numerals and effigies
of moon and fish shaded to indicate the shape
of the moon, the hunger of the fish.
The white bread stripped of its crust, dampened,
then dusted with flour, compressed into a tight ball,
wrapped in foil and chilled all night.
A piece of it pressed and shaped on the tip
of an Eagle Claw hook, then lowered into the nesting holes
of blue gill. The plastic bobber floating
on the surface like a silent doorbell. A whole world
of cause and effect, framed day-by-day and week-by-week.
The passage of time as a kind of game in which
I transferred numbers from the newspaper
to the calendar. The body counts and their categories
of NVRA, Marines, Montagnards.
And each morning I put a bold X through the previous
day not to erase or forget it but to connect
the corners, make four triangles of the square.
And it was rare if not impossible to catch
the blue gill that swam and swam around
the tidy pebble craters of their nests,
or coax them out except in hostile swerves
and feints toward the bait that hung
like a balloon of gravity over their homes,
a suspicious egg pouch or cocoon, something
a storm might have dislodged from the bank
and blown like a feared gift into the water,
a thing swallowed whole then run with
until the line played out and the hook set fast.
Michael Collier, “Vietnam” from The Neighbor (University of Chicago Press, 1995)
This is one of those generation-specific selections that may well mean nothing to those who did not come of age in the 1960s under the concrete menace of getting drafted and sent to Vietnam. I also knew boys who volunteered, believing they were following serious moral imperatives. They were the most bitter after it was all over. The first half of my childhood was dominated by fear of the A-Bomb. The second half by disgust over Vietnam. A fair introduction to what it would mean to be a grown-up American.