April 11, 2018

Jimmy Pappas

BOBBY’S STORY

I. Bobby: Food

I was a jungle fighter. We had to eat
cold food because we couldn’t have fires
or we would give away our location.
I liked to eat snakes. They tasted pretty good.
I ate insects: spiders, centipedes, grasshoppers,
anything I could find to survive.
Here’s what I’d do: I’d take my pot,
put in a centipede and lots of grasshoppers.
Then I’d mash it all together, cover it
with tabasco sauce, close my eyes,
and pretend I was eating something else.
The hot sauce took my mind off what
I was doing, so it was like eating Mexican food.

 

II. Bobby: Rock ’n’ Roll Gunner

We’d fly over the jungles
in helicopter gunships
playing rock ’n’ roll music.

We had our guns ready
for when Charlie came
out to shoot at us.
Charlie hated rock ’n’ roll.

 

III. Bobby: The Jungle Fighter

I fought in the Ashau Valley,
the site of the last major Marine
operation of the entire war,
so I made very few friends.
I didn’t need to think about
crap like them dying on me.

We went into Laos, Cambodia.
The NVA would attack us and run
across the border. They didn’t care
about no Geneva Convention.
Why should we? We set up quadrants
across the border. All secret stuff.
We’d sit in hiding for a day or more.
Then we would ambush them.
It was very effective.

When I was fighting, I felt bad
for the women and children,
but never for the men because
their objective was to kill me,
and mine was to make it home.

Sometimes I volunteered to support
the doctors who did not carry guns.
I kept lookout while this one medic
helped a family in a village
when a mortar shell landed
right on the hooch, killing
the whole family and the doctor,
but I only got blown twenty feet
down the road, and couldn’t do
nothing to save them.

I joined the Marines for all
the right reasons, but when
I came back, I was pissed off
for quite a long while.
People called me a baby killer.
They thought they knew more
about Vietnam than I did
because of what they saw on TV,
so I just took the insults
and said, Screw you.

 

IV. Bobby: Guns

You know that gun that was advertised
in VVA magazine? I bought it.
I love guns. I can’t tell you what it’s like
in the evening when I’m cleaning
my guns. It helps me find peace.
I have AK-47s, M-16s, tommy guns,
you name it, I got it. All legal.
Then I get up in the morning
to come here, and a guy gives me
shit in the parking lot.
I wanted to kill him.
Don’t worry. It’s been forty years,
and I haven’t shot anybody yet.

 

V. Ron: Joining the Group

I met Bobby at the Vet Center
when I went there for help.
He was in the same therapy group.
The first day, when I heard some
of the things he said, I knew
he was in his place. That began
my indoctrination into his bulldog
side. He was hard core, and I
liked that. He asked me to join
this Vietnam Veterans of America
chapter. He said, Bring in twenty
dollars and your DD214 next week.
I kept making excuses, so he said,
Just bring in your DD214, and I’ll
pay the twenty dollars. I didn’t really
want to join, but the thought of owing
him twenty dollars was worse,
so I came in the next week
with my paperwork and dues.
I am truly grateful to him for
caring enough to get me involved.

 

VI. Ron: Hurricane Sandy

Bobby and I went to New York
to help veterans after Hurricane Sandy.
One rainy day, we spent an hour
in the parking lot discussing
the problems of jelly doughnuts
hoping no one would show up
before the doughnut issue
was resolved. Even when
he was doing something
serious, he did not have
to be serious all the time.
When it came time to load up
the truck, Bobby was in the storage
unit and Jack was in the trailer.
I was in the middle getting wet
in the rain passing boxes.
I asked, Why am I the only one
getting wet? Bobby said,
Because you were the only one
who was late. How can you
argue with that logic?

 

VII. Bobby: The Roofer

I went to the VA for help.
The lady asked me what
I could do. I told her,
I got a fifth-grade education.
I fought in the jungles
for the Marines.
Then I spent 39 years
as a roofer before I
fell off a roof
and broke my back.
You tell me, What
do YOU think I can do?

 

VIII. Jimmy: The Cane Battle

I try to sit near Bobby at events.
Very few others seem to want to.
Bobby has been committing
suicide by food. He stuffs himself.
Between injuries and obesity,
he can hardly move.

I have Bobby on one side,
Peter on the other.
They each have canes now.
Peter hates Bobby.
When Bobby interrupts,
Peter swings his cane
at Bobby over my body.
I put my arms up to break up the battle.
Bobby toddles out like a child learning
to walk for the first time.
In the corridor, he cries.
Melvin has to go out to calm him down,
but Bobby quits the group.

 

IX. Melvin: In the Corridor

Bobby stood out there and cried like a baby.
He swore at me up and down,
telling me I’m always taking sides
against him. I tell him I’m not taking
any more shit. We lost two good
potential members that day.
They came to check out the group.
You blame them for wondering
if it’s always like this? I don’t want
to be disrespected like that again.

 

X. Larry: Respecting Women

Bobby swore in front of the women.
I grew up being told you don’t
disrespect women. He shouldn’t be
swearing in front of women like that.

 

XI. Peter: The Toilet

I don’t want Bobby
coming to my house
for our next meeting.
He’s so fat he might
break my toilet
or something.

 

XII. Melvin: Late Night Calls

Bobby calls me up at 11:00 at night.
It takes me 45 minutes to get there
and 45 minutes to get back home.
Then I spend a couple of hours
at his home helping him out.
I can’t keep doing that.
You know that dog he has?
Armani? He’s a comfort dog.
He’s there to take care of Bobby.
You know how Bobby hurt his leg?
He couldn’t get Armani out of the house
to go pee, so by the time he finally
got the dog out, it had to go so bad
and pulled so hard that Bobby fell over.
So I teach Armani how to go in Bobby’s bathroom.
I set up some paper there.
I even put a diaper on the dog.
I can’t keep doing this.
I’m through with Bobby.

 

XIII. Bobby: Armani the Comfort Dog

Armani’s my friend. My only one.
He’s family to me. Look at him.
He’s got his head on my foot.
You put on his vest and he becomes
a comfort dog. He begins working.
Take it off and he’s a regular dog again.
You know he can take clothes out of the dryer?
Press buttons on the elevator for me?
It’s incredible what he can do.
We even made him a member of the group.
And he’s a great chick magnet.

 

XIV. Bobby: The Return

I came back to the group again.
I really need to be here.

 

XV. Bobby: The VA Hospital

You know they won’t let me
keep my dog Armani here?
What’s that all about!
You know, I’m not doing real good.
And they’re doing nothin’ for me,
nothin’. Let’s go have a cigarette.

 

XVI. Melvin: Life Support

I got some bad news I need to share.
Bobby’s in Boston at Brigham
and Woman’s Hospital.
His family’s going in today,
and the doctors are going
to take him off life support.
I know you loved him.
That’s why I called you
personally to let you know.

 

XVII. Ron: The Funeral

When I was having problems,
my wife told me to either get help
or get out. I love my wife so I
went to the VA to find assistance.
One of the first guys I met was Bobby.
He’s the only guy who can say
I love you to my wife.
He used to help me pick up flowers
for all of the veterans’ funerals.
This morning, the lady at the flower shop
asked me, Hey, where’s your friend?
I told her, These flowers are for him.

from Rattle #58, Winter 2017
Readers’ Choice Award Winner

[download audio]

__________

Jimmy Pappas: “One of my last conversations with Bobby before he died went something like this. Jimmy: I’m going to make you famous in a poem, Bobby. Bobby: I don’t want no lousy poem. Jimmy: No, it’s not going to be a fancy poem. It’s going to be a good poem. Bobby: Okay, but I don’t want no rhymes. So rest in peace, Bobby. I made you famous in a poem with no rhymes that I wrote over a three-year time period. And it’s a good poem.”

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