House of the Tomato

If a woman wants to be a poet, she must dwell in the house of the tomato. -- Erica Jong

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Ever since I ate a pear last week, I've had this poem percolating. A fresh write, been though a couple edits. It's another in my Vietnam Letters/Poem responses series. The Ken Burns 18-part docu on TV also has me all stirred up.  I guess I am a narrative poet... I would like to work more metaphor and creative nuances in.  The specific examples may work as such?


When my brother was 10 and I was five,
he would grab a pear from his plate
pull the stem out with his teeth, then pretend to throw it
making hand grenade explosion noises.
He grew up playing war, as boys did back then.
I grew up playing “House” - all things nurturing.

He had dozens of green army men
arranged strategically for war games on the floor
with toy guns, learning to be enemy or aggressor. 
Like his father, uncle and grandfather he would grow up
to serve in the military, though his was not voluntary;
his number came up upon college graduation, 1967.

Basic training, boot camp,
then flown off to Vietnam barely prepared,
with old weapons that hardly worked,
dropped into the jungle. Half his platoon high on drugs,
living in APCs (Armored personnel carriers) aka “tracks”
plowing through rice paddies, past defoliated fields and villages. 

He grew up in Boy Scouts; went out on winter survival bivouacs.
He hunted pheasant, partridge, sometimes deer. He was a good shot.
All that scouting and hunting saved him in the steamy jungle.
He saw his buddie’s brains sprayed across his own helmet,
amputated another buddie’s leg with a pen knife.
Saw arms and legs blown through the sky. One time, someone’s head.

He was never the same after he came home.
Jumpy. Quick to anger. Yelled at waitresses and his wife; a lot. Blamed others.
It was hard to hold a job with a short, hot temper. He was never satisfied.
That trauma and seethe festered until age 44, when it exploded as cancer.
a rare, agent orange-induced lymphoma that he pushed back with
chemo for 15 years until it claimed his life.

He told me, you always had it easier, cuz you’re a girl,
you weren’t forced to go to war.

You didn’t see what I saw.
You never experienced fear like I had to.

I still feel guilty whenever I eat a pear.

                       Annette Grunseth 9/23/2017

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