This is the third Vietnam poem in my series inspired by Tim O’Brien’s first book, If I Die In a Combat Zone. Some of this one is straight out of the book. Mr. O’Brien is one powerful writer, and he inspires me to keep trying.



Lying flat in an isolated meadow vietnam firefight

Trying to blend into the short grass

Every bullet seems to be aimed straight at you

Hearing them go by, too close

Sounding like angry hornets in the air

Going through the air… searching for you


Like waking up during a heart transplant

Your old heart out, new one in a silver bowl

Unseen, in the enemy’s hand

Pain exploding in the empty cavity

Terror… waiting for the hole to be filled

Wanting it to start pumping and throbbing again


You whimper, low and keening

Not sure where the sound starts or comes from

Throat doing the pleading for you

Taking the heart’s place

The soul—your soul—gone

Numbness… dumbness… no thoughts


Courage is nothing to laugh at

Not when exercised by men

Who know what they do is proper

Proper courage is wise courage acting wisely

When fear would have you act otherwise

The soul endures in spite of fear


Copyright © 2013 C Mashburn

Sharing this on dVerse Poets Pub’s Form For All feature.


  1. dang…vivid…the pain in the cavity and being awake during a heart transplant…acting when fear would have you doing otherwise as well…nice piece charles…

  2. Wow, this is so powerful. Like waking up in the middle of a heart transplant. Charles, that was painfully brilliant.

  3. … and I’m afraid of spider… great picture you’ve painting for us

  4. Hi Charles – very sad poem – we are of a similar generation, if not always on same side, we are both witnesses to great loss. If you are going to read one of my mine – the current one is fun but a bit silly -here’s one more up the alley of this subject:

    I have others too about war – this more recent. Agh. k.

  5. You didn’t tell me you are doing a series…awesome! I have to find #2 :>)

  6. Very powerful Charles, you paint a vivid portrait of war… your poem gives us an insight to the terror of being there. That last stanza is brilliant.

    • Thanks, Dianne. Tim O’Brien actually paints the pictures, I just put them in poetry form.

  7. “Proper courage is wise courage acting wisely” — now that’s bookmark worthy… loved it… smiles…

    • Thanks, Kelvin. It’s not an original thought, and has been said in many and various ways by others before me. But it is a good one!

  8. zongrik said

    like waking up during a heart transplant sure is powerful

    kooky kinesthetics

    • I agree, Tammy. It’s a line and scene from the book, and I could not resist putting into this poem. Powerful stuff!

  9. lucychili said

    extreme. different kinds of courage. powerful images.

  10. Kim Nelson said

    If it is possible to impart experience and sensation through written word, you have done so. Vivid. Direct.

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