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The Army Gave Us Pills

The Army gave us pills that turned us black
So we could fight at night and not be seen;
And when our tour of duty’s done they have
Another pill to turn us white again.”
That’s what we told the girls in every town
In France and Germany that we went through.
We gave them chocolates, nylons, cigarettes;
And they weren’t virgins, so we struck our deals.
I’ve heard white soldiers told them we had tails.
I’m sure a few of them peeked or they felt
My rear just to be sure it wasn’t true.
But since they didn’t know the English word
For “tail,” they couldn’t ask where it had gone.
I realized it’s what the masters did
To slave girls, but at least they lived with blacks,
And some babies were light enough, and passed,
And moved away and said that they were Greek.
I got home, married, had a family.
A while back on TV I saw a show
About the bastards soldiers left behind
In Vietnam, and what a dreadful life
They had, especially the half-black ones.
Of course I’d wanted sex: I’m just a man.
But was I also punishing them for
Losing the war but disrespecting me?
Or doing something that would get me lynched
At home, but here they needed what I’d pay?
I wondered if I’d fathered any there,
In Europe in the ‘Forties. Babies made
By white soldiers could easily fit in,
But mine would stand out. Now I sometimes think
That I could go back, maybe track them down.
But I’d feel guilty for the hand I’d dealt
Them, boy or girl; so I’ll just sit and brood.
An eighty-five-year-old man shaking hands
With some black senior citizen from there.
Perhaps he or she moved here long ago,
Or maybe came here recently to search
For father whose full name she never knew.
They’d carry an old photograph to show,
Though I’d forgotten her face long ago.
To father’s different than to be a dad.
I’ve too much time now, and my thoughts turned sad.

 

ORIGINALLY A NORTHERN CALIFORNIAN, PETER MEHREN HAS LIVED IN FOUR COUNTRIES –INCLUDING KENYA WITH HIS BEAUTIFUL COVIVANTE AND THEIR INFANT, IN THE PEACE CORPS- AND HAS TRAVELED IN MANY MORE. DEGREES IN HISTORY, WITH SEVERAL COURSES IN ENGLISH AND DRAMA, PLUS TEACHER TRAINING.  OVER THE DECADES HE HAS BEEN PAID TO MANAGE FARMS AND OFFICES; WRITE FICTION, NON-FICTION, RHYMES; ACT; TEACH; EDIT; PLAY MUSIC; PUMP GAS; FIGHT FIRES; AND OTHER ACTIVITIES. ENJOYS HAVING THOUGHTS PROVOKED –HIS OWN AND THOSE OF FELLOW CONVERSATIONALISTS AND CORRESPONDENTS.  AS JONATHAN SWIFT PUT IT, “I HAVE EVER HATED ALL NATIONS, PROFESSIONS, AND COMMUNITIES; AND ALL MY LOVE IS TOWARD INDIVIDUALS….”

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