The summer of fifty-eight, age twenty,
replete with that smug fifties credo
that being white and not bad-looking
was the natural state of a good old buddy;
that a '56 Chevy was his God-given right;
that he could meet the Girl Scout down the street
in a back-seat jamboree she'd inscribe
in a white, cloth-bound diary;
that friends, that faithful clique of feral satyrs,
would always be near, dear,
car-creeping along streets, back alleys,
hands molded round leather-wrapped steering wheels.
Cashiered out of middle-class gentility,
he entrained with sixty-five
Puerto Ricans and colored boys,
swigged sloe gin and felt a South Carolina sun
fire a rising headache that wouldn't quit
till a drill instructor with a bulldog neck
slapped it away and sent him single file,
bare-ass naked, down a row of pimply Navy medics
who dusted into the hereafter the crabs
he'd picked up in Wilmington the night before,
then needled both arms
with an antibiotic stew he can still taste,
and sent him double file through armies
of ardent sand fleas and black flies
and sent him to sleep
under a scrap of damp canvas
no bigger than a beach towel to share the outer dark
with that black S.O.B. who took his last twenty
teaching him whist
just before the Wilmington stopover,
who took him to a house on Sharpley Road
to lay that twenty on two black, hard-butted hookers,
the taller one shedding a cadre
of eight-legged cadgers
who got their lumps in the haze of DDT
dispensed by that speckled medic
two days after he woke up in a whirlpool
of sloe gin vomit and black armpit.
Under the canvas the two talked till the rain stopped.
They talked again and again and followed each other
through woods and swamps
in camouflaged cotton and grease paint
hiding their skin for a while.
* * *
The author: Bill Britton enlisted in the Corps in 1958.
From P.I. to Cherry Point for Airborne R/O School, then to Quantico where he flew R4D-8s and AD-5s; crashed at Dyess AFB in R4D-8 17248. Discharged in 1962, operated a hardware store until 1987, then dug clams on Long Island for a living. After getting an M.A. in English, mixed clamming with freelance editing. Moved to Florida in 2004. Still editing P/T, motorcycling, and bitching about most things. Semper Fi.