Tag Archives: hats

Hats

When I was eight,
I kept a picture on my wall
of my father, another man,
and a sea of smiling children.
Behind them was a helicopter
(black in my picture, green in Asia)
and in front of them
(though not in my picture)
were little homes of straw and mud.
In my picture,
he was not much older than I am now.

Not much older,
as I walk along Caille Duarte,
stepping over goat shit and mango pits,
greeted by four little boys
yelling, “Hola, Miguel! Miguel!”
I lose my straw hat to them,
I juggle stones and mangoes for them,
I chase them over cracked pavement
and past rusted barbed wire
covered with wet clothes.
They chatter at me,
as they must have chattered at him,
and I am powerless against their talk
and their tugs and their laughter.

Little Juan took me home one day–
grabbed my hand and my hat after Mass
and led me from the church to the river
on the edge of town, where his mother
kept a tin-roofed shack.
How proud he was of his, pig, his puppy,
his swing made of a stick and a rope!
He climbed into trees for fruit to give me,
and he threw round stones to knock mangoes loose
then led me back to the pastor’s house
and I gave away all my mangoes
walking back to Caille Duarte.

My hat always disappeared during Mass,
as though it crept stealthily
from under my seat and then flitted
from head to tiny head like a yellow-brown parrot.
I always retrieved it from a little cabellero
who wore it nearer his chin than his ears.
Now it’s torn and cracked in places
where small fingers plucked it roughly
like a hard yellow mango.

When I was eight,
I asked my father what had happened
to those children who hung on his arms,
and passed his green hat from head to head.
When I was eight,
he told me that they had to lock him in a room
when that village was burned,
and that he still feels rage at that fire.
If they had lived,
they would be not much older than me.


When I was in the Dominican Republic, I was a favorite of the little kids, who stole my hat and gave me fruit; I could juggle, sing silly songs, and was always up for a game of tag. Kids are great: fearless, funny, and resilient.

My father loved kids, too, and I had a picture of him, snapped for the Stars & Stripes newspaper, playing with a bunch of kids in Vietnam. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that many of those kids were later killed by the Viet Cong, because the village had been too friendly to the Americans. Of course, a good many kids were also killed by the ARVN or American bombs because their villages were too friendly to the VC. One of the many horrors of war is that friendliness can kill you.

I suppose I have a somewhat rosy view of American soldiers because of my father (and my grandfather, who passed out chocolate and gum to kids in Belgium and Germany during the Second World War); at their best, they’re overgrown kids themselves, even though they’re often called upon to do things horribly un-kid-like. The soldiers in the Dominican Republic were a different breed entirely: they swaggered around, swinging their rifles, buoyed by their unquestionable power, bullies every one. Thuggery in arms is a terrifying thing to see.

Of all my leftover poems of twenty years ago, I like this one the best, and I think I’ll end the series with it.

Blog Widget by LinkWithin