A STORY ABOUT VIETNAM AND ALEXI SANTANA
In a tiled bathroom stall, one chapter per tile,
at Antioch College, 1968, I wrote a novel,
my penmanship so small it looked like code.
Maybe it’s still there, and I’m anonymously
Johnson’s war turned Nixon’s,
a boy my age stared while two Chinese tanks
rolled out from the jungle, side by side, their tracks
decades later he’ll compare to horses’ hoofprints
in his poems, where monkeys shrieking
through the muggy Quang Tri twilight,
and mines that pulp the body’s lower parts
move and give pleasure. On the jacket,
a mouth howls through years of dust on dust.
In fact, whoever wrote that novel
in a stench both his and not—even now
I could recite some tiles in front of you—
I never met.
Why do people lie to one another?
asks a lady mummy known as Jumtesonekh.
Her body holds its shape, its genius complete.
The poet she speaks through, though, is dead,
his suicidal myth intact, unlike Alexi Santana’s,
among Newsweek’s all-time top-ten frauds,
and no self-taught orphan raised in Utah
under the stars, by a horse named Good Enough,
nor a student of Plato in the Moon Caves of Nevada.
Google Jumtesonekh, and you’ll be asked
if you meant gemstone, then sold amethyst beads—
the algorithmic glitch like a child calling violence
violets. Alexi Santana, not his real name. . .
Nothing I could write about Vietnam is true
as the tin of rations pitched at a village girl,
or the slash it leaves along her temple, or
the other village girls who steal the tin.
With a debt to Thomas James and Bruce Weigl