Camouflaging the Chimera

We tied branches to our helmets.
We painted our faces & rifles
with mud from a riverbank,
blades of grass hung from the pockets
of our tiger suits. We wove
ourselves into the terrain,
content to be a hummingbird’s target.

We hugged bamboo & leaned
against a breeze off the river,
slow-dragging with ghosts

from Saigon to Bangkok,
with women left in doorways
reaching in from America.
We aimed at dark-hearted songbirds.

In our way station of shadows
rock apes tried to blow our cover
throwing stones at the sunset. Chameleons

crawled our spines, changing from day
to night: green to gold,
gold to black. But we waited
till the moon touched metal,

till something almost broke
inside us. VC struggled
with the hillside, like black silk

wrestling iron through grass.
We weren’t there. The river ran
through our bones. Small animals took refuge
against our bodies; we held our breath,

ready to spring the L-shaped
ambush, as a world revolved
under each man’s eyelid.

This is obviously about the Vietnam war.  The VC, the jungle…  There’s no question as to what this about.  Now it’s just a matter of finding the deeper meaning. The title of the poem works with what he’s saying.  It’s about how they’re trying to hide in Vietnam.  They’re painting their faces and rifles with mud and stuffing their pockets with grass to blend in with the surrounding.  The surroundings are even beginning to absorb the soldiers into it.  Small animals are nesting against them and the chamelion is changing to match their uniforms.  Camouflage is everywhere.  Only the apes try to expose the soldiers. What could the chimera be.  A chimera is a mythical monster composed of one or more creatures.  The first would be men, the soldiers evident in the poem.  But what else can they be?  They’re creating this war, so can the embodiment of war be a part of the chimera?  Or could it be the surroundings.  They’re men, but they’re blending into the scene around them.  Perhaps them, combined with the elements of the Vietnamese jungle are creating a chimera.  This chimera is man and war and nature and trees and animals.  This chimera is everything in Vietnam.  Does that work? “As a world revolved under each man’s eyelid.”I’d like to address this line.  I’m not sure exactly what it means, but I do have a guess.  These men are surrounded by war and death.  The line does not say THE world, like the earth as a whole, but A world.  This is specific to each person.  The men are thinking of their lives.  Their girlfriends, their wives, their families, their friends…  These men have their own life and their own world but have been ripped from it and put into this foreign dangerous world.  The men may not see their old lives again, and they know this as they remember what waits for them back home. I feel as though Yusef is against war but is not denying its inevitablity.  The imagery is natural and camouflaged.  War is part of nature and blends in with the lives of people.  It’s inevitable.  The only opposition to the soldiers in the jungle were the monkeys.  No one listened to the monkeys; they stayed in the jungle and continued on in the war.  The rest of the imagery is mostly natural and flows with nature.  The last stanza is what makes me believe Yusef doesn’t support war.  The last line abuot the worlds in the eyes of the soldiers is haunting.  It leaves the reader with a forlorn feeling.  They’re depressed.  They realized all the soldier had to give up and may never regain in order to fight in the war.  The war that is inevitable because it’s so natural for humans to perform.

Vietnam soldiers   peace-sign.jpg