Cover of All Present, Unaccounted For by Robert Flanagan

All Present, Unaccounted For

A collection of poetry of the Viet Nam War, images and impressions, by Robert Flanagan: 44 poems, 121 pages, Connemara Press/McClain Printing, 2018. 


Soft Cover  $15.00



This collection of poetry had its genesis in journal entries by the author in the early days of the Viet Name War, 1964-1965; was supplemented in his second "tour" of Viet Nam duty, 1968-1969; and saw fruition in graduate school writing classes in the late 1970s. That it took 40 more years to bring this work into print speaks to the complexity of the ware and the times, as well as the intricate difficulty of brining to bear the images and recollections after such an hiatus.

Not a cowboy in sight

I tell you about Ranch Hand and you want to talk
cows and the price of steak.
Household budgets are more your concern
and coupons
never appear on page one.

Cows fare badly in the jungle,
I insist. Branding and roping are fantasies
of the trail. The chores of these Hands, instead,
was obliteration
of that trail, that jungle, all greening things.
And you should know…they did this

Brazil! you shout, elated at your own perception,
Argentina! You know about vaqueros, the Pampas.

Written across a slate of green beyond our vision
in a fine, deadly mist the words Agent Orange.
The images this innocuous phrase suggests
are diverse, second-level symbolic: tall
                                     career oriented faceless men
      dressed in local colors,
                        shadows in alleyways,
embassy backrooms;
                        cargo chutes blossoming
      over southern drop zones
her famous anti-fag smile framed
behind a pitcher of juice; against a cinerama
screen of sweat and synthetic coupling,
short fat men tout their pimpled charges,

A prime bit of sophistry
fit for the occasion
occurs to me, but you bruise easily.
You don't find Anita funny
and you don't know what a drop zone is.

Your vision still
admits no white, stateless beds in rows,
no myopic twitching glances
never held quite still, no debilitating
stumbling walk-around, raging
distorted children.

It is pointless even for me to mention to you
the most chilling confession a veteran ever uttered:
I don't know if I died in Vietnam or not…yet.

The flavor of prime rib, fresh on your mind's tongue, and the romance of pulp
magazines and John Wayne flicks
circumvent your practiced compassion.

Sleight of Hand

I stood beside Lesco
the Gypsy (his family had
always dabbled in magic)
and listened as he droned
his cabalistic incantations
into the hand-
set to a distant
and willing helpmate.

When the veil of smoke was drawn, I was astonished
to see he had made
the entire village vanish. Lesco's confidence in
his own art always
amazed me.