Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Excerpt from 'The Things They Carried.'

"Affirm," he said. "Invisible. So what happens is, these guys get themselves deep in the bush, all camouflaged up, and they lie down and wait and that's all they do, nothing else, they lie there for seven straight days and just listen. And man, I'll tell you-it's spooky. This is mountains. You don't know spooky till you've been there. Jungle, sort of, except it's way up in the clouds and there's always this fog-like rain, except it's not raining-everything's all wet and swirly and tangled up and you can't see jack, you' can't find your own pecker to piss with. Like you don't even have a body. Serious spooky....And the sounds, man. The sounds carry forever. You hear stuff nobody should ever hear."

Sanders was quiet for a second, just working the yo-yo, then he smiled at me.
"So, after a couple of days the guys start hearing this real soft, kind of wacked-out music. Weird echoes and stuff. Like a radio or something, but it's not a radio. it's this strange gook music that comes rights out of the rocks. Faraway, sort of, but right up close, too. They try and ignore it. But it's a listening post, right? So they listen. And every night they keep hearing the crazy ass gook concert. All kinds of chemies and xylophones. I mean, this is wilderness -no way, it can't be real-but there it is, like the mountains are tuned in to Radio fucking Hanoi. Naturally they get nervous. One guy sticks Juicy Fruit in his ears. Antoher guy almost flips. Thing is, though, they can't report music. They can't get on the horn and call back to base and say, 'Hey, listen, we need some firepower, we got to blow away this weirdo gook rock band.' They can't do that. It wouldn't go down. So they lie there in the god and keep their mouths shut. And what makes it extra bad, see is the poor dues can't horse around like normal. Can't joke it away. Can't even talk to each other except maybe in whispers, all hush-hush, and that just revs up the willies. All they do is listen."
Again there was some silence as Mitchell Sanders looked out on the river. The dark was coming on hard now, and off to the west I could see the mountains rising in silhouette, all the mysteries and unknowns.
"The next part," Sanders said quietly, "You won't believe."
"Probably not," I said.
"You won't. And you know why?" He gave me a long, tired smile. "Because it happened. Because every word is absolutely dead one true"
Sanders made a sound in his throat, like a sigh, as if to say he didn't care if I believe him or not. But he did care. He wanted me to feel the truth, to believe by raw force of feeling. He seemed sad, in a way.
"There six guys," he said. "they're pretty fried out by now, and one night they start hearing voices. Like at a cocktail party. That's what it sounds like, this big swank gook cocktail part somewhere out there in the fog. Music and chitchat and stuff. It's crazy, I know, but they hear the champagne corks. They hear the actual martini glasses. Real hoity-toity, all very civilized, except this isn't civilization. This is Nam.
"Anyways, the guys try to be cool. They just lie there and groove, but after a while they start hearing-you won't believe this-they hear chamber music. They hear violins and cellos. They hear this terrific mama-san soprano. Then after a while they hear gook opera and glee club and the Haiphong Boys Choir and barbershop quartet and all kinds of weird chanting and Buddha-Buddha stuff. And the whole time, in the background, there's still that cocktail party going on. All these different voices. Not human voices, though. Because it's the mountains. Follow me? The rock-it's talking. And the fog, too, and the grass and the goddamn mongooses. Everything talks. The trees talk politics, the monkeys talk religion. The whole country. Vietnam. The place talks. It talks. Understand? Nam-it truly talks.
"The guys can't cope. They lose it. They get on the radio and report enemy movement-a whole army, they say-and they order up the firepower. They get art and gunships. They call in air strikes. And I'll tell you, they fuckin' crash that cocktail party. All night long, they just smoke those mountains. They make jungle juice. They blow away trees and glee clubs and whatever else there is to blow away. Scorch time. They bring in the Cobras and F-4's. they use Willie Peter and HE and incendiaries. It's all fire. The make those mountains burn.
"Around dawn things finally get quiet. Like you never even heard quiet before. One of those real thick, real misty days-just clouds and fog, they're off in this special zone-and the mountains are absolutely dead-flat silent. Like Brigadoon=pure vapor, you know? Everything's all sucked up inside fog. Not a single sounds, except they still hear it.
"So they pack up and start humping. They head down the mountain, back to base camp, and when they get there they don't say diddly. They don't talk. Not a word, like they're dead and dumb. Later on this fat bird colonel comes up and asks what the hell happened out there. What'd they hear? Why all the ordnance? The man's ragged out, he gets down tight on their case. I mean, they spent six trillion dollars on firepower, and this fat ass colonel wants answer, he wants to know what the frickin story is.
"But the guys don't say zip. They just look at him for awhile, sort of funny like, sort of amazed, and the whole war is right there in that stare. It says everything you can't ever say. It says, man, you got wax in your eyes. It says, poor bastards, you'll never know-wrong frequency-you don't even want to hear this. They they salute the fucker and walk away, because certain stories you don't eve tell."


More than powerful anything else I've read so far. The imagery, and hallucinations and delusions of the soldiers from the Vietnam War take on a life of their own. A powerful depiction of the psychological warfare that consumes PTSD soldiers.

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