Lost in America By David Connolly, Published by Viet Nam Generation, Inc. & Burning Cities Press, 1994. White Noise Poetry Series, No. 1. 69 pages. Kali Tal and Steven Gomes designed the cover based on an idea by Cedar Nordbye.
Reviewed in 2018 by David A. Willson, shown in his study.
With this book of fine poems, David Connolly joins the ranks of the best Vietnam War poets . It will be interesting to see if this is a one-off effort on the part of David or if he, like Bill Ehrhart and a couple of others will continue to produce worthy poetry. Producing and publishing are two different things. The mystery of where idiosyncratic poetry comes from remains unanswered.
Connolly’s powerful poems are filled with pathos and tragedy. The book starts off with a bang and does not let up. The final verse of the first poem “All the Stars do not Spangle” made my stomach lurch. “The first of the war I saw/was an officer in a jeep,/shooting gleefully/at a farmer in his field.”
I immediately thought of the hearts and minds that the officer was not winning over that day. I’m sure the farmer was dressed in the universal black pajamas that labeled him as a Viet Cong, and that he was in a free-fire zone. Is it any wonder that we didn’t win the love and loyalty of the folks who were merely trying to farm their land?
“Letters From My Mom” is my favorite poem in Lost in America.
She wrote that the jungle looked just lovely,
was it as pretty as in the pictures?
And my friends had such funny nicknames
And why were we so thin and pale,
Isn’t Vietnam hot and sunny?
She hoped I was eating right
and taking care of my teeth.
And did we have to have so many guns?
Someone might get hurt.
My cousin got in the Marine Reserves
and his training was very, very hard.
And all her friends were asking her
why no one smiled in the pictures I sent?
David is the father of two grown daughters and one son, and the grandfather of Samantha Anne, Aideen, Michael and Declan. I suspect they have had no training in armaments, but I don’t know for certain, as David and I have fallen out of touch. I miss our telephone conversations and would love to ask him about guns and his offspring.
When the local Army recruiter called my home repeatedly during my daughter’s senior year in high school, I was polite to him, but told him I did not raise my daughter to be a soldier. Perhaps I made a mistake in not doing so.
David’s kick-ass page and a half prose poem, The Little Man, communicates how PTSD is a family legacy. David’s dream of the little man with his “floppy hat, black shirt and shorts, his folding stock AK held close to him in his left hand…” is about to lay waste to Dave’s brothers’ backs but nobody can hear Dave’s scream of warning except for his wife who is sitting across the room in her chair. She says, “Dave, it’s OK,” but of course it is not and can never be.
One last vagrant thought: In the last poem in this book, “Why I Can’t,” David, in the very first line refers to two of his buddies, Ratshit and the Weasel, and I find myself wondering if those were the friends his mother thought had funny nicknames. I wondered if my mom would have thought they were funny. I wish I could ask her, but my mom has been dead for several years now. I miss her.
David Connolly served honorably in the the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, United States Army, in the Republic of Viet Nam. He has continued service since return to his native South Boston, Massachusetts, as a Viet Nam Veteran Against the War. Viet Nam Generation, Inc. and Burning Cities Press went out of business soon after original publication in 1994, leaving the poet’s collection Lost in America an orphan. Used copies are now available for instance through Amazon.