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W. D. Ehrhart: Beautiful Wreckage

What if I didn’t shoot the old lady

running away from our patrol,

or the old man in the back of the head,

or the boy in the marketplace?


Or what if the boy—but he didn’t

have a grenade, and the woman in Hue

didn’t lie in the rain in a mortar pit

with seven Marines just for food,


Gaffney didn’t get hit in the knee,

Ames didn’t die in the river, Ski

didn’t die in a medevac chopper

between Con Thien and Da Nang.


In Vietnamese, Con Thien means

place of angels. What if it really was

instead of the place of rotting sandbags,

incoming heavy artillery, rats and mud.


What if the angels were Ames and Ski,

or the lady, the man, and the boy,

and they lifted Gaffney out of the mud

and healed his shattered knee?


What if none of it happened the way I said?

Would it all be a lie?

Would the wreckage be suddenly beautiful?

Would the dead rise up and walk?


From Beautiful Wreckage: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 1999 by W. D.  Ehrhart, published by Adastra Press.  Reprinted by permission of the author.

William Daniel Ehrhart is an American poet, writer, scholar and Vietnam veteran. Ehrhart has been called “the dean of Vietnam war poets.”


3 comments on “W. D. Ehrhart: Beautiful Wreckage

  1. Frank Dunn
    June 27, 2017

    Bill, you have given me another poem to add to my curriculum. “Beautiful Wreckage” will be a great follow up after the students have finished reading “Vietnam-Perkasie.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. granolaho
    June 19, 2017

    It brings to mind the young men who returned and would infrequently mention a story of their experiences. They were talking of things we couldn’t even imagine as young people. Then the coffins began to come home.
    Thanks for this, and for your service.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Gary Metras
    June 19, 2017

    I loved this poem first time I read it and still do. We all have such “What If…” moments, but not all of us fought in a war, killed people labelled “enemy,” saw our buddies killed or wounded. Of course, the poem ultimately asks, What if there never was a Vietnam War….in vain, because history is what happened.

    Liked by 2 people

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