Page 11


potentially lethal physical force in selfdefense, then isn’t it hypocritical of me to ask the police to apply that force on my behalf? Physical violence may not be the best way to solve a problem, but if I’m confronted by someone who intends to kill me, loaning them my copy of Can Humanity Change? isn’t likely to be the most effective defense. My personal history of violence began when I got punched in the nose in the first grade. My father asked me how it happened, explained that I’d be meeting other bullies at school, and taught me how to box so I’d be prepared to take care of myself. There’s usually a bully in every class, and I changed schools often. I took judo lessons at the YMCA. There was no fighting at St. Edward’s High School in Austin, but W.B. Ray High School in Corpus Christi was rougher. Two upperclassmen there singled me out for harassment, but after I bested them in boxing matches, no one else bothered me. Attending the University of St. Thomas, in Houston, I finally had a chance to study shotokan karate. My instructor, Sensei Richardson, introduced me to aikido techniques as well. In San Francisco I was able to use those aikido moves to save a man from a beating by deflecting, but not hurting, his attacker. In 1966 I received my draft notice and said goodbye to California. We practiced hand-to-hand combat in basic training, but my first real fight for my life took place in the latrine at Fort Carson, Colo. A soldier with a knife had me cornered at the end of a long row of sinks. Fortunately, I was able to dodge his attempts to stab me. The military police took care of him after that. In all my previous fights, I’d never had to worry that my opponent might kill me if I faltered. My boyhood was over. In Vietnam, at different times, I carried an M-14 rifle, an M-16 rifle, a .45-caliber machine-gun, and a .45-caliber pistol. I almost always carried hand grenades. My chaplain had me carry his weapons as well as my own so no newspaper photographer could snap a picture of POETRY I CHARLES KESLER THE HOUSE WHERE I AM STILL A CHILD When I drive by the house of my childhood I know that someone else is living there, the locks are new, I do not have the key. I wonder if the ghosts of that house remain in the house or just stay in my head. I wonder if new ghosts are there, maybe even grown stronger from years with the old. The old threatened to kill. Always. Perhaps the new are ready to kill. I wonder if there are dozens of vodka bottles in the garage. Maybe the new ghost just drinks beer from the refrigerator and hides nothing. Maybe the new ghost is a doper. Maybe the new ghost is a combo of speed and acid. Maybe the walls grow 20′ high and race foot-long cockroaches. Maybe the new ghost stomps babies but lets cockroaches live. Maybe the new ghost has an AK-47, plenty of ammo, guns creepy as a snake pit, quick to strike. Am I just trying to forget the old by imagining the new? Should I not stop and meet the present inhabitants? They could be like Leave It To Beaver or The Andy Griffith Show. Is this the secret to sanityimagination? Imagine life worse for someone else than what you experienced, or better? I always knew Beaver’s parents really existed somewhere. Maybe if I learned to whistle and fish I could go with my Pa and wander right over to the Mayberry set. Or get slapped awake by the guard to the fantasy forest. I’d look my Dad in the face and scream the reason I can’t whistle and fish is you were always too drunk to teach me. By this time Hell would begin. Again. My only hope is if I never stop to see that house. There I’ll always be a child and never understand the word home. Just keep on driving. And next time don’t come this way. CHARLES KESLER is a combat veteran who served with the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vietnam from September 1969 to September 1970. His poems have been published widely. He is the author of The Book of Willie, published by Firewheel Editions. He lives in Dallas. FEBRUARY 20, 2009 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 29