30 april 2011


VA Hospital
Tommy and Jimmy
Tomb Welts

About Herbert Englehardt



VA Hospital

Patience she says
As she shows fingernails so long
She must punch her computer keys
With a rubber-tipped pen

Patience she says
Wagging her green lacquered fingers
As she continues rapid-fire talk
With her son on her cell phone

Interrupting herself
She announces patience
No appointments for three weeks
The doctors are very busy

Join the quiet vacant-eyed
Patient veterans of America’s wars
Men run over by our own trucks
Ignored by overworked aides

Men in wheelchairs
Some without arms or legs or eyes
Heroes cowards
Ordinary soldiers

While she chatters



Tommy and Jimmy

On the troopship
Steaming to the sunset
Under Golden Gate Bridge

Worrying about marauding subs
Also remembering
The previous night

In the dark hallway
Of an unused army barrack
Grinding sweating

Sucking greedily on the tongue
Of the uniformed WAC*
Who called herself Tommy

Tommy’s friend Jimmy
A uniformed WAC
Stood guard

The soldier worried that his fly buttons
Would take awkwardly long to refasten
If MPs appeared

After a while Jimmy warned
They had to move on
The women soldiers went off

Arm in arm


* Women’s Army Corps



Tomb Welts

Men moved sullenly
On the front line
In light drizzle

A long damp night loomed
No fires to heat coffee
To dry out socks

The snug Okinawan tombs
On the side of the hill

Funeral urns inside
Sat solemnly
In the musty air

Next morning
The urns seemed to smile
As we scratched and scratched

Bands of itching red welts
On our waists necks
Ankles wrists

That we had been safe and dry
But not alone




Most soldiers talk about girls
Drink beer
Play cards

Alan had no time for such frivolity
He was always volunteering
To arrange entertainment for soldiers

Constant smile broken-toothed
From when he tripped and fell
On his ever-present trumpet

Hair drooping over one eye
He had charmed Army barbers
Into leaving him a little wooly

Fifty years later
I wondered what had happened to him
Sent a letter through his agent

He wrote back
Didn’t remember changing my life
With jazz and Sweet Lorraine

Told of swapping his horn for pencil
Announced he had accumulated
“Neither girth nor gloom”

His letter did not include a return address




When the Japanese came
Margie and her grandparents
Fled to family in the hills

When the Americans came
Margie moved back
To her seamstress aunt in the city

Fifteen-year-old Margie and I talked
Through many soft Filipino evenings
While her aunt sat cutting and sewing

Some nights Margie would take me 
To the flimsy shack on the outskirts
Of the bomb-ravaged town

To watch expats guide barroom waifs
Around the creaking bamboo floor
To scratchy pre-war tango records

She said no to her friends
Who asked her to join them
Escorting beery bloodshot survivors

But this young girl carrying laundry
Was an easy mark for the MP
Riding around in a command car

His accusation of prostitution
Would amount to criminal conviction
She had to submit

A few weeks later
I didn’t recognize her at first
High heels bright red lipstick

She said hello
Wouldn’t sit
At my table

She danced with other soldiers
Disappeared now and then
Returned eyes moist

On my way back to barracks
I saw Auntie cutting and sewing
By the flickering kerosene lamp



was born in 1925 in Jersey City. He served in the Pacific Theater of World War II from September 1943 to April 1946 and was awarded the Purple Heart in the Battle of Okinawa in April 1945. He received a BA from Harvard in 1949 and an MBA from Harvard in 1951. He was employed in industry marketing, finance, and management from 1951 to 1981 and was Professor at NYU Stern School of Business Administration from 1982 to 2003. In 2003, facing a serious medical procedure, he began writing poems, and has written more than 2,000 of them. He has lived in New York City since the early 1950s.