That Was Then, This Is Now

Leo Farley, Veteran

Leo Farley, Veteran

Ragged edges of faded photographs crumble
from my touch as I try to pry them loose
from yellowing plastic protectors, all still held
prisoners in a decomposing album
circa 1971.

Dried up glue stains where the photos once sat proudly,
in the same place for far too long.
I remember buying that album on the streets of Saigon.
There were no shortages of souvenirs.
Americans liked the idea of taking physical reminders home;
The local artisans took full advantage of the demand.
They provided many types of reminders of where
we all had been, if we were lucky enough to return.

What am I doing here again?
I am searching for my youth in cardboard boxes of
snapshots, moments in time fading both physically and mentally.
I glance in the mirror and I am reminded of the ravages of
time and memory.

I want to go back there. Why, dammit?
I want to travel to that time and place of heat, monsoon rains,
laughter, brotherhood, confusion, fear, love and camaraderie...
I am looking for that sense of belonging,
vital as breath itself.
Big Mac, Snail, Doug and
others, whose names I can’t quite recall.
Smiling, crammed together in the hootch we called home
sitting around a makeshift Christmas tree.
Mosquitos buzzing like tiny airplanes in full attack mode.
Sweating and swatting together, we would gather around one of
the make-shift rooms where we slept, prayed,
ate, sweated, laughed, cried, loved and huddled together
during occasional mortar attacks.
It was the helicopters they were trying to kill.
Sometimes they fell short of their mark.
Mortars don’t discriminate.
Shrapnel was unforgiving and that was the fear
we all held inside, each day after the sun went down.
The smell of reefer permeating the hallways as we sought escape
from the madness, the fear, the confusion and the loneliness.
The whirling sounds of the gunships circling the perimeter.
The incoming, the outgoing, the distant sounds of war droning
away throughout the night.
The hum of the fridge, full of cold beer, a fresh acquisition from the PX.
We would pool our ration cards so we would never be without.
The hiss of a canned Danish ham from someone’s care package from home
sizzling on a hot plate as we all anticipated the small feast that awaited us.
Constant banter, guitar music and The Doors’ “Light My Fire”
wailing away on the cassette player;
What else could we need or want?
We had each other, home would have to wait.

Talking about going back to “the World” was all we needed.
Dreams of round-eyed women and ‘67 Chevys with
350 cubic-inch engines,
lying in the back seat with our girls, steaming up the windows as we
humped away in the darkness—one eye on the lookout for cops.
But this particular moment, all eyes were only focused
on the steaming ham.

I couldn’t wait to leave that place.
Counted every day with my short-time calendar
which was a Snoopy dog with 365 partitions.
The formula was so simple:
Mark off each day starting at 365 till you got to the last box
which simply said: HOME.
Always envious, but happy for the shortest one in our group—not
in height but measured in days.
How many more days you got?
“I am so short, that I have to look up to look down”
Laughter once again. Always laughter.
Every day past was a celebration;
color in a space, and you are one step closer
to home than the day before.

Why?  Why do I keep looking at these pictures?
Why would anyone want to go back to that crazy time and place?
I couldn’t wait to leave Vietnam, but lately all I can think about is
going back.
Maybe for just one moment,
Maybe for just one day,
Maybe just maybe, I could find a way to move on.
No time machines yet available.
But these photos can take me back there in an instant.
It is the only way to time travel, other than writing this poem
Which still haunts my soul
and tugs at my emotions.

Time to put these photos back in the box.
Andy Warhol said:
 "Every day is a new day"
That was then, this Is now.
I am awake and alive.
I have been given more than most.
Time that is.
I am still breathing.
I am alone with now.
I must embrace it.
It is a gift, this life.

There is no future in the past.
My time in Vietnam has long passed.
Time to let it go.
I must get out of this box.
Remember, never forget, but please don’t dwell there.
Time to put those photos away.
Don’t let the past rob you of today.                                                
Don’t stay there.                                                                                    
That was then, this Is now.
Stay here, stay with me.
I need you here and now.
The past needs to stay in the past.
That was then, this Is now.

But still, I feel like someone is chasing me.                       
I need more time.
I am not ready.
I’ve much to do,
Still now.


Leo Farley is a United States Army veteran, who had served in Vietnam. After a seventeen-year stint on Wall Street, he co-founded the 29th Street Rep Theater in Manhattan, New York. Currently, he is the Artistic Director of LSMFT Productions, Ltd., a not-for-profit NYC theater production company. He began his writing career at the Craft of War Writing in the Bronx.