PROUD FLESH – written under the pseudonym, ‘strepto mychael allegoris’ – is a collection of stories about Vietnam veterans dedicated to those who didn’t come back, and those who came back worse than when they went over. Damaged adrenaline junkies struggle to cope with the senseless and the mundane. [2001; 55 pages]
Killin’ hurts the living, too. Fucks ‘em up down deep.
None of the characters you are about to meet is someone you would want to fall in love with. Each in his own way is a casualty, riddled with emotional shrapnel that still festers now and then.
I remember a medic once showing me how to clean a fist-sized hole in a man’s thigh that had been rotting in paddy muck for six sweltering days in the Mekong Delta. “Scrape away that purple black shit,” he said, “all of it. Cut it back, way back, back to the pink. Then let the proud flesh take over.”
“Proud flesh,” the title of this chapbook, is apt, I think. It’s a biological term for the kind of tissue which sacrifices itself after a trauma, swells up and surrounds the dead to protect the living, seals off an unsightly wound, keeps the purple black stuff away from the pink. When the nasty job is done and it gives up the ghost the dead cells form white knotty scar tissue, not unlike the damaged characters in these stories.
Let us judge them not. They were never heroes fighting big-screen battles on behalf of Freedom & Democracy. These characters – each a real-life friend of mine – are simply trying to adjust, mostly unsuccessfully, to a world that sneered and spit at them when they got off the plane.
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In due time I may well post a sketch or two from this meager chapbook. In the meantime, however, I would like to mention & recommend the recently published, highly praised novel, Matterhorn, by Karl Marlantes – “a raw, brilliant account of war that may well serve as a final exorcism for one of the most painful passages in American history.”
Chapter after chapter, battle after battle, Marlantes pushes you through what may be one of the most profound and devastating novels ever to come out of Vietnam — or any war. It’s not a book so much as a deployment, and you will not return unaltered.
Listen to Marlantes talk about why he wrote Matterhorn.