A Press Officer with the U.S. PIO in Saigon, you went to see a blown-up Sergeant from your neighborhood in Detroit that’d been Huey’d back from the jungle. He was swaddled in gauze and his words came as if the slow drip of a morphine bag: shaman, shaman, shaman. He wanted you to unwrap his dressings, to tell him that he was whole, to say to him that his body had not been blown to ash and cinder. But it had. You told him he would be okay, that they would all be okay, but that was not the truth. The truth was something you didn’t know anymore.
The war had taken everything from everybody. In country they called it The American War. But you were in The Vietnam War. And for months you heard of this shaman and needed to find him, to make him more than rumor that found life in the alleyways and brothels of Saigon, in the hospitals where you made rounds writing dispatches from the war. You were sick with this rumor and disappeared with it to the Mekong Delta. You washed ashore on the banks dehydrated with pruned pale skin and fever. AWOL with soaked pad and pen, delirious and dressed in the rags of a villager, hair matted and sticky on your forehead, all of you unwashed and stinking with madness.
Lying in the mud, drying on the banks of the river, you met Tung, your guide. He appeared as if from a dream, as real as you and as sick as you and frenzied with speak of the jungled shaman. You shared the same truth. Tung handed you a machete, the blade rusted and chipped. He pointed to the hills, lush and beautifully alive in the rainy season. You pulled yourself across muddy straits, hacked through densely green forest and across saturated rice paddies in the pouring rain until the delta below was a yellow-threadwork. You had never felt so alive or so terrified to be alive. You wore your mania like a uniform, pledged allegiance to it. You were after the truth. You followed Tung in silence for days until Tung was no more. You thought of Auburn Hills, of home, your mother and brother, your grandfather buried at Normandy, your friends deferred and enrolled at Michigan State. Hunger fled, skin and bones. On and on you walked until you could hack through the jungle no more, until you lay where you fell, cured, relieved of the rumor, relieved of the world.