My Left Knee
by Ken “Doc” Nance
Medic with A Company from November ’68 to November ’69
I remember when I wore the blood of a dead man, Dixon, like a badge.
He wasn’t the first dead I’d seen, but I wore his blood like a badge –
Dead man’s blood – there, on my left knee.
I wasn’t one month in the war, but I’d seen four dead men before,
Carried them in fact, a colonel and a pilot, a crew chief and a door gunner,
Carried them behind the protective coils of concertina into the battalion aid
station at Firebase Hickory to be tagged for Graves Registration.
And I thought, is this my job? Carrying dead people?
And they were heavy – dead weight – and I thought I was important because I
was carrying dead men.
No one else wanted even to look, but we medics unceremoniously heaved the
shot-down chopper dead from the helicopter – rotor washing, anxious to
unload and leave with speed.
Dixon’s blood was different, though – it was a badge.
I didn’t want to change my pants – ever.
I remember the ant crawling out of his mouth by the time I got to him…
his head wound fatal.
But I’d cradled his head in my lap and looked for his life… It was gone –
already flown through the triple canopy of the jungle’s green mansions.
And I never thought ‘till years later that I’d been in someone’s rifle sights,
The same sights at the same spot Dixon was killed – in a little dry gully
southwest of Hill 604 – And his blood was a badge.
What foolish, arrogant pride to think of blood, a dead man’s blood, as a badge
-Dixon’s gift to America, his family’s loss forever – a badge on my left knee.
What was so important about Dixon’s now dead blood?
There was a mystic quality to the mystery of life that stirred in the trouser of
my left knee – in Dixon’s blood.
It was at once holy protection, a charm, a mojo,
– stronger than the John the Conqueroo.
But it was still a proud, stupid badge. A dead man’s blood.
Dixon’s blood was a memory, a shock, an awakening, a forced suppression of
violent pain, of an immeasurably short temporality –
Yet I wore it like a badge – a blotted splotch like a spiritual birthmark.
Who was I to wear a dead man’s blood, Dixon’s blood,
like a badge on my left knee?