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Coming Home In Vietnam
By John Ketwig (reviewer)
Coming Home in Vietnam
by Edward Tick
(Tia Chucha Press, 2021)
As I sit down to review this latest book by Edward Tick, Ph.D., I am feeling a bit anxious. Fifty-five years ago today I arrived in Vietnam, and Dr. Tick's book of poetry ignited a firestorm of memories and impressions from the year that followed.
I should also mention that a few years ago, having recently retired to rural Virginia, I was researching my second book, Vietnam Reconsidered: The War, the Times, and Why They Matter. I contacted Dr. Tick through his non-profit located in Troy, New York. He mentioned that he and his partner, Kate Dahlstedt, would soon be traveling to Fredericksburg, Virginia, and he invited me to have dinner with them. I drove for about three hours, and as I approached Fredericksburg I drove across battlefields toward a city that surrounds a visitor with carefully preserved architecture and memorabilia from our own Civil War. It was a most enlightening and fascinating evening. I was searching for insights into Moral Injury from War, a subject Dr. Tick has explored and treated for decades. "The Vietnamese people don't experience PTSD," he declared. "They know exactly why the war was fought, and why it was necessary. There is no guilt. They were defending their homeland against invaders, something they had done for many years. There is great sorrow, sadness, and loss, but those are different from PTSD."
Edward Tick, Ph.D., is widely honored for his unprecedented and thoughtful, caring work in the spiritual, holistic, and community-based healing of veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Moral Injury from War. He is an accomplished psychotherapist, the author of numerous books, and a highly regarded teacher. He prefers to work outside of the office, conduct retreats in the wilds, or trips back to Vietnam. Those trips include civilians and educators as well as veterans, encouraging all who have been impacted by the war to achieve meaning and friendship as avenues toward healing and achieving inner peace.
The back cover notes of Coming Home in Vietnam describe this collection of poems as a sharing and revealing reconciliation from Vietnamese women, children, and veterans, as well as Americans returning to contemplate the war and its effects years later. I must say that I am not familiar with Dr. Tick's previous poetry, and my appreciation of poetry related to the war in Vietnam has been limited to the works of W.D. Ehrhart, Steve Mason, and Jan Barry. Coming Home in Vietnam is far different. I suppose it is necessary to point out that Dr. Tick did not participate in the Vietnam War. We cannot hold that against him. Ed Tick's kindness and compassion have overflowed across the entire planet! He teaches that PTSD is not best understood or treated as a stress disorder; it is best understood as an identity disorder and soul wound affecting the personality at its deepest level.
Like a teacher who walks into a classroom and teaches a familiar lesson in a refreshing new way, Coming Home in Vietnam is classic Ed Tick. It is infused with sadness and loss, but also with an optimism that is Zen-like and ethereal. And, trivia. Did you know that every word in the Vietnamese language is composed of a single syllable? This is a surprising collection of contemplative thoughts that happened in or about the country of Vietnam, not about death, but life. The themes are surviving, survival and the rich experience of living that can be available, even in that far-off but unforgettable land. Dr. Tick was looking around every time he traveled to Vietnam, absorbing the culture and the climate, and admiring the hearts of people who live there still.
From page 97:
Hoa, an aging street woman
My name Hoa. Captain name me Suzy.
I grow rice. Captain teach me type.
I speak Viet. Captain teach me English.
I believe we friends. Captain leave me 45 year ago.
Captain go home. I homeless.
Now I sell juice on street.
This small wagon my shop.
I strain and strain to remember your words.
This first time I speak English since Captain.
I say we friends but he forget.
You come back. You buy juice. You talk me.
Maybe you not forget.
From page 118:
Return to Phu Bai
Forty years and half the globe
To return to see
An empty field,
An unused airstrip,
A green plain with no hooches
Chewing water buffalo and sprouting weeds.
The tears I shed here today
Have been leaking for decades
From my broken heart at home,
But they melt my mouth into a smile
That I have not felt or worn
Since I was a boy and I did not know war.
I am reminded of my first meeting with a new counselor a few years ago. "What can I do for you?" he asked.
"I want you to make me seventeen again," I answered, "with long hair, playing rock 'n roll music and stealing touches of pretty girls' thighs." He is a good man, a Marine Corps veteran, scarred, religious, and sincere, but he has never been able to make my wish come true. And, make no mistake, neither can Dr. Tick. But both of them understand, and they very sincerely try to make it all better. My counselor is an amateur, in a decrepit office where he invites me to sit on a broken, worn, and torn couch. It is summer as I write this review, and I have been reclining in my Pawley's Island hammock, a Father's Day gift from my daughter forty years ago. She is estranged from me now, convinced my ideas are crude and threatening to her boys, my grandchildren. I've spent a few afternoons in the hammock, hearing the birds sing, reading Ed Tick's poetry, his word pictures of Vietnam today, and veterans, and the people with all their scars and memories, and hopes. It is 2022, I have carried the wounds to my soul for more than half a century, but this afternoon I am touched, and encouraged. I can imagine scenes and people who do not resent the great harm that my country inflicted upon theirs. It is a very worthwhile book.
John Ketwig is a lifetime member of VVAW, and the author of the best-selling memoir ?and a hard rain fell: A G.I.'s True Story of the War in Vietnam, and Vietnam Reconsidered: The War, the Times, and Why They Matter.