Crazy: A Review of Dien Cai Dau

Dien Cai Dau means “crazy” in Vietnamese. It’s also the title of a collection of poetry by Yusef Komunyakaa. It’s not often you read poetry by somebody who has both the Pulitzer Prize for his writing and the Bronze Star for his time in Vietnam. It made me feel like I was in a pleasant dream that slowly morphed into a bad one. Brief and powerful work. This volume was published in 1988. I was 21 and not even commissioned yet.

Lately, I’m obsessed with luck. In “Thanks,” Komunyakaa is grateful for avoiding a sniper’s bullet. Thankful that fate has let him pass. Thankful for other near misses. This part grabbed me:

Again, thanks for the dud

hand grenade tossed at my feet

outside Chu Lai. I’m still 

falling through its silence.

I’m also recently fascinated by literature that references maps. This reference occurs in “Short-timer’s Calendar” that warns to stay away from the new guys because they’re bad news. It’s an example of the dreamlike language:

…It was like playing

tic-tac-toe with God. Each x,

a stitch holding breath together,

a map that went nowhere–

like lies told to trees. 

I watched them grow into an ink blot,

an omen, a sign the dead could read.

I felt like I was reading an upbeat voice that was bringing terrible news. With the benefit of hindsight, things can be seen all at once, instead of in chronological order. That sometimes breaks your heart and Komunyakaa does that to me here in “A Break from the Bush.” Describing a unit getting some R + R from the fighting at a beach, he hits hard like he does throughout the collection:


who in three days will trip 

a fragmentation mine, 

runs after the ball 

into the whitecaps,


A friend recently told me right to my face that there hasn’t been any good war poetry since WWI. He was British, so maybe he’s biased. But I have no earthly idea what he’s talking about.

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My Bill Koch Poster

Tacked to my wall in high school. I still have it.

I have a poster of Bill Koch. It’s the same one that was tacked to my wall in my room in high school. An American who innovated racing by “marathon skating” and conquered the world. Imagine that. I tried to imagine that. It was hard. I knew him because he was World Cup overall champion and the guy who made me want to learn to skate instead of stride.

1981 Vasa near Traverse City, Michigan. Jeans, three pin bindings. Choppers. Fiberglass, though. Fancy.

I didn’t really know him as the 1976 silver medalist in Innsbruck. I did my first race on skis five years after that. I was about eight years old when Bill Koch won that medal. The same age as my Grandfather was when the Red Sox won the World Series in 1918. Then The Curse of the Bambino. Grampie grew up, got married, had three kids, and went off to World War II. He fought out of the Bulge and planned the assault on Kesternich. He crossed the Remagen Bridge over the Rhine.

When I was a kid, I once fiddled with the radio dial at Grampie’s camp. (Camp is what you call a cabin in Maine.) My grandfather told me to put it back. There was no baseball game on. I was just looking for some music. I didn’t realize that all radio dials remained welded to the station for the Red Sox game, whether or not the game was on. He also had a Red Sox bobblehead doll above the fireplace. If the Sox won, he faced the doll out. If they lost, he turned it to face the wall, in shame. He was a fan.

He died in 1989 three days before he was going to pin on my lieutenant bars when I got commissioned. Years later, in 2004, I watched the Red Sox win the World Series. I was happy. Intellectually, I tried to enjoy the experience for my grandfather. But I don’t think I really understood the joy he would’ve felt until yesterday. He rooted for the Red Sox for 70 years and they never, ever won the Series. I thought I would suffer the same fate with cross-country skiing.

Sam’s First Skis.

I’ve been on skis since I could walk. So have my kids. My kids race. They knew the names of Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall already. In fact, when Kikkan didn’t make it into the finals in Sochi, Grace (only 10 at the time) drew her a picture of a medal so she’d feel better. I tweeted it to her. She tweeted back a classy, sportsmanlike response: “I got my medal after all.” I thought she was a great role model for my daughter.

Grace’s First Strides.

Now, my Duluth neighbor, Chad Salmela, channeled everybody who’s been in the wilderness for 42 years. He called the greatest thing I’ve ever seen in sports in my life. Until yesterday, seeing Lemond beat Fignon on the last stage time trial in the 1989 Tour de France was the greatest thing. Not anymore.

Gold Medal Finish Video.

I thought of my grandfather. I thought of all the years I’ve spent skiing through the woods. I thought of my kids and how damn fast they are. And want to be.

USA’s Jessica Diggins (L) and USA’s Kikkan Randall celebrate winning gold in the women’s cross country team sprint free final at the Alpensia cross country ski centre during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games on February 21, 2018 in Pyeongchang. / AFP PHOTO / Odd ANDERSEN (Photo credit should read ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images)

And I thought of the fact that my daughter already had posters of Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall on her wall several years ago. And I’m so proud. Everybody needs posters. I’m glad I can retire mine.

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DXC Snow Ball Gala!

Thursday the 8th is the last day to get tickets online!


here for details!

How’d you like to get in on the ground floor of a brand new $2 million cross-country ski facility? You can! And all you have to do is come out and party! All the funds raised at this year’s 3rd Annual Duluth Cross-Country Ski Club Snow Ball Gala will go to the Grand Avenue Nordic Center project at the base of Spirit Mountain. We’re THIS close to surpassing the $500,000 dollar fundraising commitment that DXC needs to raise to make the project launch!

Just imagine another two or three months of XC skiing every winter because we’ll have snowmaking! Are you imagining it? I’m imagining it. It’s pretty darn awesome.

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