Author: A. V. Meren

Title: Tasting the Earth

Feedback: Yes! Yes! Yes!


Archive: Yes, just let me know.

Dedication: To Leigh, because she keeps giving me such grrreat feedback! Plus, she seems to like Hawkeye and not mind author experimentation, so...;-)

Authors Notes: This story is written through and around a poem called "Tasting the Earth" by James Oppenheim. If you're interested, I'm putting the full text of the poem in an appendix to this fic.

Tasting the Earth

I sit here in a dark hour, tasting the Earth.

Everything in Korea tastes like dirt. Not like dust, fine and drifting and clean, rubbing the throat raw with aching dryness, but like thick, gritty, dry soil baked for centuries into the Earth. From night to day, day to night, everything tastes like dirt, all in a thousand-and-one flavors. Like Korea's own version of ice-cream. In the shower, it tastes like mud, it *is* mud. In the mess tent, it tastes like nameless gunk out of a can, dirt-flavored. In the Swamp, it tastes like the sweat on Trapper's skin as he moans softly (Frank can't hear, quiet, quiet, he knows, we know, we all have to pretend) as I lick my way across that so-sweet spot behind his ear.

It tastes like the sun, bright and fair and sun-warmed hair, and eyes sparking with understanding, mischievous and shared grin, a look, a motion, two-as-one. HawkeyeandTrapper, TrapperandHawkeye. But just different enough that it isn't like kissing yourself, just secret enough, just a *twist* here and a *bend* here.

Someone to laugh with, to be able to share understanding with. A team, Hawkeye and Trapper, chasing nurses, swilling home-made gin, drugging Frank-the-Ferret into insensibility. It's no fun doing anything by yourself, and nobody sees it as boys-being-boys anymore, Hawkeye and Trapper being annoyingly cute and cutely annoying, but just a pathetic practice of pitiablity (which isn't even a real word).

And the dirt just tastes like dirt, now. Like gin and sweat and tears and blood and the gritty taste of dirt.

It doesn't taste like dirt should. There's no Trapper-taste, no Trapper-scent, no Trapper-feel, and the warmth of his body heat is gone, gone, so long, goodbye (no goodbyes) from his bunk and from my skin.

*** As I lay on my couch in the muffled night, and the rain lashed my window, pulling and pulling at the canvas, setting the wood creaking, I dreamt I heard someone speaking, speaking. I dreamed that I heard Trapper telling me how he got his name, that once he trapped someone, he let them go. And sometimes they stayed. And I looked at him in my dream and I stayed, but he didn't. His eyes stayed on me, but he leaned over and kissed the rounded shape of a woman, and gold flashed on his hand as he touched her hair.

And I woke, slow and drifting, up until I stared at the rattle of the rain on the canvas above. I've still got mud and dirt and canvas and wood and silver hair, and at least Trapper would have children. It isn't right to envy (hate) someone you love, but who else has the right to be so intimately *mine*? And my forsaken heart would give me no rest, no pause and no peace, because I was the one that had forsaken it. Not even outraged, just tired (God, so damned tired!) and frustrated and furious, just away and away and away. And while I was gone...He couldn't say no to orders like that.

(But he could, he could--and if he had, he would have lost his chance, and he *couldn't*. Not even for me, and I'm glad. I'm glad because I have to be, because I can't *not* be glad, because all I want, all I *can* want, was just a few minutes, for him to have just waited--goodbye. But no goodbyes. I hate goodbyes. But I just wish...but wishes don't make horses, and Korea was never a fairy-tale, except the old, old ones with blood and dust and dirt, and the stepmother dancing in red-hot shoes.)

He couldn't say no, and now even his ghost is gone, with nothing left behind for me but memories and people, and the thought that dirt used to taste different. Though I turned my face far from the wailing of my bereavement, I still wept. With every joke, every wiseass comment, I made a monument to something that wasn't only mine once, but is all mine now. No-one to share it with except me, because Trapper hasn't been here since, and B.J. wasn't here before, and everybody else isn't Trapper-that-was. Then I said: I will eat of this sorrow to its last shred,

I will take it unto me utterly, I will see if I be not strong enough to contain it...What do I fear? Discomfort? How can it hurt me, this bitterness? But it does hurt. The dirt-taste scraps across the soft tissue of my tongue, my throat, rasps dryly in my lungs. The grit bites into my lips, drying and cracking them until they bleed. But I won't let go.

Dust and dirt and blood and kids young enough to be the little brothers I never had dying with my hands elbow-deep in their guts haven't made me let go. Henry, dying safe and sound in the land of Going-Home. (It sounds like it could be just another Korean name, Going-Home, land of the free and the brave and death-by-mugging. But even Boston E. R. is better than Korea.)

Korea hasn't made me let go.

Trapper sure as hell won't.

*** The miracle, then! That's what I'll take! A cock-eyed angel, halo tilted and bent and tarnished, robes rumpled and stained with blood and a few other more disgusting bodily fluids, a grin, slow, sly laugh, the shared memory of a thousand adventures.

Turning toward it, and giving up to it, I found it deeper than my own self, a sense of love that had more to do with brotherhood than anything else, a sense of being part of something bigger than me. Something good, that was part of me, something that I *liked* having as part of me.

Something that I'll always miss.

O dark great mother-globe so close beneath me, why does this happen? The MASH units and the part they played in the war will be a part of history, if only a footnote, because of our efforts, all of us. And the history books will list our names, row by row of ranks and All-American names, with a capital American. Cold names in cold print, dead or missing or old, inexpressibly far away. Not relevant, they'll say, not here, and it was only a police action anyway. It won't be Hawkeye and Trapper and Spearchucker and Ugly John and Ferret Face and Hot Lips and Radar won't be people. All it'll be, is facts.

Funny thing is, I've got a whole new appreciation for my college history classes, the ones I used to sleep and flirt through. And someday, some kid will be in my place, and think about the time he sat through some boring course with the professor droning on, learning about the first MASH units.

And the wars will continue. God, how that hurt, down clear to my soul. All my life, I wanted nothing more than to be a surgeon, a good one, someone who'd go places and do things and not be just Daniel Pierce's son Hawkeye, not be defined only by growing up in Crabapple Cove. Small-town dreams, and I was doing it too.

But free will did me in again. Not mine this time, not some stupid prank that went wrong, or some nasty remark flying out of my mouth so fast that it breaks the barrier of how fast you can piss somebody off, but a childish argument between nations.

God knows, the Earth's seen a lot of that.


That night, and the night after Trapper left, and I was alone except for Frank's snoring and the rattle of rain, it was hard, and not the way it used to be, with Trap. No, it was those three o'clock moments of utter stillness, the wind screaming low in her throat and nothing in all the world but me, with the taste of dust in my throat and ghost-arms around my shoulders, slipping up to close in a vice around my neck. My throat was tight with tears, as hurt and hurting as old Mother Earth must be, she with her inexhaustible grief, all the ages of blood-drenched jungles, and the smoking of craters, and the roar of tempests, and the moan of forsaken seas, that filled me. All the bloody, sad history of man, grinding it's way through my soul, the three o'clock terrors that rip at people more than anything else could. It was old Mother Earth, sad and scarred and ground down with long age, it was she with the hills beginning to walk in the shapes of dark-hearted animals, it was she risen, dashing away tears and praying to dumb skies, in the pomp-crumbling tragedy of man... It was she, container of all griefs, and the buried dust of broken hearts, cry of the christs and the lovers and the child-stripped mothers, and ambition gone down to defeat, and the battle overborne, and the dreams that have no heart became her ancient heart: On the food of the strong I fed, on dark strange life itself: wisdom-giving and sombre with the unremitting love of ages...

But I always get maudlin during the three o'clock ghost-hours of the night, when the new guy and Ferret Face sleep the most deeply. The new guy's finally re-learned how to sleep, and I've re-learned how to be myself again, Hawkeye, separate from HawkeyeandTrapper.

But I haven't learned how to get the taste of dirt out of my mouth, even though it no longer tastes like Trapper. And all the night through, as the rain rattled down like it did the night after Trapper left and forced me to remember, there was dank soil in my mouth, and bitter sea on my lips, in a dark hour, tasting the Earth.