There is a reckoning going on in Vincent Cooper’s upcoming poetry collection, ‘Infidelis.’
The Los Angeles-born, Texas bred writer unloads a generous serving of self-loathing and regret throughout this lyrical exploration of Chicano military life pre and post-9/11.
Cooper’s outcast-driven narratives draw liberally from his hero Charles Bukowski, but the book serves a deeper purpose than standard memoir.
“I want this to be therapy, a lesson of what not to do. I want people of color, Chicanos, to really love themselves first,” said Cooper, who served as a Marine during the late ‘90s/early ‘00s. “If you don’t, you have what you get in this book.”
What Cooper gives in the book is the antithesis of most soldier stories found in pop culture.
In ‘Infidelis,’ the writer relates the sweaty misery of failed pull-ups and life on the “Pork Chop Platoon” in boot camp. There are scenes from anti-climatic graduation ceremonies, extramarital trysts and their ensuing guilt trips, and the endless pain of a lost pregnancy.
Detailing the loss of an unborn child proved most difficult for Cooper, as he recounts “a whole other life we coulda had.”
“I can’t even read it,” said Cooper of his poem ‘Damian,’ dedicated to his unborn son. “It was such an intense moment. I still remember the sound of (his ex-wife’s) voice and how really disappointed I was that we weren’t going to have a son at that time. I was looking for anything to save me from what was going on.”
What was going on was the failure of his first marriage happening at the same time as the September 11th attacks. Cooper was certain that he would be shipped off to war, even eager to do so, to fulfill his own desperate, disparate machismo.
Cooper said his wartime service was nothing like the military movies that he watched growing up. Instead of being shipped off, he was told that he needed to stay. He wrote:
“Send me to the middle east
Send me to die
In desert cammo’s
Just get me out of America
I needed a breath.
“I wish I had a more exciting war scenario. It wasn’t about that,” said Cooper.
‘Infidelis’ goes on to examine Cooper’s observations on his Vietnam veteran uncle. It also juxtaposes famous quotes and scenes from military movies with Cooper’s own musings.
Showing a gentler side, Cooper shoots off the line “I love the smell of chorizo in the morning…” before switching up and taking aim at a much more dangerous foe.
Cooper cleverly closes with an homage to his favorite punk and rock and roll influences, taking it all the way back to where the story began and what brought him to the military.
The roundabout is demonstrative of Cooper’s lyrical command.
‘I was definitely not a (military) hero,” he said. “I was just a young man trying to find myself and a path in life and a dream.”
Cooper’s parents are both Mexican-American. His biological father, who wasn’t in the picture while Vincent Cooper was growing up, adopted the last name Cooper in homage to a step-father.
For Vincent Cooper, growing up with that last name made him an outcast from the start.
“When I was a kid, I got into fights at school because people were calling me white,” he said.
It wasn’t until a cousin invited Cooper to see a play about fallen Chicano journalist Ruben Salazar that Cooper connected the dots to his identity.
“(My cousin) said ‘You’re a Chicano, Vincent.’ I almost wept,” said Cooper. “I had no idea what that was. He explained it. I’ve always claimed Chicano since.”
That Chicano identity anchors ‘Infidelis’ as a rare and accurate case study of brown skin U.S. military life, with all of its diminished valor and mortal wounds.
‘Infidelis” is available for pre-order now on Mouthfeel Press. You can pre-order it here.
It is scheduled for release in Fall 2023.