If, in an odd angle of the hutment, A puppy laps the water from a can Of flowers, and the drunk sergeant shaving Whistles O Paradiso! — shall I say that man Is not as men have said: a wolf to man?
The other murderers troop in yawning; Three of them play Pitch, one sleeps, and one Lies counting missions, lies there sweating Till even his heart beats: One; One: One. O murderers! … Still, this is how it’s done:
This is a war . . . But since these play, before they die, Like puppies with their puppy; since, a man, I did as these have done, but did not die – – I will content the people as I can And give up these to them: Behold the man!
I have suffered, in a dream, because of him, Many things; for this last saviour, man, I have lied as I lie now. But what is lying? Men wash their hands, in blood, as best they can: I find no fault in this just man.
Come To The Stone . . . .
by Randall Jarrell
The child saw the bombers skate like stones across the fields As he trudged down the ways the summer strewed With its reluctant foliage; how many giants Rose and peered down and vanished, by the road The ants had littered with their crumbs and dead.
“That man is white and red like my clown doll,” He says to his mother, who has gone away. “I didn’t cry, I didn’t cry.” In the sky the planes are angry, like the wind. The people are punishing the people – why?
He answers easily, his foolish eyes Brightening at that long simile, the world; The angels sway above his story like balloons. A child makes everything (except his death) a child’s. Come to the stone and tell me why I died.
Forgive your enemies, but never forget… Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.
President John F. Kennedy
November 22, 1963
by Lewis Turco
Weeping, I write this. You are dead. The dark animal of the heart, the beast that bides stilly in its web of flesh, has stolen flight again out of the air. What is there to say? That I wish we were gods? The the mind of man were equal to his lusts? It is not – not yet. You were a man, but more: you were an idea dreamt in a sweet hour while the spider slept. We make our web: We are ourselves victim and victor. You were and are ourselves. In killing you we murder an emblem of what we strive to be: not men, but Man. In mourning you, good Man, we grieve for what we are, not what we may become. . . Sleep, my heart. We will try once more. Sleep, sleep, John. We will try again.
by Donald Justice
It begins again, the nocturnal pulse. It courses through the cables laid for it. It mounts to the chandeliers and beats there, hotly. We are too close. Too late, we would move back. We are involved with the surge.
Now it bursts. Now it has been announced. Now it is being soaked up by newspapers. Now it is running through the streets. The crowd has it. The woman selling carnations and the man in the straw hat stand with it in their shoes.
Here is the red marquee it sheltered under; Here is the ballroom, here The sadly vaious orchestra led By a single gesture. My arms open It enters. Look, we are dancing.
For life and death to me are so akin, So aptly one suggests the other’s being; So quickly treads behind existence fleeing The dark pursuer, sure at last to win; That when life’s frolics o’er the world begin, In the stern presence of my darker seeing, There moves a shadow, every way agreeing With each gay motion that he revels in. Even the sweet wonder of thy slender shape A graceful shade is haunting hour by hour; And in the future there begin to lower The signs that make the stricken household drape Their tearful faces o’er with sullen crape– Why should I trust in life’s unstable power?
Shiloh: A Requiem
by Herman Melville
Skimming lightly, wheeling still, The swallows fly low Over the field in clouded days, The forest-field of Shiloh— Over the field where April rain Solaced the parched ones stretched in pain through the pause of night That followed the Sunday fight A round the church of Shiloh— The church so lone, the log-built one, That echoed to many a parting groan And natural prayer Of dying foemen mingled there— Foemen at morn, but friends at eve— Fame or country least their care: (What like a bullet can undeceive!) But now they lie low, While over them the swallows skim, And all is hushed at Shiloh.
not. Progress is a comfortable disease: your victim (death and life safely beyond)
plays with the bigness of his littleness —electrons deify one razorblade into a mountainrange; lenses extend
unwish through curving wherewhen till unwish returns on its unself. A world of made is not a world of born—pity poor flesh
and trees, poor stars and stones, but never this fine specimen of hypermagical
ultraomnipotence. We doctors know
a hopeless case if—listen: there’s a hell of a good universe next door; let’s go.
Do wars ever come to an end? One side runs out of ammunition or conscripts or volunteers, or civilians are pummeled into subjugation, to the point they can no longer support the war effort, but is there really ever a victor? The current war sow’s the seeds for the next war and so on and so on. Veteran’s day is to honor those that served, but it’s also a reminder on how war is handed down generation after generation. One’s family’s liberation is another’s subjugation. One’s person’s defeat is another’s lifelong PTSD for the incalculable cruelty of victory. We survive them, outlast them and unfortunately repeat them.
The narrative of war is driven by the propaganda used to justify the expense in human lives and human capitol. Why do we fail to invest in diplomacy, honor carefully crafted accords, when it is more effective and less costly than conflict? Cummings catch-22 clunky use of language fits the inherent contradictions of war. War rarely make ssense but we all understand its consequence. Cummings lack of clarity in his word-hash feels like clarity, in the context of the longing left behind by the heroic happy dead….
next to of course god america
by e. e. cummings
“next to of course god america i love you land of the pilgrims’ and so forth oh say can you see by the dawn’s early my country ’tis of centuries come and go and are no more what of it we should worry in every language even deafanddumb thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry by jingo by gee by gosh by gum why talk of beauty what could be more beaut- iful than these heroic happy dead who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter they did not stop to think they died instead then shall the voice of liberty be mute?”
if I had to give up the heavenly taste of Guinness dark, I couldn’t live another goddamn day. Darling, you can chisel that into my headstone.”
We Never Know
By Yusef Komunyakaa
He danced with tall grass for a moment, like he was swaying with a woman. Our gun barrelsHe glowed white-hot. When I got to him, a blue halo of flies had already claimed him. I pulled the crumbled photograph from his fingers. There’s no other way to say this: I fell in love. The morning cleared again, except for a distant mortar & somewhere choppers taking off. I slid the wallet into his pocket & turned him over, so he wouldn’t be kissing the ground.
By Yusef Komunyakaa
My black face fades, hiding inside the black granite. I said I wouldn’t dammit: No tears. I’m stone. I’m flesh. My clouded reflection eyes me like a bird of prey, the profile of night slanted against morning. I turn this way—the stone lets me go. I turn that way—I’m inside the Vietnam Veterans Memorial again, depending on the light to make a difference. I go down the 58,022 names, half-expecting to find my own in letters like smoke. I touch the name Andrew Johnson; I see the booby trap’s white flash. Names shimmer on a woman’s blouse but when she walks away the names stay on the wall. Brushstrokes flash, a red bird’s wings cutting across my stare. The sky. A plane in the sky. A white vet’s image floats closer to me, then his pale eyes look through mine. I’m a window. He’s lost his right arm inside the stone. In the black mirror a woman’s trying to erase names: No, she’s brushing a boy’s hair.
The dead are more real than the living because they are complete.
By Siegfried Sassoon (1886 – 1967)
I am banished from the patient men who fight. They smote my heart to pity, built my pride. Shoulder to aching shoulder, side by side, They trudged away from life’s broad wealds of light. Their wrongs were mine; and ever in my sight They went arrayed in honour. But they died,– Not one by one: and mutinous I cried To those who sent them out into the night.
The darkness tells how vainly I have striven To free them from the pit where they must dwell In outcast gloom convulsed and jagged and riven By grappling guns. Love drove me to rebel. Love drives me back to grope with them through hell; And in their tortured eyes I stand forgiven.
By William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878)
So live, that when thy summons comes to join The innumberable caravan that moves To that mysterious realm, where each shall take His chamber in the silent halls of death, Though go not, like the quarry-slave at night Scourged to his dungeon, but sustained and soothed By an unfaltering trust, approach they grave, Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams…
I feel that some of my work is OK. But if I had it to do over I would do better.
Soldiers Who Want To Be Heroes
by Rod McKuen
Come and take my eldest son, Show him how to shoot a gun Wipe his eyes if he starts to cry When the bullets fly. Give him a rifle, take his hoe, Show him a field where he can go To lay his body down and die Without asking why Soldiers Who Want To Be Heroes number practically zero But there are millions who want to be civilians Soldiers Who Want To Be Heroes number practically zero But there are millions who want to be civilians Sticks and stones can break your bones, Even names can hurt you But the thing that hurts the most Is when a man deserts you Don’t you think it’s time to weed The leaders that no longer lead From the people of the land Who’d like to see their sons again? Soldiers Who Want To Be Heroes number practically zero But there are millions who want to be civilians Soldiers Who Want To Be Heroes number practically zero But there are millions who want to be civilians God if men could only see The lessons taught by history That all the singers of this song Cannot right a single wrong Let all men of good will Stay in the fields they have to till Feed the mouths they have to fill And cast away their arms Soldiers Who Want To Be Heroes number practically zero But there are millions who want to be civilians Soldiers Who Want To Be Heroes number practically zero But there are millions who want to be civilians
In researching poetry of the Vietnam war, I was shocked to discover the following fact: Rod Mckuen remains to this day, the best selling American Poet in history, with more than 60 million books sold and 100 million records. Here is what makes that fact utterly preposterous in my mind; Rod McKuen’s poetry is insipidly awful. It is an indictment of American publishing and the American literary consumer that by 1972, one facillitated and the other lapped up his biggest hit “A Cat Named Snoopy.” The only explanation I can offer is that by 1972, Americans were so worn out from 30+ years of war, that they had completely surrendered their brain cells to not only unsupportable politics, but also spectacularly dismal poetry. There is a reason if you were born after 1980 that you have never heard of Rod Mckuen. Its because your parents are too embarrassed to admit that they still have multiple copies of their parents’ version of Rod Mckuen’s Greatest Hits in their basement. And down right ashamed that it’s the complete set, Volumes 1, 2, 3 and 4. Not even Bob Dylan had a greatest hits Vol 4. So, what gives?
I cannot offer any sane explanation. I think this is a case of mass hysteria sweeping the nation and deciding the only way to get rid of the influence of white, male, stupidity in American society at the time was to flog readers and listeners with Rod McKuen’s “genius,” hoping that eventually a younger generation would wake up and say, enough already and bury white, male poetry for good. You can find on YouTube old videos of McKuen on every talk show imaginable from the mid 1960’s until the late 1970’s. And in every single performance, whether he is singing a song he wrote the lyrics or voicing one of his poems, there is a cringe factor, that screams, “my god what was America thinking?” He has an unremarkable voice, his lyrics are simplistic, and the musical accompaniment is either rudimentary or overly strained with violins. It’s plain awful.
Even McKuen was baffled by his success. He is quoted as saying, “I am not sure why I am so popular, I guess they see in me, the everyman.” By that does he mean every man who has ever sung off key and croaked through a rendition of a terrible poem to their girlfriend?
The only insights I gained from this new knowledge of Rod McKuen’s superstardom is it how it explains why poetry publishing faded away and died after 1980 as part of mainstream American reading habits. I think both the reading public and publishers mutually decided after McKuen, enough already, let’s try something else. Let’s hope in a few years, Mary Oliver will overtake McKuen’s record for publishing, but unfortunately McKuen will likely continue to reign supreme as the American poet with the greatest record sales of all time, only because there is not a single poet who sells any records today. Maybe this is an example of the impact of war on society’s collective amnesia? An example of how we forget the worst of our decisions in supporting misguided earnestness in belief of a better tomorrow. My advice if you come across your parent’s tattered copy of a Rod McKuen’s Greatest Hits, forgive them and move on.
A Cat Named Sloopy
by Rod McKuen
For a while the only earth that Sloopy knew was in her sandbox. Two rooms on Fifty-fifth Street were her domain. Every night she’d sit in the window among the avocado plants waiting for me to come home (my arms full of canned liver and love). We’d talk into the night then contented but missing something, She the earth she never knew me the hills I ran while growing bent.
Sloopy should have been a cowboy’s cat with prairies to run not linoleum and real-live catnip mice. No one to depend on but herself.
I never told her but in my mind I was a midnight cowboy even then. Riding my imaginary horse down Forty-second Street, going off with strangers to live an hour-long cowboy’s life, but always coming home to Sloopy, who loved me best.
A dozen summers we lived against the world. An island on an island. She’d comfort me with purring I’d fatten her with smiles. We grew rich on trust needing not the beach or butterflies I had a friend named Ben Who painted buildings like Roualt men. He went away. My laughter tired Lillian after a time she found a man who only smiled. Only Sloopy stay and stayed.
Winter. Nineteen fifty-nine. Old men walk their dogs. Some are walked so often that their feet leave little pink tracks in the soft gray snow.
Women fur on fur elegant and easy only slightly pure hailing cabs to take them round the block and back. Who is not a love seeker when December comes? even children pray to Santa Claus. I had my own love safe at home and yet I stayed out all one night the next day too.
They must have thought me crazy screaming Sloopy Sloopy as the snow came falling down around me.
I was a madman to have stayed away one minute more than the appointed hour. I’d like to think a golden cowboy snatched her from the window sill, and safely saddlebagged she rode to Arizona. She’s stalking lizards in the cactus now perhaps bitter but free.
I’m bitter too and not a free man any more. Once was a time, in New York’s jungle in a tree, before I went into the world in search of other kinds of love nobody owned me but a cat named Sloopy. Looking back perhaps she’s been the only human thing that ever gave back love to me.