Heroic Happy Dead

A Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces.

War is what happens when language fails.

Margaret Atwood

pity this busy monster, manunkind

by e. e. cummings

pity this busy monster, manunkind,

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?”

He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water.

Now Here, Now There

The songs I had are withered Or vanished clean. Yet there are bright tracks Where I have been.

Ivor Gurney

Servitude

By Ivor Gurney (1890 – 1937)
 
If it were not for England, who would bear
This heavy servitude one moment more?
To keep a brothel, sweep and wash the floor
Of filthiest hovels were noble to compare
With this brass-cleaning life. Now here, now there
Harried in foolishness, scanned curiously o’er
By fools made brazen by conceit, and store
Of antique witticisms thin and bare.
 
Only the love of comrades sweetens all,
Whose laughing spirit will not be outdone.
As night-watching men wait for the sun
To hearten them, so wait I on such boys
As neither brass nor Hell-fire may appal,
Nor guns, nor sergeant-major’s bluster and noise.

After-Glow

By Ivor Gurney
(To F. W. Harvey)
 
Out of the smoke and dust of the little room
With tea-talk loud and laughter of happy boys,
I passed into the dusk. Suddenly the noise
Ceased with a shock, left me alone in the gloom,
To wonder at the miracle hanging high
Tangled in twigs, the silver crescent clear.
Time passed from mind. Time died; and then we were
Once more at home together, you and I.
 
The elms with arms of love wrapped us in shade
Who watched the ecstatic west with one desire,
One soul uprapt; and still another fire
Consumed us, and our joy yet greater made:
That Bach should sing for us, mix us in one
The joy of firelight and the sunken sun.

I’m Stone. I’m Flesh

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.”

Yusef Komunyakaa

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.

______________________________________________

Facing It 

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.

Love Drove Me To Rebel

The dead are more real than the living because they are complete.

Siegfried Sassoon

Banishment 

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.


 

Thanatopsis (Excerpt)

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…

In My Mind

Rod McKuen (1933 – 2015)

I feel that some of my work is OK. But if I had it to do over I would do better.

Rod McKuen

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.

We Are Closed In

To go for a drink is one thing, to be driven to it is another.

Michael Collins

 

The Stare’s Nest by My Window

by W. B. Yeats

The bees build in the crevices
Of loosening masonry, and there
The mother birds bring grubs and flies.
My wall is loosening; honey-bees,
Come build in the empty house of the stare.

We are closed in, and the key is turned
On our uncertainty; somewhere
A man is killed, or a house burned.
Yet no clear fact to be discerned:
Come build in the empty house of the stare.

A barricade of stone or of wood;
Some fourteen days of civil war:
Last night they trundled down the road
That dead young soldier in his blood:
Come build in the empty house of the stare.

We had fed the heart on fantasies,
The heart’s grown brutal from the fare,
More substance in our enmities
Than in our love; O honey-bees,
Come build in the empty house of the stare


Yeats in Civil War

By Eavan Boland

Presently a strange thing happened; / I began to smell honey in places / where honey could not be.

In middle age you exchanged the sandals / Of a pilgrim for a Norman keep / In Galway. Civil war started, vandals / Sacked your country, made off with your sleep;

Somehow you arranged your escape / Aboard a spirit-ship which every day / Hoisted sail out of fire and rape, / And on that ship your mind was stowaway.

The sun mounted on a wasted place, / But the wind at every door and turn / Blew the smell of honey in your face / Where there was none. Whatever we may learn

You are its sum, struggling to survive- / A fantasy of honey in your reprieve.

And Nobody, But Nobody

We’ve been looking for the enemy for several days now, we’ve finally found them. We’re surrounded. That simplifies our problem of getting to these people and killing them.

Attributed to Colonel Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller during the Chosin Reservoir campaign in Korea, November 1950.

Sonnet for 1950

By Jack Agueros 
 
All the kids came rumbling down the wood tenement
Shaky stairs, sneakers slapping against the worn
Tin tread edges, downhall came Pepo, Chino, Cojo,
Curly bursting from the door like shells exploding
Singing “I’m a Rican Doodle Dandy” and “What shall
We be today, Doctors or Junkies, Soldiers or Winos?”
 
Pepo put a milk crate on a Spanish Harlem johnny pump
And drops opened like paratroopers carrying war news.
 
Then Urban Renewal attacked the pump, cleared the slums
Blamed Puerto Rico and dispersed the Spies, blasting
Them into the Army or Anywhere Avenue in the Bronx.
 
And nobody, but nobody, came back from that summer.
 
Just as Korea was death in service to the warring Nation
The Bronx was death in service to the negligent Nation
 

Sonnet

by John Buxton

I saw men’s homes burst into sudden flower
. . Of crimson petals round each golden shell.
. . I listened to the whining bombs that fell
And felt the hard earth tremble at their power. 
I saw bewildered eyes that hour by hour
. . Had peered through the rifle sights. I heard men tell
. . How many rounds they fired.  I learned the smell
Of cattle burning in the byres is sour.
So much war taught me.  And, when I return,
. . Because I did not cower nor shirk the fight,
. . But took a little part in this mad play,
Because I too have helped to kill, wreak, burn —
“You did your duty, helped defend the right,
. . You too were brave,” some poor, blind fool will say.

America Explodes

I saw courage both in the Vietnam War and in the struggle to stop it. I learned that patriotism includes protest, not just military service.

John F. Kerry

March In Washington Against The Vietnam War

by Robert Bly

Looking down, I see feet moving calmly, gaily, 
. . almost as if separated from their bodies

But there is something moving in the dark just beyond
. . the edge of our eyes

A boat covered with machine guns moving downstream at night

No one can reach it – – – it is like the shadows
when the Puritans went out at dusk to kill turkeys

America explodes
On the ground, ragged metal riddles the underbrush

We do not respect ourselves!

It is a ceremony of self-abusement,
Like a man in the Assyrian desert
Pouring ashes over his head. . . 

We make war
Like a man anointing himself. . . 

 
 
 
 
 

 

[Sonnet] You jerk you didn’t call me up

By Bernadette Mayer
 
You jerk you didn’t call me up
I haven’t seen you in so long
You probably have a fucking tan
& besides that instead of making love tonight
You’re drinking your parents to the airport
I’m through with you bourgeois boys
All you ever do is go back to ancestral comforts
Only money can get—even Catullus was rich but
 
Nowadays you guys settle for a couch
By a soporific color cable t.v. set
Instead of any arc of love, no wonder
The G.I. Joe team blows it every other time
 
Wake up! It’s the middle of the night
You can either make love or die at the hands of the Cobra Commander
 
_________________
 
To make love, turn to page 121.
To die, turn to page 172.
 

A Hero For All Times

falun-gong

A Hero

by Evan Mantyk

These are the weathered shoes worn by the Jew,
So cracked from all the miles walked since he fled.
These are the slave’s strong legs like trunks that grew
And worked so hard until he’s beaten dead.
This is the heart of Christians who’re hemmed in
by beasts, while Romans laugh at them and yell.
These poisoned lips of Socrates destined
To die, and yet in virtue ever dwell.
This banner is the shield of Spartan men
Outnumbered by a thousand foes to one;
Its moral words in Chinese, Zhen-Shan-Ren,
Are spears of truth that no one can outrun.
The Falun Gong man now before you stands,
A hero for all times and for all lands.

__________________________________

Once again, I am going to explore the poetry of war during November.   This year I will be highlighting poetry from conflicts from around the world and across time.  If you are in the camp that you only partake of positive poetry as defense to the insanity of the current state of things, then you may want to just take November off from Fourteenlines and come back in December.  Part of me is tempted to do the same….

I have often contemplated whether the gravity of a war poets words are weighted by whether they died in the conflict?   If you revisit prior November posts, there are many examples where the tragedy of the poetry is heightened because it is underpinned by the tragedy of the poet’s senseless death.  However, there is hope hidden in many of those words as well.  Poetry can be as effective in creating political change as guns, even when it is at its most raw.  Poetry is an instrument of change that endures if enough people take the time to be challenged by words meant to inflame peace with as much conviction as the cacophony of the clever profiteers of war.

Unlike in years past, I will not be adding commentary this year to the poems I post.  I am having a hard time finding much meaningful to say at the present.  I choose instead to do what I can do, keep showing up, keep sharing poems I find interesting, hoping that some of the poems resonate with readers in ways that spark an interest in some shape or fashion.   I wish you well this month of November.  In the modest intent of zen tradition, may each of us find a future that is workable.   May we all find a path that we can walk this November, even among the bomb craters, to come out the other side, into a more peaceful December.

Painful Condition

by Yacheslav Konoval

Once on Thursday, I woke up weak,
having been covered with a warm quilt,
with a merciless temperature,
I am dying, and I am bleak.
Like a pendulum,
hearing the run of strikes in the clock’s click.
Laying in bed, I had exhausted from the undead,
I am similar to a sickly chick.
Contemplate on the white pills,
that had become the color of capitulation.
Please, God, stop all human ills,
overcome the pains, and be a healthy nation.

And Life Be As Sweet

Happy Halloween!

I would rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it to myself, than to be crowded on a velvet cushion.

Henry David Thoreau

The Pumpkin

by John Greenleaf Whittier
 
Oh, fruit loved of boyhood! the old days recalling,
When wood-grapes were purpling and brown nuts were falling!
When wild, ugly faces we carved in its skin,
Glaring out through the dark with a candle within!
When we laughed round the corn-heap, with hearts all in tune,
Our chair a broad pumpkin,—our lantern the moon,
Telling tales of the fairy who travelled like steam,
In a pumpkin-shell coach, with two rats for her team!
 
Then thanks for thy present! none sweeter or better
E’er smoked from an oven or circled a platter!
Fairer hands never wrought at a pastry more fine,
Brighter eyes never watched o’er its baking, than thine!
And the prayer, which my mouth is too full to express,
Swells my heart that thy shadow may never be less,
That the days of thy lot may be lengthened below,
And the fame of thy worth like a pumpkin-vine grow,
And thy life be as sweet, and its last sunset sky
Golden-tinted and fair as thy own Pumpkin pie!
 
 

Haunted Houses (An Excerpt)

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 – 1882)

Our little lives are kept in equipoise
By opposite attractions and desires;
The struggle of the instinct that enjoys,
And the more noble instinct that aspires.

These perturbations, this perpetual jar
Of earthly wants and aspirations high,
Come from the influence of an unseen star
An undiscovered planet in our sky.

And as the moon from some dark gate of cloud
Throws o’er the sea a floating bridge of light,
Across whose trembling planks our fancies crowd
Into the realm of mystery and night,—

So from the world of spirits there descends
A bridge of light, connecting it with this,
O’er whose unsteady floor, that sways and bends,
Wander our thoughts above the dark abyss.