When I Reach For The Wind

Vietnam War

War Poet

by Sidney Keyes (1922 – 1943)

I am the man who looked for peace and found
My own eyes barbed.
I am the man who groped for words and found
An arrow in my hand.
I am the builder whose firm walls surround
A slipping land.
When I grow sick or mad
Mock me not nor chain me:
When I reach for the wind
Cast me not down:

Though my face is a burnt book
And a wasted town.

It’s November and though part of me says I should spend a month on limericks and lighten the mood, I am going to continue the tradition of highlighting the poetry of war during this month as a way to explore different voices of patriotism; poetry as inspiration, mourning, fear, bravado, resistance, defeat, rebellion and acceptance. I wonder, for the incredible amount of resources that are spent in human and financial capitol around the world to wage war in ever more technologically advanced and destructive ways, why don’t we as a species spend more money on understanding the political science and psychology of peace?

I am sure there are different ways of totaling this up, but several estimates cite at least 19 separate geopolitical armed conflicts with more than a 1,000 casualties combined between the two warring factions in 2019 and four conflicts with deaths exceeding 10,000 last year. Many of these wars have been ongoing for decades with no clear path to any kind of resolution or truce. These conflicts do not include campaigns of organized violence that are waged under the banner of terrorism. At a time when armed militias are crossing over from fringe to main stream in American media the broader public has to ask the question why, why is it happening, why are people attracted to violent extremist causes? Is this a small fringe whose voices are amplified by social media or is there a fundamental shift occurring in support of ideology that is perniciously undermining the social contract we have as Americans as neighbors and as global citizens. Have we lost a common understanding of how best to be a member of a community, a state, a nation?

I am not going to dive deep into politics or causes of war this month. I am going to stick to selecting poetry and let the poets words inform readers thoughts, feelings and responses. However, I am going to stray a bit further afield this month from the sonnet form, as most of the great war sonnets were written during World War I, and for the most part, I’ve shared the best of them in previous November series. Instead, I intend to broaden the perspective with more voices from other conflicts from the past 100 years. Keye’s War Poet was written during WWII and Ford’s Lines For A Hard Time was written in 1967 during the Vietnam War. Both have a solemn tone of looking at the toll of war in terms of human life and weighing the unanswerable questions that converge upon the combatants and survivors, the question – why?

Lines For A Hard Time

by Gena Ford

Evil does not go always
by dark ways.  On any hot
summer day, cleanshaven
it may stride across
a public place and head
purposefully for high
                     . What whisper
hisses in the inner ear
take cover? Ah, and then 
the boy is dead, others dead
or dying, and the evil
laps out from bits of hot
lead across the nervepools
of the nation.
                              . We ask
in our littered streets
and high places.  Worms twist
in our labyrinthe  skulls.
We are frightened by bland
             .The losses are always
personal.  A phone rings;
a father becomes less than
the sum of his grief.  Could we
say better than his own words,
And we will die as well….
Spiral upward into All Love?

Good Man, good grieving man,
all men have lived in evil
times, though few have know it
absolutely.  We persist.
We love ourselves as often
as we can.  And send our sons
to walk out in open day.