War poetry, from soldiers who have seen the face of war up close and personal has always captured my interest, my imagination; it is the poetry of absolute reality, perhaps more real than most of us want to even think about. War poetry tends to capture the moment, without metaphor or the flowers of the language. It is real. It is graphic. It should be instructive.
First from Michael Casey, a Yale Younger Poet of 1972, who published a little, precious book of war poetry entitled, "Obscenities," upon his return from Viet Nam. One of my favorites is:
We were going single file
Through his rice paddies
And the farmer
Started hitting the lead track
With a rake
He wouldn't stop
The TC went to talk to him
And the farmer
Tried to hit him too
So the tracks went sideways
Side by side
Through the guy's fields
Instead of single file
Hard On, Proud Mary
Bummer, Wallace, Rosemary's Baby
The Rutgers Road Runner
Go Get Em--Done Got Em
Went side by side
Through the fields
If you have a farm in Vietnam
And a house in hell
Sell the farm
And go home
From Brian Turner, who was an infantry team leader in Iraq, comes this poem from his book of war poems, "Here, Bullet:"
"Eulogy" from "Here, Bullet."
It happens on a Monday, at 11:20 A.M.,
as tower guards eat sandwiches
and seagulls drift by on the Tigris River.
Prisoners tilt their heads to the west
though burlap sacks and duct tape blind them.
The sound reverberates down concertina coils
the way piano wire thrums when given slack.
And it happens like this, on a blue day of sun,
when Private Miller pulls the trigger
to take brass and fire into his mouth:
the sound lifts the birds up off the water,
a mongoose pauses under the orange trees,
and nothing can stop it now, no matter what
blur of motion surrounds him, no matter what voices
crackle over the radio in static confusion,
because if only for this moment the earth is stilled,
and Private Miller has found what low hush there is
down in the eucalyptus shade, there by the river.
PFC B. MILLER
(1980 - March 22, 2003)
Ain't war wonderful!