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War, Poetry and Reconciliation

" For years after the war I was practically silent. It seemed that I simply had nothing left to say, to anyone, about anything. Words had become treacherous things to me because I had learned how words can twist and bend things to suit one’s needs and how that can so easily lead to murder and suffering. Once I found poetry, I began to see that I could also repair some wrongs simply by telling the truth about my experiences in the war. My teacher Charles Simic told me one day that the world had given me a subject – the American War in Vietnam – and it was now my responsibility as a poet, like it or not, to make sense of things again."

An Interview With Bruce Weigl
War, Poetry and Reconciliation
Nov/10/2013, 8:32 pm Link to this post Send Email to libramoon   Send PM to libramoon Blog
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Re: War, Poetry and Reconciliation
Her Life Runs Like a Red Silk Flag
By Bruce Weigl

Because this evening Miss Hoang Yen
sat down with me in the small
tiled room of her family house
I am unable to sleep.
We shared a glass of cold and sweet water.
On a blue plate her mother brought us
cake and smiled her betel-black teeth at me
but I did not feel strange in the house
my country had tried to bomb into dust.
In English thick and dazed as blood
she told me how she watched our planes
cross her childhood’s sky,
all the children of Hanoi
carried in darkness to mountain hamlets, Nixon’s
Christmas bombing. She let me hold her hand,
her shy unmoving fingers, and told me
how afraid she was those days and how this fear
had dug inside her like a worm and lives
inside her still, won’t die or go away.
And because she’s stronger, she comforted me,
said I’m not to blame,
the million sorrows alive in her gaze.
With the dead we share no common rooms.
With the frightened we can’t think straight;
no words can bring the burning city back.
Outside on Hung Dao Street
I tried to say good-bye and held her hand
too long so she looked back through traffic
towards her house and with her eyes
she told me I should leave.
All night I ached for her and for myself
and nothing I could think or pray
would make it stop. Some birds sang morning
home across the lake. In small reed boats
the lotus gatherers sailed out
among their resuming white blossoms.

Hanoi, 1990


By Joseph Bathanti

Dedicated to Bruce Weigl


... I close my eyes and see the girl

running from her village, napalm

stuck to her dress like jelly,

her hands reaching for the no one

who waits in waves of heat before her.

From the title poem, "Song of Napalm"

Hurtling through the endless shrouded

gauntlet of Bragg Boulevard -

the machinery, the certainty,

of war secreted matter-of-factly

on either side of it - everything

arrested, etherized - the only danger

a broken tequila bottle

on the sand spit shoulder, neon

signs for bars and guns and tattoos,

a couple Rangers in camos

who nearly drop a mattress from Badcock's

they're loading in a pickup -

I carry Song of Napalm,

a first edition, on its jacket face

a helmeted GI, mouth agape

in mute keen. The glowing font

is napalm orange - Song and of

burning over the soldier's eyes,

Napalm scored across his nostrils.

In the watery lamplight,

on the table next to my hotel bed,

the volume shape-shifts like a hologram.

It pages to black tunnels, wending on and on.

Even the beautiful detonates.

Yet the rounds in that book, its shrapnel,

lethal trope and caliber, remain humble,

almost shy, in combat -

purity that becomes Buddha.

Versed in the lotus,

the poet makes a small place for defeat.

It is sleep he yearns for;

war is an insomniac.

The little girl in the poem,

dedicated to his wife

(which I find soothing, here

in a strange room, without my wife),

is Kim Phúc, naked, fleeing

Trang Bang in '72 -

Nick Ut's famous photograph, Napalm Girl.

Carefully I read each word, each

metric foot, down to the syllable -

to help me reckon what truth travels

into and beyond immolation,

that I might be visited by that God.

The next morning at Howard Hall

Elementary, where Count Basie's jazz

pipes through its corridors, I read

1st graders poems by Shel Silverstein:

zany tongue-twisting alliterative

nonsense - about a bear

in a refrigerator and how to make

a hippopotamus sandwich.

The children sit at my feet

and laugh uncontrollably.

Whispering liftships rise

in the haunted mist.
Nov/11/2013, 6:06 pm Link to this post Send Email to libramoon   Send PM to libramoon Blog
Christine98 Profile
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Re: War, Poetry and Reconciliation

hi libra,

Thanks for the article and the poetry. Yesterday, Veteran's Day, I listened to an hour of poetry from WWI and WWII on the radio.

"it is now my responsibility as a poet..." seems it always has been,

Nov/12/2013, 10:15 am Link to this post Send Email to Christine98   Send PM to Christine98

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