This morning, NaPo challenged me to write a poem that responds to another poet’s poem. I chose one titled “Natural History” by Leroy V. Quintana, one of five of his Viet Nam poems featured on PBS. But I could have responded to any, or all, of the five.
How did it feel?
To know you must go to Nam, to maybe die,
or go to jail, or to Canada?
To go there to kill any enemy, VC, NVA, or…?
To be overcome by fear, and to be forced
To kill anything that moved?
You’ve felt such fear I’ve never felt.
Not just some fight or flight twinge,
but big, sweaty, trembling, shit-your-pants fear,
both rational and sometimes crazy,
a fear that never goes away,
fear mixed with phenomenal anger,
when everything slows down, or stops,
where all you see, hear, feel,
smell, or taste wants to kill you, to maim you?
To suck the blood from your body?
And you can only live by killing him first,
or by not fighting, or shooting into the darkness,
or not, for fear of being exposed, or by tossing
grenades, or by friendly artillery fire so near you,
it may kill you? And most of all, how did it feel
to leave your comrades behind, to fly home
to clean clothes, a steak dinner, and
a thankless nation ignoring you,
wishing we’d all just go away? Trying to forget?
Look both ways along the path of a warrior,
that person sacrificed for the good of some system
like Capitalism, Communism, or Catholicism.
Mind the gaps for the fears and tears of real people,
both the living and the dead.
Today is day 19. I was challenged by NaPoWriMo to write a humorous rant. In this poem, I was licensed to excoriate (I prefer bitch) to my heart’s content. I ranted about ranting.
Let Me Explain
I’ve been okayed to rant.
I should be good at this
cuz lots of practice,
but I need a subject;
like in a poem, something
specific to rant about.
I prefer small audiences
or choirs to preach to,
preferably from my own tribe.
I need to know what I’m
talking about, no random topics
that just piss me off for now;
politics, religion, or both might work.
I should stand. My face will redden.
I need not be near breakables,
like nick-nacks or small animals. I can
frighten cats, small dogs may cower
into a corner, and I need a timer.
Like I’m Italian talking normal,
I need to waive my arms and make
gestures about the size of fish I caught,
or the size of my antagonist’s penis.
If Yolonda is there, she will tell me
to sit on my hands and keep my mouth shut.
I’ll claim NaPo permissive prompt status
or poet’s privilege, but she won’t care.
She’s heard it all before.
I’ll call him “needle dick the bug fucker,”
for laughs, then I can sit down and let it all go.
Look both ways, be it a declaration of war,
burying the hatchet, smoking a peace pipe, or opening kimonos.
Mind the gaps because that’s where the trouble starts.
I’ve noticed within you
dormant dark ironic
aroused by stress,
fueled with fear,
ushers in you a strife
emblazoned with virulent rancor,
etched with vitriol and venomous
words more harmful than
of your frantic painful sputum.
like a cornered dog
or captured snake seeking vengeance
without sense of reason, cause, or goal,
neither coherent illumination nor purpose
tempers or dulls your slashing fangs.
Let lost conscience be not your guide,
nor grief and guilt become your
Count to ten. Then count again.
Nothing can be unsaid,
unheard, or unfelt.
Look both ways when emotions rise.
Seek the mindful gaps of calmness and search for love.
Prompted by: ‘Smoldering coals of fury with which oppression always fires the soul.’ (1862)
Anger burned like acid surging through his body,
deadly rage ran unfiltered with each breath
as in shame he hid and buried his anger
as it called out for vengeance – for satisfaction.
He felt the scalding physical pain of revenge withheld.
He felt how the inhumanity man can deal to his
fellow man is without comparison.
Only man hates his own. As only man can
kill without reason and crush his kind
without purpose or cause, leaving no real hope.
He felt helpless as despair hardened him.
His broken mind and heart pleaded for him to let loose
the righteous fury growing inside as hours, days,
and years passed in the agony of painful misery,
hatred pounded his chest to be loosed
as his purposeless worthless life festered.
He spoke to his anger about the promise
of a better life, but not for him.
His was to live into his dream
of revenge and retribution with the fury
of the spurned prisoner held within him,
but for not much longer.
Soon he would defeat their world.
Soon he could kill them all,
and his hate would feast on their flesh.
All the pain and suffering would be avenged.
Then he could die in peace,
with honor avenged, pride returned,
his life’s purpose satisfied.
Seriously? Would you? I spent a career in the military. Flying B-52s would have removed me from the carnage by five miles, but I never dropped bombs on people. Fly all day, spend a few minutes dropping whatever (normal or ‘conventional’ bombs, various kinds of nuclear bombs or missiles, or mines into water like harbors or ports), then home and to the club for a night of brews and pizza before going out again in a day or so. I just missed out on that fun (not) routine in Viet Nam.
I was trained to shoot three guns: two rifles and one pistol. But I never shot anyone either. I spent a career as a trained killer, but I’ve never killed. I don’t even hunt. And, at least for now, I don’t own a firearm. However, I have no doubt that I would kill. War is different. Self-defense is different. I am not a pacifist.
Per the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the most dangerous regions in the world for murder and other violent crimes are Africa, Caribbean (toss in Brazil), and Central America. Canada comes in at 89th with about 516 murders, and the US at 92nd with 12,253 (both based on rate by population). Australia seems to have virtual love fest going on and is way down the list. But I want to look at this from a personal, more individualized perspective.
A few days ago, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek note on Facebook about how I did not whack some guy because my wife would kill me, had I dispatched the fool to his happy hunting ground. The fact remains, people kill people. I cannot imagine doing that except in self-defense or war. Neither of those would be considered murder, even in the biblical sense. Why do humans kill each other? Mental illness aside, why do we do it?
Here’s a little clip from J. D. Robb’s book, Glory in Death, p 138.
“Biblically speaking,” Nadine put in, “murder is the oldest crime.”
“You could say it has a long tradition. We may be able to filter out certain undesirable tendencies through genetics, chemical treatments, beta scans, we deter with penal colonies and the absence of freedom. But human nature remains human nature.”
Those basic motives for violence that science is unable to filter: love, hate, greed, envy, anger.”
“They separate us from the droids, don’t they?”
“And make us susceptible to joy, sorrow, and passion. That’s a debate for the scientists and the intellectuals. But which of those motives killed Cicely Towers and Yvonne Metcalf?”
Later they add thrill as basic human motive for violence.
Can this be for real? Do people kill because it’s fun? Sorry, that can’t be considered normal. But those other emotions can account for a lot of murders. Love, hate, greed, envy, and anger are common human emotions. And yet, people kill strangers for cutting them off in traffic. We call it road rage, but it’s anger. Statistically, murders of women are often done by male mates, partners, or lovers. What’s up with that?
The countries in the high murder-rate areas that I mentioned have significant drug trafficking problems, and many (but not all) have high rates of poverty. Figuring out motives and getting them into the right categories would be a challenge internationally. So, tell us. Who ya gunna kill?
It can be a dangerous world out there.
Carefully mind any gaps. Look both ways before crossing borders, fences, or red lines. And, watch for droids.