Poetry: War’s Bitterness (NaPoWriMo day 6)

The irony of today’s prompt is that it comes from Holly Lyn Walrath, who wrote of prompts, “…they all suck.” She poses this one as simple.

“Go to a book you love. Find a short line that strikes you. Make that line the title of your poem. Write a poem inspired by the line. Then, after you’ve finished, change the title completely.”

I want to finish this assignment today, so I am amending the prompt slightly.

I have lists of lines (quotes) from books I like. Examples I considered from Bukowski’s poetry book, Love is Dog from Hell, (also the title of one of the poems) include:

  1. “Sissies have a hard life.”
  2. “I never quite understood what it all meant and still don’t.”
  3. “Human relationships aren’t durable.”
  4. “Just drink more beer, more and more beer.”
  5. “An early taste of death is not necessarily a bad thing.”
  6. “Hit that thing/hit it hard.”

I rejected them for a sentence from Tim O’Brien’s book, The Things They Carried. The protagonist is referring to his decision to be drafted and go to Viet Nam, rather than flee to Canada.

“I would go to the war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to.”

I used each of these three independent clauses as the title for a quatrain. Then, I wrote the overall title of the combined poem, but I left the original lines.


War’s Bitterness

I would go to the war*—

Not to defend my country
or the Constitution, or our freedom,
or our way of life, to a war
I did not believe in.

I would kill and maybe die*—

Even my own countrymen would
condemn me and others who did
see themselves as defenders, many heroes
who would be wasted in a war they hated.

I was embarrassed not to*—

I cried. I didn’t want to go. I felt
that I had no choice. Could I kill?
Would I be killed or maimed?
Would I ever understand why?


(*Taken from the boat scene while fishing on the Rainy River in the book, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien.)

Look both ways. Feel the pressure. Decide.
Mind the gaps, especially those in your mind.
You’re only a living, fallible human.