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.

NaPoWriMo: 30 poems in 30 days (day 8)

Day 8 prompt: Use a portion of a poem from a twitter bot as seed (inspiration) to write a poem.


Confession: I dislike the words twitter, tweet, and bot. It’s getting late. I need a poem. I’ve read nearly all of Anne Carson’s “The Glass Essay” searching. I considered her “Where does unbelief begin?” and discovered her phrase, “That was the night that centered Heaven and Hell,” which I may use later. I pondered Richard Siken’s words, “Let’s admit, without apology, what we do to each other” and “This has nothing to do with faith but is still a good question.” I did the perusal work of reviewing several twitter bots. Nothing worked.

Then, as I was re-reading Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried (1990), I found it. I try to do “optional” prompts. I hope I semi-followed the elective prompt with a twist.

My poem is based on a scene from O’Brien’s book, specifically from the chapter, “On the Rainy River.” Tim writes of sitting in a small boat 20 yards from Canada while facing his inner dilemma of doing what he thinks is morally right and what his family and most people (at the time) thought he should do: to accept his draft notice and fight in the Viet Nam War.


The Embarrassment of Tears

It was a moral freeze,
part hallucination, he supposed,
as paralysis took his heart,
a tightness he wants me to feel.

He could swim but he saw them,
a blind poet scribbling notes, people,
his past and his future, and mine.

His conscience lost the battle in a war
it could not win. He would do it.

He would go to the war –
he would kill, and maybe die
because he was embarrassed
not to. That was the thing.

And so, he sat in the boat,
and he cried, but he did not die.
Not a happy ending, his war,
his book, our war. He went to the war.

He was a coward, he claims,
because he stuffed it for them,
for their love, which he carried then,
and carries today. I disagree.

He asks me, and you,
would you cry? The scene jerks
my tears, not for Tim, or the war,
but for me. I was not in his boat.


Sit in your boat and look both ways, to Canada or to home.
Mind the gaps, there may a book or a poem in them.