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.
The Napo challenge for today was to write a poem that invokes a specific object as a symbol of a particular time, era, or place. The trebuchet, mangonel, or catapult sling was a siege weapon of choice against castles and enemies during the Middle Ages (500 to 1500AD). I like the sound of the word, trebuchet, especially when pronounced in French.
Other rabbit hole excursions while working on this prompt included diaspora literature (poems), mango, metonym, and 7th Century classic poetry compiled by Confucius. But what the Hell? I had all day (sarcasm).
A sling toss of a single stone
When David slew Goliath, made
Profound religious history, in theory.
Rome grew in a millennium,
Then died. Dark times rose
From those civil ashes, a beastly age.
From the hands of naked boys
To the age of sling-shot artillery:
The trebuchet. A French feast of fright.
Stones and bones, living or long dead,
Fodder with missiles from mangonel
Machines to crush citadel and castle walls.
Thunder carriages bring down life
With strikes of slow siege and certain
Pillage, rape, death, and lifelong slavery.
Now ancient artillery, the trebuchet pales
Beside man’s modern tech-machines of death.
Is cold hearted mankind the final stone?
Look both ways to war,
that human endeavor we can’t seem to stop.
Mind the gaps, the sound of peace is often war at rest.
Awakened hours before sunrise,
he must guard, lest they come and kill;
this boy filled with fear and shock,
barely 19, taught to hate and kill,
now loyal to his clan, this new family,
his only friends, his only protection
as war has become his real world.
Miserable, hardened in every way,
unsympathetic, unimaginably deadly,
drawn to flashing light, learning
what he never wanted to know, addicted
to the battle, to the intoxicating fight.
He celebrates life with death, seeks random
revenge where none is possible,
has forgotten questions, never asks why,
lives in his personal accepted hated hell.
Sunrise lifts despair from his soul.
He smiles, alone, at the light of life,
happy to survive one more night.
He looks for answers, for that part of him,
now dead because he kills without a care.
Can he ever again be who he was born to be?
Look both ways to find another view.
Mind the gaps where questions decay away.
Conceived in infamy, born of the Essex clan months later, that Intrepid warrior,
called the Fighting I, she of the seas; Pacific, Atlantic, one vet of two wars.
I walked your decks, thought about men who died there.
Torpedoed. Kamikazied four times.
Now you survive, tall on the Hudson, alive in Manhattan.
Look both ways, from bow to stern, port to starboard.
Mind the gaps for a time to reload.
Day 12 prompt: write a poem in the form of a triolet, which is fixed and straightforward: the first line is repeated in the fourth and seventh lines; the second line is repeated in the final line; and only the first two end-words are used to complete the tight rhyme scheme.
Thus, the poet writes only five original lines, giving the triolet a deceptively simple appearance: ABaAabAB, where capital letters indicate repeated lines. According to Lewis Turco in his classic, The Book of Forms, every line of a triolet is the same metrical length.
this is your nightmare I keep on dreaming
at my best doing that terrible war
don’t lie to me when I wake you screaming
this is your nightmare I keep on dreaming
the death of love for hate’s dreamy feeling
oh, nothing like this have I seen before
this is your nightmare I keep on dreaming
at my best doing that terrible war
Look both ways in war and dreams.
Mind the gaps for traps and schemes.
Sunday. Blessed dullness fenced
by deceptive barricades of ocean’s
water; the sails flotilla, distant bushido,
flying samurai set to slaughter
the honor of death to a sleeping
dragon, killing two thousand and more.
Pride in death over defeated dishonor
slithers and hums into beating hearts
of heroes from hell’s kitchen to honor
as oppressed saves oppressor,
as hours of death’s destruction
delights devils with a world at war.
Zeros screamed as tora roared and
state magazines exploded when the
dragon opened one eye and a bloody
mess of shock and awe was felt
around the globe and demon war
smiled, the angel of peace died.
Two thousand young dead,
two thousand more, thousands
the sun set in the west
to a flash of final disgusting rage,
the emperor surrendered
with a whimper laid waste.
Look both ways, to a past of shameful honor and error,
as the future plays reruns.
Mind the gaps for truth of mankind’s inhumanity.
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.
When you ask most Americans if they know any French expressions they will say, “C’est la vie.” It may mean such is life, but it also implies a certain amount of fatalistic acceptance like “sh*t happens.” My favorite acceptance phrase in English is It is what it is. The title French phrase for this blog is different in that it points to cause – the reason things are wrong or out of whack. C’est la guerre, or it is the war, is an acknowledgement that while there is a problem, it is that way because of the war. As with many foreign phrases used in English, especially by Americans, the meaning is morphed slightly into aspects of life that don’t involve war or combat; such as work or sports competitions. The phrase was common and true in occupied France during World War II.
When I ponder c’est la guerre, my thinking goes more toward the conditions or philosophy of war, or the way of life during times of war. As an American, the concept is a little foreign to me (like our wars), since the only ground war we experienced was our war with ourselves: The Civil War. Ironically, it may have been the most destructive of our history in terms of loss of life and property. For at least the past 100 years, we have considered war as something that happens over there. Lucky us.
“It is only one who is thoroughly acquainted with the evils of war that can thoroughly understand the profitable way of carrying it on.” ~ Sun Tzu
In the 21st century, what are the things that happen and are explained with c’est la guerre? The first casualty of war is always truth. This is usually followed by destruction, death and maiming, rape, humiliation, and man’s inhumanity to man (torture). We have travel restrictions, airport body scanners, and a plethora of personal armament. And those are purely defensive precautions for dealing with domestic terrorism.
While there are many good books regarding the philosophy of war, the classic gold standard is On War by Carl Von Clausewitz – required reading for virtually every military officer. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy may be the preeminent novel on the subject. And the classic for weaponry and strategy is The Art of War by Sun Tzu; more required reading, if not necessarily the best reading entertainment.
“There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.” ~ Sun Tzu
So the rhyming tongue-in-cheek variation of the French fatalistic terms (which are not so fatalistic in French) used in English go like this: c’est la vie, c’est guerre, c’est la pomme de terre (such is life, such is war, that’s a potato). Get it? It is what it is. Accept it.