Monday, May 26, 2008

The Old Lie

A cyberpal - I'm not going to link to her, since she enjoys her privacy a bit, but she knows who she is - is a fine poet as well as a mom (and her little girl is where I hope our little girl is in another year). Every Monday she blogs a poem that speaks to her in a certain way. Today it was a war poem by David Hernandez, a striking and strange poem, but one that I couldn't really access. I think the imagery was almost too strong, the setting too odd for me. (But note to L: I can respect the hell out of a poet who can link Wile E. Coyote and the Four Noble Truths). Good poet, not the right poem for me.

[I should note that in her post she asks: "Is there really any other kind of war poem (than the anti-war poetry of Owen & Co.)? I'm not sure." And in reply I'd argue that the anti-war poem is an absolute latecomer, a PURELY 20th and 21st Century peculiarity dwarfed by the monstrous edifice of battle hymns and paens to slaughter. "Pro-war" poetry probably started with Paleolithic campfire chest-beating, graduated to Homer, migrated through viking sagas and medieval chansons de geste to the apalling Classical bombast of the Eighteeenth Century and the Victorian middle class rubbish of the Nineteenth. There actually is some patriotic drum-beating poetry from the Great War, but 99.9% of it is so utterly awful that no one even teaches it anymore. Here's an example of the sort of WW1 "fallen warrior" poetry that manages to scent the hideous trench slaughter with patriotic rose-water. Gaah. And for modern "pro-war" poetry, I direct you to freakin' country music. If you can listen to "Iraq and Roll" without vomiting a little in the back of your mouth, you a sterner man or woman than I am.]

Sorry. Back to the topic.

I think of war and I think of anger, fear and boredom, and the smells of dust, heat, shit, blood and wet cloth. The writers who capture this for me are still the horror-poets of the First World War: Owens and Sassoon. Remarque's prose is to stilted and Nineteenth Century to reach out to me. Brooke is too romantic, Graves too verbose. So who - if not Mr. Fernandez - would I consider a "war poet" for OUR time?I know I've talked about this guy before, but: I would like to direct you to Mr. Brian Turner. His stuff isn't perfect. There's a little "high school lit mag" to some of it. But when he hits, he hits like a fucking 8-inch HE round. So while I'm not trying to compete for Monday poems, L, really! this is a one-off - just for Memorial Day, here's Brian Turner from "Here, Bullet":

AB Negative (The Surgeon’s Poem)

Thalia Fields lies under a grey ceiling of clouds,
just under the turbulence, with anesthetics
dripping from an IV into her arm,
and the flight surgeon says The shrapnel
cauterized as it traveled through her
here, breaking this rib as it entered,
burning a hole through the left lung
to finish in her back
, and all of this
she doesn’t hear, except perhaps as music—
that faraway music of people’s voices
when they speak gently and with care,
a comfort to her on a stretcher
in a flying hospital en route to Landstuhl,
just under the rain at midnight, and Thalia
drifts in and out of consciousness
as a nurse dabs her lips with a moist towel,
her palm on Thalia’s forehead, her vitals
slipping some, as burned flesh gives way
to the heat of the blood, the tunnels within
opening to fill her, just enough blood
to cough up and drown in; Thalia
sees the shadows of people working
to save her, but she cannot feel their hands,
cannot hear them any longer,
and when she closes her eyes
the most beautiful colors rise in darkness,
tangerine washing into Russian blue,
with the droning engine humming on
in a dragonfly’s wings, island palms
painting the sky an impossible hue
with their thick brushes dripping green…
a way of dealing with the fact
that Thalia Fields is gone, long gone,
about as far from Mississippi
as she can get, ten thousand feet above Iraq
with a blanket draped over her body
and an exhausted surgeon in tears,
his bloodied hands on her chest, his head
sunk down, the nurse guiding him
to a nearby seat and holding him as he cries,
though no one hears it, because nothing can be heard
where pilots fly in blackout, the plane
like a shadow guiding the rain, here
in the droning engines of midnight.


mike said...

The Esquimos Have No Word for “War”

Trying to explain it to them
Leaves one feeling ridiculous and obscene.
Their houses, like white bowls,
Sit on a prairie of ancient snowfalls
Caught beyond thaw or the swift changes
Of night and day.

They listen politely, and stride away.
With spears and sleds and barking dogs
To hunt for food. The women wait
Chewing on skins or singing songs,
Knowing that they have hours to spend,
That the luck of the hunter is often late.

Later, by fires and boiling bones
In streaming kettles, they welcome me,
Far kin, pale brother,
To share what they have in a hungry time
In a difficult land. While I talk on
Of the southern kingdoms, cannon, armies,
Shifting alliances, airplanes, power,
They chew their bones, and smile at one another.

~ Mary Oliver ~

FDChief said...

mike: Nice! Thank you for that.

You Know Where You Are With said...

Thanks for the shout-out...of course, we're definitely going to have to disagree again on this one. There is no way the antiwar poem is "PURELY a 20th and 21st century" construct. I can refer you to at least half a dozen Renaissance pacifist poems off the top of my head, not to mention some medieval (Chaucer included) and Shakespeare (like all of Henry IV, for instance). And I still stand by my statement--which was, of course, purposefully quixotic. But I don't count current country music fare as poetry...after all, poetry is dead. So say the pundits. Not so country music. Unfortunately for much of it.

You Know Where You Are With said...

Oh, almost forgot: I own and love Here, Bullet.