This Space for Rent

The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month

Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, -- -
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

--Wilfred Owen

Breakfast in hell

The yolks are jungle green or bloody,
depending on which blasted tree you squat against
to try and hoist the greasy, lukewarm chow
in your tin canteen cup to your leathery mouth.
A colony of spores thrives on humidified bread
and fried insects pepper blackened bacon.

Breakfast in hell, three days soaked-loping
from Firebase X where Charlie waits along the trail,
black mosquito with a stinger, copper-jacketed,
that ruptures trained brains or a foolhardy chest.
Nothing reminds us of a Diner in Indiana or New York.
This is a kitchen where disease drips from trees.

We're happy for a moments peace to swill dry mouths
out with a brew the hue of coffee
but the taste of burnt tires our guts have learned
to tolerate along with shrapnel crumbs.
Too tired to ask ourselves why we're here
we light joints to avoid being besieged by answers.

Patriots all, we huddle, ready to salute death,
the general who's drafted tens of thousands on all sides.
The heat is stifling and makes us wish
we could pull on Charlie's thin black pajamas
and still serve our violent mission as good grunts
who keep metaphoric dominoes from tumbling.

There's Tex from Arizona who rode a bus
through a Panhandle night to Benning
and swears he'll move to Amarillo if he outlives Nam.
Wash, from Harlem, paid a seamstress, who sits
near Saigon's Paris brothel, to create a pair
of boxer shorts for him from a nylon Old Glory.

We swear in feigned joy we'll reunite
ten years from now to hide a pessimistic truth:
many will be long dead, and the rest will live
in furnished nightmares and forget the wish
to elbow at the bar in Denver's Browns Hotel.

Some will go home to beat their wives again,
others to pump gas near flying Turnpikes
or deliver milk in Boston suburbs before dawn.
We have learned to commit crimes like murder,
without facing trial. Some will try that. I'll wake
from night-sweats to write poems, still breakfasting in hell.

--Oswald LeWinter

State of the Union, 2003

I have not been to Jerusalem,
but Shirley talks about the bombs.
I have no god, but have seen the children praying
for it to stop. They pray to different gods.
The news is all old news again, repeated
like a bad habit, cheap tobacco, the social lie.

The children have seen so much death
that death means nothing to them now.
They wait in line for bread.
They wait in line for water.
Their eyes are black moons reflecting emptiness.
We've seen them a thousand times.

Soon, the President will speak.
He will have something to say about bombs
and freedom and our way of life.
I will turn the tv off. I always do.
Because I can't bear to look
at the monuments in his eyes.

--Sam Hamill

Come up from the fields, father

Come up from the fields, father,
here's a letter from our Pete;
And come to the front door, mother,
here's a letter from thy dear son.

Lo, 'tis autumn;
Lo, where the trees, deeper green,
yellower and redder,
Cool and sweeten Ohio's villages,
with leaves fluttering in the moderate wind;
Where apples ripe in the orchards hang,
and grapes on the trellis'd vines;
(Smell you the smell of the grapes on the vines?
Smell you the buckwheat, where the bees were lately buzzing?)

Above all, lo, the sky, so calm, so transparent
after the rain, and with wondrous clouds;
Below, too, all calm, all vital and beautiful,
and the farm prospers well.

Down in the fields all prospers well;
But now from the fields come, father, come
at the daughter's call;
And come to the entry, mother,
to the front door come,
right away.

Fast as she can she hurries,
something ominous,
her steps trembling;
She does not tarry to smoothe her hair,
nor adjust her cap.

Open the envelope quickly;
O this is not our son's writing, yet his name is sign'd;
O a strange hand writes for our dear son. O stricken mother's soul!
All swims before her eyes,flashes with black,
she catches the main words only;
Sentences broken, "gun-shot wound in the breast,
cavalry skirmish, taken to hospital,
At present low, but will soon be better."

Ah, now, the single figure to me,
Amid all teeming and wealthy Ohio,
with all its cities and farms,
Sickly white in the face, and dull in the head,
very faint,
By the jamb of a door leans.

"Grieve not so, dear mother," (the just-grown daughter speaks through her sobs;
The little sisters huddle around, speechless and dismay'd;)
"See, dearest mother, the letter says Pete will soon be better."

Alas, poor boy, he will never be better,
(nor may-be needs to be better, that brave and simple soul;)
While they stand at home at the door, he is dead already;
The only son is dead.

But the mother needs to be better;
She, with thin form, presently drest in black;
By day her meals untouch'd,
then at night fitfully sleeping, often waking,
In the midnight waking, weeping,
longing with one deep longing,
O that she might withdraw unnoticed, silent from life,
escape and withdraw,
To follow, to seek, to be with her dear dead son.

--Walt Whitman