A Reader's Respite makes no claim of knowledge in the poetry department. In college, we deftly ducked and dodged, avoiding any class with a reference to that mystical prose that eluded our understanding. No, not for us the angst-filled facial expressions, black clothing and ever-present cigarette and glass of cheap wine.
We now suspect, however, that we were missing out on something really good.
While we may not know the first thing about poetry (other than, evidently, the words do not *have* to rhyme...gee, who knew?), every so often we come across some verses that resonate. Lately, A Reader's Respite has been reading an awful lot about the Vietnam War, thanks to the War Through the Generations Reading Challenge whose focus this year is that ugly conflict that took place in Southeast Asia.
We recently found a non-fiction compilation of letters sent home by U.S. soldiers stationed in Vietnam during the war and devoured the book in a day or two. The letters were heartbreaking. But included in some of these letters were poems....many of them were striking. A Reader's Respite will share a few of them with you throughout the remainder of April in honor of National Poetry Month.
So now that you know that this following poem was chosen by a poetic-imbecile (that would be us), read on.....
One night we wandered far and long
To kill young men who, brave and strong
And precious to their loved, their own,
Were coming to kill us.
Aching, filthy, weak, afraid,
Creeping through the dripping shades,
Searching forms through jungle haze,
We stalked those men as prey.
A stinging, steaming, humming hell
Tried our flesh and pride and will,
But we walked and watched and waited, until
We froze - and saw them coming.
Quietly picking their way along,
Far from their loved ones, far from home,
They seemed to be dreaming. One muttered a song,
And they carried their weapons slack.
I fired first! The shattering blast
Unleashed a deafening force that smashed
And ripped and shook, and seemed to last
Till the very Earth was torn.
Then, silently, coldly, on command,
We plucked among that gory band
And left, with a simple wave of the hand,
The offal to the leeches.
Now jungle covers the stench and sight
Of the wrecks we left behind that night,
Yet we, too, die, while winning such fights,
From a sickness caused by slaughter.
And when we next go out again
At night to kill more killer men,
Or else be hunted to our end,
Will it prove The Cause is ours?
How can we ever "know we're right,"
Lost in this dark, primeval Night?
Must we kill them, as beasts must fight,
Until the Earth is torn?
Written by 1Lt. James McLeroy who spent six months serving in Vietnam in 1967. Reproduced in Bernard Edelman's compilation, Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam.
A Reader's Respite may not know the first thing about poetry, but we know something powerful when we read it, no? And for all of you poetry experts out there, this is your chance to edu-ma-cate us: what is the name of the form this poem takes? Cause we likes it. Lots.