5-29 Memorial Day

I’ve posted these before. They are under “War Poems,” and apropos for today.


Last Shell


A shell whooshed a mile

and blasted an infidel:

Jew? Muslim? Christian? American? Tourist?


As you gazed through the hole in the ceiling to roof,

Did your last prayer flash past this galaxy

Beyond Hubble’s deep field?


Or did your soul freeze your prayer

into pure consciousness as you

exhaled your last breath?


A shiver explodes

as this infidel’s soul

grasps for breath.


Lieutenant Paul Carrington Venable KIA 7-18-18


WWI: you fought in the Battle of Soissons, France,

allies vs. Germans. July 18–22, 1918.


I see the terrors of mucky trenches—barbed-wire fences—

sniper crosshairs—German Maschinengewehrs on sledge mounts

blasting 500 rounds a minute—shells exploding mud and limbs

in shocking arcs—bayonet charges through salvos of bullets—

pineapple and stick grenades blasting shrapnel—


which one was yours?

107,000 allied casualties / 168,000 German casualties


All I know is 99 years later

you were killed the 18th of July…

not which hour not how not even why—

my great uncle.


Lieutenant Venable:


Nov 9th 1917

A E F. France

I study your black and white snapshot

dressed in Khaki wool uniform,

wearing your Tan Campaign Hat


Why do I miss someone

in a photograph

I never knew?


May 1969


Nixon’s Draft Lottery. 5-25-47: mine was 361.

That night beer poured down my throat

in a Yankton SD bar under cigarette fog

and I swayed on a mast in the dorm bed.


I missed his homecoming:


He was on the Big Bird of Paradise,

rising over the South China Sea.

Purple hearts aren’t pinned over shrapnel scars

but Lady Luck trumped a bad, bad hand.

The air conditioner froze their bodies,

gaunt from sticky, breath-sucking heat.


In thirty-five hours they land at Homeport USA.

Dressed in fatigues, a few wear medals.

At baggage claim this kid slurping a candy bar

asks “How many did ya kill?”

A suit says nothing,

stares with gook eyes, shakes his head.

Porters whisper. Old ladies point.


Stink sticks forever . . .

more than hooch hut scenes, artillery thunder,

pain in pus-swollen toes.

Smell streams quickest to memory’s heart:

napalm incinerating flesh—rice-paddy muck—

rain forest heat—diesel fuel in latrines—

happy smoke—spurting blood—

holes rotting in underwear.


As he walks from baggage claim,

the score today was VC-7 / US-41.

Generals keep score; body baggers keep quiet.


.           .


A swarm of gooks charges, black pajamas

spreading into bat wings, hover

to drop frag grenades. His M-16 jams.

His buddy explodes into flesh confetti.


He jumps from a crumpled bed, dripping, panting…