What I Was Trying To Write


What I was trying to write

I was trying to write a poem about war.

I was trying to describe
how we are blinded
by certain adherences, whether to faith
or jingo,
how they drag us, one-eyed, into
a Cyclops slog–

how then, I wrote,
we lid our cribbed gaze
in righteousness,
let pride steel love,
train out any tender bend
towards anguish’s white flags, the sclera of
the vanquished (or, just, the scared),
temper mettle
to sword–

then stopped, partly because
I had to look up sclera–it means
the whites of eyes–but more because
I wanted to be clear, not obscure
with slant convolution–

because when I wrote the “training out
of tender bend,” I specifically pictured, men,
ours, so young their skin
shows individual bristles–I think somehow
of piglets but in the sweet sense, long-lashed and
rather soft
behind the neck–
but the necks of these poor men are thickened by
what they’ve learned
to carry; armored as tanks,
they force some dirt-gouted door,
striding cartridges
into a crouch of women, men, folded up
as cranes, bird bones pushed
against creased pulses;

and when I wrote
of “anguish’s white flags,” I saw specifically
the whites of eyes,
the whites of raised palms, the white lines
on the back-sides
of knuckles, and

the soldiers shout a foreign bark
they think means “where?”
or maybe, if it blares on,
“we don’t want to hurt you, just
to search,” but the sounds are din
to the crouched
as if the voices cried for “lobster” in the midst of a desert, and they are
in the midst of the desert,
and the triggered hands look
like great claws,
and the skin that gapes through gaps
in the camo, red,
and the women, their eye whites
flickering now like a terrible game
of shadow against a wall, begin to wail,
and the young solders want
to whale them,
thinking why in the fuck do these people
we’re trying to help keep fucking
with us,
and wish they could kick
something, their boots
so weighted, and their mettle–that is
who they are truly–flaming into something
they can’t temper, and plaster sprays,
cloth tosses, and goats shit skittering,
and the whites of eyes mouth please or no or
something more
unspeakable, and the men hate,
and the soldiers hate,
and the women maybe hate too, left
with nothing, and how
one wonders does this solve
very much.

Which is what I wanted to write, and without homonym,
because no words actually sound
like what war means.


Here’s a poem of sorts.  Draft.  I don’t know about the basic frame.  But it started out with Grapeling’s (M’s) “get listed” prompt on With Real Toads, in which he suggested writing a poem based upon words chosen from the Art of War.  I wrote a poem for that prompt, but deleted the italicized stanza at the last moment before posting.  Then later showed to M who expressed interest, and in response–thanks, M–I came up with this. 

I also want to acknowledge Kerry O’ Connor’s wonderful poem “A Poem Is No Place,” which I read recently and which also has to do with the uses of poetry.  

Am linking to With Real Toads open link night.  Sorry for the length and profanity. 

And the picture is one that I took the other day that doesn’t really have much to do with this poem, but am using because of the different frames. 

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29 Comments on “What I Was Trying To Write”

  1. Kerry O'Connor Says:

    This is by far the most brilliant piece I have read about war, and the times in which we are currently abiding. Your breaking the poet’s fourth wall and engaging the reader with your method, supplying your own interpretation brings the reality smack up against our faces. Here is a poet who has quit dealing in metaphor – she wants us to acknowledge reality.
    I commend you to the highest level.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks so much, Kerry. Of course, I appreciate your kind words–I realized looking at again, typos etc., due to my bad eyes, but I wanted to say–and will add it into the post that I was also very inspired by your wonderful poem about Karin Boye, that talked about poetry no good in heart break. That was such a terrific poem, and was part of what set me thinking. k.

      On Mon, Sep 22, 2014 at 1:59 PM, ManicDDaily wrote:


    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks, I put in your poem–hope that’s okay–I had meant to mention it from the start, then forgot in the midst of day job stuff! k.

  2. WOW, as Kerry notes, a BRILLIANT capture of the reality of war. Especially poignant, the tender necks of the young men who, armed, become angry at the fear and wailing of the crouching people……you have shown us the scene from the inside, a feat in itself. An astounding piece of work.

  3. margaret Says:

    The directness is what grabbed me – admitting the inability to find exactly the right words – Which you lead up to admitting in the end. I do think it is uniquely effective.

  4. Polly Says:

    I endorse all previous comments k. This is a brilliantly clear, concise and challenging poem – you take the reader totally into the scene – amazing.

  5. Sumana Roy Says:

    I like how the harsh reality of war makes its presence felt in the body of a poem…”and the young solders want / to whale them,”..lashing lines…

  6. grapeling Says:

    ah, Karin, I’m so glad you integrated that verse into this (ineffectively nuanced adjective because it deserves more than just a flippant soupcon of an adjective) piece.

    it’s the white, and red, that grab me, and that final verse. ~

  7. Brendan Says:

    I think anyone who loves words and weaving them also is wary of them–that no matter how we ladder ’em, we never quite get up to where Rapunzel is wondering whether she’ll ever get rescued from ( ). Some of this is dictation, I mean writing, isn’t it? “Sclera” seems to be the word whispered by the dark, which as you elucidate becomes a matrix of what it means to write about the unspeakable (war). The terror of anticipation, the horror of the death-moment, and all the things inbetween which outrage the sight and shame the mind. But if William Carlos Williams is right that “men die miserably every day for lack of what is found ((in poetry)),” then we have to find a way into the unwritable themes. Poetry grows most in those places; to watch you strain to extend the poem’s tarp wide enough to cover that damned circus shows resources that may be ready to come to the fore. Or not: war is war because it is unspeakable. Maybe when we find an apt poem for it it will fade away. Amen.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      I am not sanguine about that. Maybe if we can find a way to just channel the money that would have been spent on war to people (other than the ones that currently get it)–it may slow down–if we bribe people not to fight! Or maybe not. But thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. k.

  8. hedgewitch Says:

    What you have done here Karin is so difficult–speaking both the poem, and the writer’s intent for the poem–and you have done it so eloquently. As this weight of sorrow, of compassion and hope barrels toward the end which is the reality of war–hate manifest–it picks up all the wild tumbleweeds of the psyche that blow down that white and red wind. By which I mean, to take a page from your book here, that it displays for us the parts of our minds that are gradually bent, misshaped, and how it can happen so easily we don’t even know it.One of your best, k. So glad you revisited your own words–you have made them glow like iron on the fire.

  9. Mama Zen Says:

    This is incredible writing, K, both horrifying and moving.

  10. Jim Says:

    “k”, I like your conversational interpretation. I think I read it originally and thought it was brilliant. You know, I had to Google “that ‘s’ word too.”

    But I have been convinced that a poem can mean more to the reader than it did to the writer and too that the reader’s meaning will be according to his or her own personal background. I.e. hear/read what it means to that person.

  11. Karin, yes the logic of war is so far from any logic perceived by MEN, and all those cliches about war we tend to use sloppily in every instance seem to be beside all points of reason… Love your writing,

  12. mhwarren Says:

    On a different note, I think the photo with its brokeness and emptiness is a good accompaniment to this amazing poem which truly says what you were trying to say and brings us inside your thoughts at the same time. How can we send our sons, our grandsons into this?

  13. KIM Says:

    I LOVE THIS. Love your poem, love the explanation, love the intention.

  14. brian miller Says:

    what an intriguing perspective in this k…the thought process behind the writing…and in it it carries its own message….in our own understanding…very cool write…

  15. That last line is so powerful that if I were you I would auction it off. To be used in an anti-war campaign. It’s beautiful and at the same time poignant. Thanks.

    Greetings from London,

  16. Helen Says:

    I can only echo what others have said .. and ‘commend you to the highest level.’

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