Posted tagged ‘war poem’

Somewhere a fly

October 29, 2014


Somewhere a fly

Somewhere, a fly walks face,
proboscis probing
like a dowser’s forked stick,
as it will,
the plain of cheek,
the ridge of nose,
edging tarsal lace
about the pit of mouth,
cutting a slant
through stubble.

Somewhere, there is a great buzz
over a bulged belly
and a foot that was pounded board
rots to punk,

and a person–somewhere, a person,
becomes less human–
and now, I don’t speak of the dead–
by pinching others apart
as if these others were
flies on the face
of this planet, plucking

would-be wings, hanging limbs
as things, targeting with slews
of water, currents
of all sorts; somewhere,
someone is
stomping, starving,
caging, stomped,

and maybe acts of cruelty
are all too human,
even children trained
in their commission, wires
strapped to small waists,

and that feels the absolute worst,
though, in the area of treating people
like flies, turning people
into fly fodder, it’s kind of hard to say missiles are better,

just because they don’t have waists.


Here’s a very drafty poem, for Gabriella’s prompt on dVerse Poets Pub to write about war.  I had some further lines about waste, but well, didn’t put them in, as the point seemed clear.  I find it very difficult to write about this type of topic.  

And since I am in rant mode:  in terms of  war (and other things of that nature),  I urge everyone to get out and vote. I also urge everyone to support voting, and to call out voter ID laws for what they are–acts of suppression.  I have worked at polling sites, and can tell you that it is not only hard for some (especially the poor, the old and the young) to get original IDs, but also hard to maintain a current ID, especially if you don’t own a car, have some instability in your residence or don’t maintain an independent home (because you live, for example, with family members.)

Also, I don’t buy this business about there not being a difference in politicians.  I agree that there is a lot of venality in politics, but that is not an excuse not to vote. (And not to take efforts to stay informed.)  There are differences in politicians; your vote does make a difference.   Ask any woman who has ever taken birth control or needed it, or any woman who has been habitually paid less than a man doing the same job (i.e. ask any woman.)  Ask any one, like me, who has been able to have major cost savings relating to children’s health care because of the expansions allowed by the Affordable Care Act. 

Finally, please in the midst of this, consider checking out my new book, Nice, which takes place in the time of the Vietnam War.PP Native Cover_4696546_Front Cover

What I Was Trying To Write

September 22, 2014


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. 


September 18, 2014



The treachery of ardor
is an arrow in the eye
and in the bloody gush
of I-mush and you-mush,
vision schisms to scheme,
where we are only seen
in the cross-hairs of each
other’s cyclops’ glares.

One weeps,
but the salt seeps always
into recapture,
tears wrung out and again,
as if pain were a bucket,
as if pain could be filled up
to its top
then dropped in some deep well
to let us be well.

We fight
as if war could fill that bucket up
but fast
(with something other
than ash)
then full (we might say, won)
let us be done.

But actions, unlike flesh,
do not turn to dust before
we even turn around;
and an eye once lost
is rarely found
in not-looking.


A poem of sorts for the prompt of a word list put together by the wonderful Grapeling on With Real Toads.  Yes, it’s a draft–in the moment before posting I cut out an eight line stanza–maybe the best stanza, but it seemed to just make the poem go on too long.   

Grapeling- Michael–expressed interest in the removed verse so I put it below–it was a second verse and this was one of a few iterations, maybe not the best, but what I took out last minute–sclera means whites of eyes. 

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 simply the scared),
temper mettle
to sword.

Also, please do check out my new book, Nice, available in paper and kindle.  Please also check out my old books, Nose Dive (humorous novel), Going on Somewhere (Poetry), and 1 Mississippi (Elephants!)   They are all pretty cheaply available (most on Kindle for 99 cents, but I am happy to send a free copy to anyone willing to review on Amazon or Kindle–and the review does not even have to be pre-vetted!

PP Native Cover_4696546_Front Cover

Repetition Raises A Villanelle (“Shattering”)

September 24, 2011


This is another post inspired by dVerse Poets Pub, a really supportive website for online poets. The prompt this time concerned poems that deal in repetition. As followers of this blog know, I’m devoted to the villanelle, a poetic form that is based on repeating line sequences. This villanelle is part of a pair–its companion piece, “Burned Soldier” may be found here, as well as a discussion of how to write a villanelle. Both poems were inspired by the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Any thoughts or suggestions most welcome.


The shattering of lives should take some time.
It shouldn’t come in flashes, clods of dirt,
no moment for altered course, for change of mind.

The actual choice ahead should be well-signed–
pre-emptive smoke, perhaps a blood-soaked shirt–
the shattering of lives should take some time.

He knew that road was risky, heard a whine,
but in the end those warnings were too curt,
no moment for altered course, for change of mind.

Hard to foresee your own true body lined
with metal plates and plastic tubes of hurt;
the shattering of lives should take some time.

So many hours after to refine
what happened in that second’s blinding lurch,
no moment for altered course or change of mind.

Or was it fate? A studied path, not whim?
His heart tried hard to measure out the worth
of shattering lives. It would take some time,
with no moment for altering course or mind.

(All rights reserved.)

P.S. – I’ve posted a lot of villanelles, which is a favorite form for many years. I love the music- and yet, the repetition. They can be found by checking out that category from home page.

Veterans Day, 2009

November 11, 2009

Veteran’s Day, 2009

My father has always worn
black, army-issue, shoes,
whose toes turn up within
a few days of purchase,
something from the war,
too much forced march.

Today makes me think
of loads of turned-up toes,
curling beneath green fields,
or stock stiff still
in a sprawl of mud and camo.

My nephew talks of joining
up, practices for the test.
I don’t know what to say–
sure, if you don’t get hurt,
and no one around you either,
not even those at whom you aim
your gun.

I don’t say that.
I know people do it, maybe have to,
even my gentle father, balding
at seventeen, who marched once
twenty miles before breakfast,
shaving out of a cup at 6, and then, at Pilsen,
was issued a beer with a raw egg in it;
the man next to him, either
shaving or drinking beer, got hit, right
next to him.  And the egg, he said,
they just drank down.

All rights reserved, Karin Gustafson, 2009.

For more poems, especially villanelles about soldiers, check out posts in poetry or villanelle categories from ManicDDaily home page.