Friday, October 16, 2015

Two Poems by Bruce Weigl

Song of Napalm
for my wife

After the storm, after the rain stopped pounding,   
we stood in the doorway watching horses   
walk off lazily across the pasture’s hill.
We stared through the black screen,
our vision altered by the distance
so I thought I saw a mist
kicked up around their hooves when they faded   
like cut-out horses
away from us.
The grass was never more blue in that light, more   
scarlet; beyond the pasture
trees scraped their voices into the wind, branches   
crisscrossed the sky like barbed wire
but you said they were only branches.

Okay. The storm stopped pounding.
I am trying to say this straight: for once   
I was sane enough to pause and breathe   
outside my wild plans and after the hard rain   
I turned my back on the old curses. I believed   
they swung finally away from me...

But still the branches are wire
and thunder is the pounding mortar,   
still I close my eyes and see the girl   
running from her village, napalm   
stuck to her dress like jelly,
her hands reaching for the no one   
who waits in waves of heat before her.

So I can keep on living,
so I can stay here beside you,
I try to imagine she runs down the road and wings   
beat inside her until she rises   
above the stinking jungle and her pain
eases, and your pain, and mine.

But the lie swings back again.
The lie works only as long as it takes to speak   
and the girl runs only as far
as the napalm allows
until her burning tendons and crackling   
muscles draw her up
into that final position

burning bodies so perfectly assume. Nothing   
can change that; she is burned behind my eyes   
and not your good love and not the rain-swept air   
and not the jungle green
pasture unfolding before us can deny it.


I wanted to stay with my dog
when they did her in.
I told the young veterinarian
who wasn’t surprised.
Shivering on the chrome table,
she did not raise her eyes to me when I came in.
Something was resolved in her,
some darkness exchanged for pain.
There were a few more words
about the size of her tumor and her age
and how we wanted to stop her suffering
from happening before us,
and then the nurse shaved May’s skinny leg
with those black clippers;
she passed the needle to the doctor
and for once I knew what to do
and held her head against mine.
I cleaved to that smell
and lied into her ear
that it would be all right.
The veterinarian, whom I’d fought
about when to do this thing,
said through tears
that it would take only a few minutes
as if that were not a long time,
but there was no cry or growl,
only the weight of her in my arms
and then on the world.

Bruce Weigl is the author of 14 books of poetry: Executioner, Ironwood Press, 1976; A Sack Full of Old Quarrels, Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 1977; A Romance, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1979; The Monkey Wars, University of Georgia Press, 1985; Song of Napalm, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1988, 1994; What Saves Us, TriQuarterly Books, Northwestern University Press, 1992, 1994; Sweet Lorain, TriQuarterly Books, Northwestern University Press, 1996; Lies, Grace, and Redemption (a chapbook/special issue of YARROW, a literary magazine, English Department, Kutztown University, 1996; Khoang Thoi Gian Khong Ngu (selection of poetry translated into Vietnamese and included in this collection with seven other American writers). Ed. by Nguyen Quang Thieu and translated by Nguyen Quang Thieu, Vuong Trong, Nguyen Tan Viet and Nguyen Hoang Duc, Nha Xuat Ban Hoi Nha Van Publishers, Hanoi, 1996; Archeology of the Circle: New and Selected Poems, Grove/Atlantic Press, 1999; After the Others, TriQuarterly Books, Northwestern University Press, 1999; The Unraveling Strangeness, November, 2002, Grove/Atlantic Press; Declension in the Village of Chung Luong, 2006, Ausable Press; The Abundance of Nothing, TriQuarterly Books, Northwestern University Press, 2012. 

His poems have been published in various periodicals such as Poetry, Kenyon Review, TriQuarterly, American Poetry Review, Western Humanities Review, Christian Science Monitor, Missouri Review, New England Review, Southern Review, Tar River Poetry, and many others. He has also written several collections of critical essays; he has published translations of Vietnamese and Romanian poetry and has also edited or co-edited several anthologies of war poetry, including Writing Between the Lines: An Anthology on War and Its Social Consequences (1997) and Mountain River: Vietnamese Poetry from the Wars, 1948–1993; A Bilingual Collection (1998). He has won numerous awards for his work, including the Lannan Literary Award for Poetry, the Poet’s Prize from the Academy of American Poets, and two Pushcart Prizes.

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