Sunday, November 1, 2015

Veterans-related Poems in November Verse-Virtual: The Garden of Remembrance

With Veterans Day on the horizon, Verse-Virtual editor Firestone Feingold gave poets the option of contributing poems pertaining to the veteran experience in the November issue of, the online poetry journal. 
         Feingold's introductory notes highlight a poem contributed by Bill Glose,  a veteran of the Iraq War.  The poem, entitled "Soldiering On," deals with the epic challenge in 21st century combat experience (and maybe always) of what to do with that experience once you come back home. Glose's poem, written in sonnet form -- 14 lines, fixed meter and rhyme scheme -- doesn't slight the scope of the challenge, epitomized by a strong image when the poet wonders whether he can ever expect "the ice within my bones to melt anew."
        But the poem comes to a hopeful conclusion in its final three lines:

Disarmed, I gulped blue air and felt alive.
Headlong at life I charged and wasn’t scared
to drop my shield and let my heart be bared.

      In an introductory note Glose says he found release from that "ice" of bottled-up emotion by writing about his experiences. He states: "The first poems and essays seared like glowing skewers, but as I poured more of my heart onto the page a strange thing happened...I felt the catharsis of release. And so I kept going until I had a drawer full of them." (For the full story see

      I'm not a veteran. My father (Alva J. Knox, 1921-2003) was and so were his three brothers, all serving during World War II, as did millions of other men and women of his generation. My connection to the veterans experience comes through him and my appreciation of the generation of Americans who struggled and sacrificed during a world war and succeeded not only in defeating the forces of hate but in making a better world both for themselves and for all of us who came after. 
      So my contribution to the veterans theme is a group of three poems, grouped under the title "Three Poems for My Father, And All The Rest." 
       Here's the first of those three poems:

A Row of Stones: Calverton National Cemetery

It looks like all the rest
slotted in this final postwar census, this straight-line campground of eternity,
a parking lot for identical souls
a computer punch card, names in the phonebook,
the roll call for hereafter,
the Levittown of the life to come

It looks, almost, like the line-up of all the local men,
stretching from here to God,  
who once were young on any given day
Dress them in Army green
and lay them down in straight lines without number 
on the battleground where future always conquers past 
in an age we thought would never end 

His gravestone looks... like all the others,
laid to rest exactingly in lines identical and perfectly straight, 
the Army way, the regimental way of passage, 
this permanent occupation of a grassy plain 'out East' on the island 
where he planted his back-home, postwar fortunate flag
never to wander, really, plowing the highways on the city commute 
never to leave the good ol' USA
and never, he said, to stand in line again
(I won't tell him if you don't)

They made it home, those who lie beneath these stones  
facing straight ahead, 
comrades to left and right, messmates, men of a generation 
who did not fall in wintry France 
nor plunge to doom from the infinite Pacific sky
but passed in cooler times, 
doing their bit for the world that came after,
the world that they made safe for us 

I number his grave goods, now the hour's long past, 
bowling league trophies, pool hall cue
German rifle (Mauser, maybe) shot from the hands 
of an enemy patrol in the Nice Triangle, 
barkeep paraphernalia, little mixer sticks, 
cut glass bowls for lemon twists 
barbeque apron, cotton hat and silly stenciled T-shirt 
"Who invited all these tacky people?"
paintbrush, hammer, handsaw,
pen and pencil, adding machine 

Space, I wonder, in the final straight-line muster 
for an old Dodge Dart, most enduring companion of the road, 
the ashtray almost always full