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Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2008 04:53 am

People's Poetry

Jacqueline Jackson presents

Untitled Document ecopoem #7 from a letter written to Jackie by her father, 1948
somebody caught a hoot owl yesterday and brought it into the office I tried to break its neck by walking completely around it but couldn’t quite twist it off
© Jacqueline Jackson 2008

Posttraumatic stress disorder is a new name for “shell shock,” a term once applied only to military veterans. Here the poet Marvin Bell describes a group of these emotionally damaged soldiers, gathered together for breakfast. I’d guess that just about everybody who reads this column has known one or two men like these.

Veterans of the Seventies
His army jacket bore the white rectangle of one who has torn off his name. He sat mute at the round table where the trip-wire veterans ate breakfast. They were foxhole buddies who went stateside without leaving the war. They had the look of men who held their breath and now their tongues. What is to say beyond that said by the fathers who bent lower and lower as the war went on, spines curving toward the ground on which sons sat sandbagged with ammo belts enough to make fine lace of enemy flesh and blood. Now these who survived, who got back in cargo planes emptied at the front, lived hiddenly in the woods behind fence wires strung through tin cans. Better an alarm than the constant nightmare of something moving on its belly to make your skin crawl with the sensory memory of foxhole living.

Poem copyright ©  2007 by Marvin Bell, and reprinted from Mars Being Red (Copper Canyon Press, 2007). The poem first appeared in Gettysburg Review (Summer, 2007). American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Ted Kooser served as the U.S. Poet Laureate from 2004-2006. For more information, go to www.americanlifeinpoetry.org.
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