Moments of War

You know how I feel about moments. Like most things I write about, I’ve written about moments often. I can’t get over how just an eyelash of time makes all the difference; how all that is can so suddenly become what was or what could have been. It’s so unfair, and so thrilling. You can fall irrevocably, inexplicably head over heels in love in a moment. You can birth a child, a being that had existed only in theory, now forever both within and without a piece of you, in just a moment. Your last breath is exhaled, and then gone. Time splits seconds.

My teacher read us a poem today:

We Never Know


By Yusef Komunyakaa


He danced with tall grass

for a moment, like he was swaying

with a woman. Our gun barrels

glowed white-hot.

When I got to him,

a blue halo

of flies had already claimed him.

I pulled the crumbled photograph

from his fingers.

There’s no other way

to say this: I fell in love.

The morning cleared again,

except for a distant mortar

& somewhere choppers taking off.

I slid the wallet into his pocket

& turned him over, so he wouldn’t

be kissing the ground.


Man. That is intense. What an amazing description of a moment.

I t reminded me of another Vietnam poem, by Bruce Weigl:

The Last Lie

Some guy in the miserable convoy
raised up in the back of our open truck
and threw a can of C rations at a child
who called into the rumble for food.
He didn’t toss the can, he wound up and hung it
on the child’s forehead and she was stunned
backwards into the dust of our trucks.

Across the sudden angle of the road’s curving
I could still see her when she rose,
waving one hand across her swollen, bleeding head,
wildly swinging her other hand
at the children who mobbed her,
who tried to take her food.

I grit my teeth to myself to remember that girl
smiling as she fought off her brothers and sisters.
She laughed
as if she thought it were a joke
and the guy with me laughed
and fingered the edge of another can
like it was the seam of a baseball
until his rage ripped
again into the faces of children
who called to us for food.

These poems are so stark and vivid, so human and painful and so, so naked.

If you’ve never read The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien, and you are interested in the poetry of war, get crack-a-lacking my friend. It’s hard to read, because it’s dense, but it is an unforgettable experience. I’ve never read anything like it, and can’t even begin to express my admiration for his work. Here’s what he had to say on the moment that the war shifted for him. Listen to it.

Why is he smiling so big?

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