The Boys of the 39th Come Home

The train is not far
    from the station now
    and finally
    we chug on home.

The sergeant says
    there will be pretty girls
    to hug our necks
    and kiss our cheeks,
    there will be old men in hats
    to slap our backs
    and say “Welcome home, son,
    good job, good job!”

There will be ticker tape
    and a big brass band
    and a parade right through
    the center of town

but this train is
    so much emptier than it was
    when we left for the trenches
    and none of this fanfare
    will fill it up again.

This poem was originally published under the pen name Gabriel Gadfly.

Daybreak Mortars

Verdun, France, April 1916

We sit in silence,
armored in shadows:
light reveals us,
spurs God to guide
bullets into us,
wretched targets,
so we scurry from it.
I am safe
so long as I lurk
in the shadow of
Etienne’s corpse above me,
gloom rat, ghost,
half-drowned in trench-muck:
French blood, French mud,
yellow courage trickling away
down the leg of a messenger boy
from Avignon, and I’m amazed
he has so much left – I pissed
all my courage out when Etienne
splattered across my face.
The merciless sun is rising
through Verdun’s blasted dust
and with it, the distant boom of
clear-day thunder.
We French invented guillotines.
Now they whistle down upon us.

This poem was originally published under the pen name Gabriel Gadfly.

Electric Ballet

September 2008, Vancouver

In a single fluid motion,
the officer steps within
the panicked mother’s reach,
taps the stun gun
against her ribs,
and scoops her sick
infant into the crook
of his arm.

How do you justify
mating lightning
with motherhood?

This poem was originally published under the pen name Gabriel Gadfly.

Conjoined / Separated

Korean DMZ, 1964

The line runs straight
through the middle of the room.
It is marked out on the walls,
through the tiles of the floor,
through a painted line
that divides the table in half.
Stone-faced men sit on one side
staring at stone-faced men
on the other. Ostensibly,
they are negotiating,
but no one says anything.
A junior aide fidgets,
carelessly allows his pen
to roll across the table.
Everyone stares it.

After a silence, someone
makes a joke about defection.
No one laughs. No one laughs,
and the aide never dares
to retrieve his pen.

Conjoined twins, once separated,
often remark of phantom pains
running the length of the scar.

This poem was originally published under the pen name Gabriel Gadfly.

Bag of Sorrow

Peleliu, October 1944

The clouds black out the moon.
We skitter in pairs, Makoto & I.
At the first foxhole,
a dark shape rises up
and I do what they taught me:
I thrust the bayonet in,
just beneath the diaphragm,
into the space where the breath
and the body meet.

The American rolls over.
He doesn’t scream,
the way men usually do.
When I pull my bayonet free,
there is just one long
like there is a big bag of
sorrow in his belly and
all of it is pouring out,
all pouring out
with the rest of him.
He shudders once
and never moves again.

Makoto’s eyes are white ghosts.
Shaking, we move on to
the next dark foxhole.

This poem was originally published under the pen name Gabriel Gadfly.

Back to Savannah

August, 1865

You trudge home,
finally, after months under
the sun and the dust,
shades darker, bronzed
and withered and caked
up to your knees in mud
and more.

Your sons have grown
into farmers while
you were gone.
They have tilled the fields
and sown the seeds,
and although you look
like you might fall over,
you wander out into
the rows of potatoes, kneel down
and pick up a handful of earth.

Only some of it washes off.
Much of it never will,
but you are home
and that is enough.

This poem was originally published under the pen name Gabriel Gadfly.

Plague Doctor

London, September 1665

The term “doctor” is
subject to interpretation.

Scythe-beaked, stinking crow,
black wax angel in the doorway,

doused with rose and bergamot,
you wouldn’t know a pustule

from the shiny fever coins
clinking in your pockets.

London’s contract says you’ll
cull the afflicted from the pure,

but everyone looks infected
through blood-tinted lenses,

and no one wants to peer too close
at the conductor shaking his cane

before the keening choir.
Seven thousand a week, coins or corpses,

make your money while you can:
a thick coat and a beak full of incense

won’t save you from this city’s rot.

This poem was originally published under the pen name Gabriel Gadfly.


Birth by fire.

For eleven days
we three men
leave our Mother’s
arms but never
her reach. Earth
shines; the Moon
is far away.

Mother’s reach stifles:
the nest cannot
hold us now.
We do not
go far: just
to peer at
the dark side
of bright Luna.

Luna welcomes us
and Mother’s heart
breaks in pride
and wistful longing.
My dusty footsteps
will linger here
for decades, but
Earth begs us
to return. We
leave flags, boots,
and predecessor ghosts.

Birth by fire.
Oxygen is our
lifeline and our
fiery garrote here.
Luna falls away
and worried Mother
stares in horror
at her floundering
children. God beckons
but Mother won’t
let go. She
pulls us gently
to her breast.

This is our
last love affair
with bright Luna.
We slink away
in black night
to touch her
and we linger
longer than ever
before, filling our
eyes with her,
our dusty lover.
We orbit her.
We orbit her
but Mother calls
and her call
stirs our souls:
Earth waits, children.

Babushka the Moth

Khatyn, Belarus, March 22, 1943

Babushka the Moth
committed her children
into the stern care of Ruchka,
the schoolteacher wasp,
all save tiny Pulja,
who was still sleeping
and could not be

Keep them safe,
Babushka the Moth pleaded,
Do not let them see this.
They will not be stung,
the Wasp replied
but from there,
the little ones could have
no more kisses
and Ruchka was gone
the little ones with her,
all save sleeping Pulja
and Babushka the Moth.

With the door nailed shut,
nestled down between the
floorboards and the dust,
Babushka the Moth
held her tiny Pulja
to her breast,
and burned with the rest
of Khatyn’s innocents.

This poem was originally published under the pen name Gabriel Gadfly.

Castor and Pollux and the Siege of Paris

December, 1870

After the beef was gone,
after the pork and the lamb,
and the fowl and the fish
and the dogs, and the cats,
and the rats in the gutter,
the butchers turned to the zoo.

We ate the wolves.
We ate the wolves
broiled in sauce of deer,
the antelope truffled and terrined.
We ate the camels
with breadcrumbs and butter,
and when they were all gone,
we sharpened our knives
and primed our guns
and came back for the elephants.

The gunsmith Devisme did the deed,
hurled an explosive ball
through each of their docile heads.
They fell like mountains,
like the pillars of Dagon
pulled down by mighty Samson,
and then we hacked them up
and carted them away to the kitchens,
to feed the wealthy and the rich
in the clubs of bright Paris.

This poem was originally published under the pen name Gabriel Gadfly.