Pat Parnell and Michael Casey enthralled another packed house at the November 5, Poetry Hoot. Tough acts to follow. Among some of the wonderful poems read after the break came this quiet gem from Lynn-Marie Gildersleeve:
In 1967 Saigon and napalm became words for Barbie and Ken. Da Nang rolled around a pink tongue within baby teeth. In Buster Browns I skipped in dust singing songs to handsome Johnny.
I hid in my brother's closet, breathing deep, trying to smell his aftershave- anything to see his face. He couldn't be a soldier if his name wasn't Johnny.
How do we learn the lessons of war? Here, in terms of Vietnam, a young child defines her world. Toying with dolls named after a bleeding city and a bomb, she rolls Da Nang around her tongue like a piece of candy, skips verses to soldier Johnny. All the optimism of a fresh recruit out to win hearts and minds. Suddenly we're in her brother's closet, sniffing for some trace of him. " anything to see his face." What's happened here? Seven lines of fantasy give way to reality's six. The first four of that second stanza make us conscious of our breath as well: someone's missing. And those last two lines are as problematic as Frost's two roads diverging in a yellow wood. All soldiers are Johnny's. Is this child celebrating the military status of a brother in harm's way? Or consoling herself that he can't be missing in action since his name's not Johnny? Either way, a child's heart is aching in a closet. Vietnam neatly tucked away. That's the image that makes the poem. That's what breaks your heart. -JP
"Vocabulary" copyright Lynn-Marie Gildersleeve, 2003. Ms Gildersleeve is a New Hampshire native testing the Maine waters in Eliot. She writes poems to "give a piece of myself to my small children." This is her first published poem.
Note: To be considered for publication in this space, poems read at The Poetry Hoot should not exceed nineteen lines. Line length should be limited to fifteen words. Back to top