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“Places Without Names”
by Philip Booth
in  After the Storm: Poems on the Persian Gulf War
editors Jay Meek and F.D. Reeve

Ilion: besieged ten years, Sung hundreds more, then
written down: how force makes corpses out of men.
Men whose spirits were, by war, undone: Salamis,

Shiloh, Crécy.  Lives going places gone, Placenames
now, no faces.  Sheepmen sent to Passchendaele:
ever after, none could sleep. Barely thirty years:

sons like fathers back to the Marne. Gone again to
Argonne Forest, where fathers they could not remember
blew the enemy apart, until they got themselves

dismembered. Sons, too, shot. Bull Run, Malvern Hill:
history tests. Boys who knew left foot from right
never made the grade. No rolls kept. Voices lost,

names on wooden crosses gone to rot. Abroad,
in rivers hard to say, men in living memory
bled their lives out, bodies bloating far downstream.

On Corregidor, an island rock of fortress caves,
tall men surrendered to small men: to each other
none could speak. Lake Ladoga, the Barents Sea, and Attu:

places millhands froze, for hours before they died.
To islands where men burned, papers gave black headlines:
Guadalcanal. Rabaul. Saipan, Iwo. Over which

men like torpedoes flew their lives down into the Pacific.
Tidal beaches. Mountain passes. Holy buildings
older than this country. Cities. Jungle riverbends

Sealanes old as seawinds. Old villages where,
in some foreign language, country boys got laid.
Around the time the bands again start up, memory

shuts down, each patriot the prisoner of his own flag.
What gene demands old men command young men to die:
The gone singing to Antietam, Aachen, Anzio.

To Bangaladore, the Choisin Reservoir, Dien Bien Phu,
My Lai. Places in the heads of men who have no
mind left. Our fragile idiocy: inflamed five times

a century to take up crossbows, horsepower, warships,
planes, and rocketry. What matter what the weapons,
the dead could not care less. Beyond the homebound wounded

only women, sleepless women, know the holy names:
bed-names, church-names, placenames buried in their
sons’ or lovers’ heads. Stones without voices,

save the incised name. Poppies, stars and crosses:
the poverty of history.  A wealth of lives.  Ours, always
ours: these holy names, these sacrilegious places.

Ω

More about, from Philip Booth (1925 – 2007)

Wikipedia

The Poetry Foundation

This poem is in the collection Lifelines (2000) and originally in Pairs (1994)

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