Henri Cole: Poems about War

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Henri Cole’s work gets to the heart of things. Originally I sought poems relating in some way to the tragedy in Orlando, but war is less in the news yet an ongoing source of constant misery, as we have seen in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere.

War Rug

The pony and the deer are trapped by tanks,

and the lady with the guitar is sad beyond words.

Hurtling across the sky, a missile has mistaken

a vehicle for a helicopter, exploding in a ball

of white flame. Upside-down birds—red specks

of knotted wool—glow above the sideways trees.

Hidden among plants, a barefooted boy waits—

like the divine coroner—aiming his rifle at something,

enjoying the attentions of a gray doggy, or maybe

there’s a bullet already in his head. 

Hand Grenade Bag

This well-used little bag is just the right size

to carry a copy of the Psalms. Its plain-woven

flowers and helicopter share the sky with bombs

falling like turnips—he who makes light of other

men will be killed by a turnip. A bachelor,

I wear it across my shoulder—it’s easier to be

a bachelor all my life than a widow for a day.

On the bag’s face, two black shapes appear

to be crows—be guided by the crow and you

will come to a body—though they are

military aircraft. A man who needs fire

will soon enough hold it in his hands. 

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