After the War

They made a desolation and called it peace.
–Tacitus

In a urine-soaked military bedroll under the bridge
the wino lapses into an uneasy slumber,
twitching & curling up
like a caterpillar in its final instar
when the wasp’s hungry children
start in at last on the nerve centers, having made
a desolation of the rest,

& that warm feeling one had taken for love
turns out to have been nothing but the fires of corrosion —
the wrong kind of digestion in the gut

or the wrong kind of metamorphosis, in which
the very cells are changed, yes,
but no chrysalis will ever be spun

& the light spreads like a chemical spill
above the river,
blotting out the stars.

8 Comments


  1. Dave, I work for a law firm that has a number of clients who sleep under bridges. Your poem really moved me.

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  2. Really? I appreciate your saying so. It sounds like you’re doing vital work.

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  3. If it isn’t too pedantic to comment on technique in such a moving poem: I found my eye pivoting on your ampersands.

    Such a rich and evocative character, the ampersand. At the beginning of a verse, they seemed worthy of decoration, like the initial letters of illuminated manuscripts.

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  4. Not pedantic at all; details matter. I’m glad to hear you liked it there. I had an entire post on ampersands at one point.

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  5. I wanna go out in a patch of light over a river under some star I can no longer see. (And I think I might be doing just that now that you have described it.) Dave, you are the great interpreter of decay. You give more than a bit of glory to the undoing of things and beings, a far under-appreciated topic, and greatly relevant, at least to me, in my own experience of unraveling. Where there had been noise and chaos, you leave insight.

    I somehow sense two voices further back in time. Blake’s noonday tree of angels — I’m not sure why exactly, maybe because they are lit from within — and Milton’s ominous “He also serves those who only stand and wait”. Everybody, everything, goes up in flames. Everyday!

    I found this poem difficult, but rewardingly so. You look where others look away. It is a difficult topic! The final stanza is ineffable, point-blank, vast, intimate, sensual, disastrous, familiar, strange. Have you placed the body in the heavens and on the streams or the heavens and streams within the body? Do I care which?
    I do think you have strengthened my view on the power of subjectivity, as Blake’s angels are much a matter of the play of his own internal firelight. I think I now see the green of trees as much more of a partnered mix blended and perhaps somewhat hidden by the glare from my own fires.

    I didn’t get anywhere down the path suggested by the title. I think instead of movie projectors, outside at night, on the side of a building or a cloud. So I have the feeling I missed your point. Yes, I am quite sure I have it all wrong and am confessing to thing I haven’t been accused of by way of expounding on matters you haven’t raised, but what the hell… I guess the war thing is sort of a binding backdrop, a crucial limiting magic, but I kind of stopped at the wino, the caterpillar and the braconid. That was plenty.

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  6. Oh, I just saw this comment. Very useful reaction, Bill; thanks for taking the time. Sometimes it’s hard for me to tell how poems like this are going to go over with the readership. It doesn’t sound as if you missed my point, only that you focused in on one part of it. Which tells me I might have made it unnecessarily convoluted, I don’t know.

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  7. “Sometimes it’s hard for me to tell how poems like this are going to go over with the readership.”

    That must be very entertaining from your end.

    I felt spurred to educate myself on several matters brought up in this poem: just exactly how does a wasp larvae effect a caterpillar–what does it look like? Does corrosion produce heat? (Yes)
    Does it produce light? (Yes, if it is WAY hot, but not in the case of bio-luminscence, -luciferin- which is not fiery at all. To resolve all this I eventually created a companion image of a hobo’s fire, while liking to remember that the light it cast was cold.) As for the tobacco hornworm and the braconid larvae and exactly what is going on inside the caterpillar, well that’s still a bit murky to me and I still don’t feel I experience anything like a coherent image. But all that may be the opposite of drawback, as I found myself immersed in curiosity way over my head.

    Oh yes, I remember, and my first couple of reads I badly wanted there to be light admitting holes in the caterpillar. I somehow have an understanding of corrosion as an expansion of surface area and it was very attractive to think of the caterpillar turning to swiss cheese, with light being admitted to places very wrong for it to be. Which further reminds me I thought the “wrong” kind of digestion to be a touch humorous as I found it hard to imagine it being delivered with out some affect or archness. Eventually a memory of a tickling movie by the name of “The Wrong Troused” surfaced, I had my laugh and moved on. Funny the way stress gets seeks and get its own release.

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