American War Poetry, Part VIII

Longtime readers of this blog may recall a seven-part series on American war poetry in the run-up to Memorial Day 2007. In one installment, I asked, “Has no poet dared to attempt in words what the famous photo on Iwo Jima captured for the world? Tony Barnstone‘s “Grace Under Pressure” isn’t exactly what I had in mind, but it’s moving in that direction and it’s a heckuva poem.

Grace Under Pressure
U.S. Marine, Iwo Jima

When the potato masher hand grenade
flew in the hollow, Mark, the quiet boy,
looked at me with such sorrow. Then he lay
down on the thing. He knew his death would buy
our lives, and so he spent it all, just tossed
his future in the pot like a big spender
in Vegas. Damn him, who can pay that loss
off? I can’t. “Neither borrower nor lender”
was what my pop taught me. For what he gave
with rag doll arms spread wide when the bomb blew
him off the earth, I kissed his dirty face,
closed his dead eyes. I knew I had to live
my life a cleaner way, the way he flew
into the sky (before he fell). With grace.

— Tony Barnstone (published in Volume III of
Measure, to which you should subscribe)

With gratitude for the sacrifices of all our veterans, living and dead, I wish everyone a happy Memorial Day. Live cleaner for those who died “with grace.”

3 Responses to “American War Poetry, Part VIII”

  1. Timothy Peach Says:

    Hey Granulous, I finally read this — chilling and inspiring and transcendental, the great spirit in every ordinary man thrown down at the page like a handful of mud on a new rug. There it is, too big and real to deal with. But put it on your back and keep going anyhow.

    Made me think of a photographic “positive” of “Dulce et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen. I’d love someone smart here to explain how two things so diametrically opposed can both be true.

  2. Mark Grannis Says:

    How about two smart people who are no longer here in body? Here’s G.K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy:

    “It is true that the historic Church has at once emphasised celibacy and emphasised the family; has at once (if one may put it so) been fiercely for having children and fiercely for not having children. It has kept them side by side like two strong colours, red and white, like the red and white upon the shield of St. George. It has always had a healthy hatred of pink. It hates that combination of two colours which is the feeble expedient of the philosophers. It hates that evolution of black into white which is tantamount to a dirty gray. In fact, the whole theory of the Church on virginity might be symbolized in the statement that white is a colour; not merely the absence of a colour. All that I am urging here can be expressed by saying that Christianity sought in most of these cases to keep two colours coexistent but pure. It is not a mixture like russet or purple; it is rather like a shot silk, for a shot silk is always at right angles, and is in the pattern of the cross.

    “. . . It is constantly assured, especially in our Tolstoyan tendencies, that when the lion lies down with the lamb the lion becomes lamb-like. But that is brutal annexation and imperialism on the part of the lamb. That is simply the lamb absorbing the lion instead of the lion eating the lamb. The real problem is — Can the lion lie down with the lamb and still retain his royal ferocity? That is the problem the Church attempted; that is the miracle she achieved. [Chapter VI, “The Paradoxes of Christianity”]

    And here’s C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, on what I think we can regard as the flip side of the same coin:

    “Christianity thinks of human individuals not as mere members of a group or items in a list, but as organs in a body — different from one another and each contributing what no other could. When you find yourself wanting to turn your children, or pupils, or even your neighbours, into people exactly like yourself, remember that God probably never meant them to be that. You and they are different organs, intended to do different things. On the other hand, when you are tempted not to bother about someone else’s troubles because they are “no business of yours,” remember that though he is different from you he is part of the same organism as you. If you forget that he belongs to the same organism as yourself you will become an Individualist. If you forget that he is a different organ from you, if you want to suppress differences and make people all alike, you will become a Totalitarian. But a Christian must not be either a Totalitarian or an Individualist.

    “I feel a strong desire to tell you — and I expect you feel a strong desire to tell me — which of these two errors is the worse. That is the devil getting at us. He always sends errors into the world in pairs — pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors. We have no other concern than that with either of them. [Book IV, Chapter 6, “Two Notes”]

    Can both truth and error be bipolar? I think so. More on that to come.

  3. larry Grannis Says:

    Came across you as I googled myself. I really like the poem. I have found that Grannis families tend to be in family businesses. There is a family of lawyers in Minn. A family of accountants in Nashville. I am from a family of farmers and educators in the Bluegrass of KY. Care to comment about yourself? Regards, Larry

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