(taut jeans dancing)

An Anthology of Poetry about Being Young and Growing Up
Table Of Contents
Acknowledgments & Links

      Not many generations of young people escape war. Through history, for many young people a war has meant the beginning of adulthood and the end of youth. When countries have wars, it is the young people who are asked to give up their lives or, at least, an important part of their lives.

for Douglas Dickey, Pfc. U. S. M. C.°

Michael Anania

      "How can I be bitter?"
the fence-rows rolling with the land;
the last full measure of Ohio
measured by fence-rows compressing,
though parallel above receding hills,
the mixed hues of damp Spring greenery.

      "I never knew him to be angry or afraid."
that is, assured of a providence
moving within the accidental turnings
of his life, he moved with certainty
among the farmyard's familiar disorders
and occasionally outward toward Dayton.

      "He glanced for an instant at his friends--
      for only an instant--and then he jumped."
riding through Dayton on Saturday night
making the rounds, block by block,
the car radio marking time--
Downtown                   Downtown--
the evening blush of neon blooming

into damp city air, the blue
clarity of mercury-lamp arcades;
four of them slouched in a Chevrolet
exhaust the evening, waiting for something to happen.

°In April of 1968 Douglas Dickey was awarded the
Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously for throwing
himself on a hand grenade during an engagement with the
enemy in Viet Nam.

      As this old song tells, loss in war has been with young people for a long time.



While going the road to sweet Athy,
			Hurroo!  hurroo!
While going the road to sweet Athy,
			Hurroo!  Hurroo!

While going the road to sweet Athy,
A stick in my hand and a drop in my eye,
A doleful damsel I heard cry:
		"Och, Johnny, I hardly knew ye!

	"With drums and guns, and guns and drums,
	The enemy nearly slew ye;
	My darling dear, you look so queer,
	Och, Johnny, I hardly knew ye!

"Where are your eyes that looked so mild?
			Hurroo!  hurroo!
Where are your eyes that looked so mild?
			Hurroo!  hurroo!
Where are your eyes that looked so mild?
When my poor heart you first beguiled?
Why did you run from me and the child?
		Och, Johnny, I hardly knew ye!
			With drums, etc.

"Where are the legs with which you run?
			Huroo!  huroo!
Where are the legs with which you run?
			Huroo!  huroo!
Where are the legs with which you run
When first you went to carry a gun?
Indeed, your dancing days are done!
		Och, Johnny, I hardly knew ye!
			With drums, etc.

"It grieved my heart to see you sail,
			Hurroo!  hurroo!
It grieved my heart to see you sail,
			Hurroo!  hurroo!
It grieved my heart to see you sail,
Though from my heart you took leg-bail;°
Like a cod you're doubled up head and tail,
		Och, Johnny, I hardly knew ye!
			With drums, etc.

"You haven't an arm and you haven't a leg
			Hurroo!  hurroo!
You haven't an arm and you haven't a leg,
			Hurroo!  hurroo!
You haven't an arm and you haven't a leg,
You're an eyeless, noseless, chickenless egg;
You'll have to be put with a bowl to beg:
		Och, Johnny, I hardly knew ye!
			With drums, etc.

"I'm happy for to see you home,
			Hurroo!  hurroo!
I'm happy for to see you home,
			Hurroo!  hurroo!
I'm happy for to see you home,
All from the Island of Sulloon;
So low in flesh, so high in bone;
		Och, Johnny, I hardly knew ye!
			With drums, etc.

"But sad it is to see you so,
			Hurroo!  hurroo!
But sad it is to see you so,
			Hurroo!  hurroo!
But sad it is to see you so,
And to think of you now as an object of woe,
Your Peggy'll still keep ye on as her beau;
Och, Johnny, I hardly knew ye!

	"With drums and guns, and guns and drums,
	The enemy nearly slew ye;
	My darling dear, you look so queer,
		Och, Johnny, I hardly knew ye!"

°leg bail:  ran away

for Mary Bui Thi Khuy, 1944-1969

John Balaban

The bare oaks rock and snowcrust tumbles down
while squirrels snug down in windy nests
swaying under stars above the frozen earth.
The creaking eave woke me, thinking of you
crushed by a truck thirteen years ago
when the drunk ARVN° lost the wheel.

We brought to better care the nearly lost,
the boy burned by white phosphorus, chin
glued to his chest; the scalped girl;
the triple amputee from the road-mined bus;
the kid without a jaw; the one with no nose.
You never wept in front of them, but waited
until the gurney rolled them into surgery.
I guess that's what amazed me most.
Why didn't you fall apart or quit?

Once, we flew two patched kids home,
getting in by Army chopper,
a Huey Black Cat that skimmed the sea.
When the gunner opened up on a whale
you closed your eyes and covered your ears
and your small body shook in your silk ao dai.°
Oh, Mary.  In this arctic night, awake in my bed
I rehearse your smile, bright white teeth,
the funny way you rode your Honda 50, perched
so straight, silky hair bunned up in a brim hat,
front brim blown back, and dark glasses.
Brave woman, I hope you never saw the truck.

°ARVN: a soldier of the Army of the Republic of Viet Nam
ao dai:  The traditional,  white, form-fitting, ankle-length
dress of Vietnamese women.


R. L. Barth

Our view of sky, jungle, and fields constricts
Into a sinkhole covered with saw grass

Undulating, soon whipped slant as the chopper
Hovers at four feet.  Rapt, boot-deep in slime,

We deploy ourselves in a loose perimeter,
Listening for incoming rockets above

The thump of rotor blades; edgy for contact,
Junkies of terror impatient to shoot up. 

Nothing moves, nothing sounds:  then, single file,
We move across a streambed toward high ground. 

The terror of the insert’s quickly over.
Too quickly…and more quickly every time…


Jon Forrest Glade

I had a man in my sights
and I pulled the trigger.
I knew he would fall,
but I didn't think
he would get back up
and run like a wounded deer.  

We followed the blood trail
and found only an abandoned pack.
The Lieutenant grabbed the cash,
the men divided the food,
intelligence was sent the love letters
and I took the credit
for a probable kill.
Intelligence reported the letters
were from a woman in the southern provinces.
Which meant she was arrested,
beaten, raped, locked in a tiger cage,
forced to eat her own excrement
and beaten again.

If she confessed, she was executed.
If she refused to confess, she was executed.
It was a funny war.
I shot a man.
I killed a woman.


Frank A. Cross, Jr.

We were walking
On the dikes
Like damn fools--
Steppin over dud rounds. 

*  *  *

Mitch was steppin light
When he saw the farmer.
	The farmer:
	With black shirt
	And shorts.
	Up to his knees
	In the muck
	Rice shoots in one hand,
	The other darting
	Under the water
	And into the muck 
	To plant new life.

Mitch saw the farmer's hand
Going down again
With another
			But the hand
			Never came up
After Mitch
Ripped the farmer up the middle
With a burst of sixteen.
We passed the farmer,
As we walked
Along the dike, and
I saw rice shoots
Still clutched in one hand.
He bubbled strange words
Through the blood 
In his mouth.
Bong, the scout,
Told us the farmer
	"Damn you
	The rice will
	Grow again!"

*  *  * 

On dark nights 
In Kansas,
The farmer comes to
			Mitch's bed:
And plants rice shoots
			all around. 


Bryan Alec Floyd

He was alive with death:
Her name was Sung
and she was six years old.
By slightest mistake of degrees
on an artillery azimuth,
he had called for rockets and napalm.
Their wild wizardry of firepower
expired her mistake of a village,
killing everyone except her,
and napalm made her look
like she was dead among the dead,
she alone alive among their upturned corpses
burning toward the sky.
He and the platoon
got to them too late,
removing only her
to a hospital inside his base, Da Nang.
In the months that followed,
when he could make it back from the boonies,
he always went to visit Sung.
Finally he was ordered to a desk job at the base.
He visited her every day,
though he accused himself of being alive
and would stand in a slump,
breathing his despair,
before entering the children's ward.
But he would enter.
Sung, knowing it was him,
would turn toward the sound of his feet,
her own, seared beyond being feet,
crisply trying to stand on shadows,
cool but unseen.
And as he would come in,
Sung would hobble up to him
in her therapeutic cart,
smiling even when she did not smile, lipless,
her chin melted to her chest
that would never become breasts.
He would stand
and wait for her touch upon his hand
with her burn-splayed fingers
that came to lay a fire upon his flesh.
Sung was alive 
and would live on despite life,
but even now her skull
seemed to be working its way through
the thin, fragile solids of wasted, waxen skin.
Her head was as bald as a bomb
whose paint has peeled.
She had no nose
and her ears were gone.
Her eyes had been removed,
and because they were not there,
they were there
invisibly looking him through.
Sung was child-happy 
that he came and cared,
and when he would start to leave,
she would agonize her words
out of the hollow that was her mouth.
Her tongue, bitten in two while she had burned,
strafing his ears,
saying, without mercy,
I love you.


Hugh Martin

		To soldiers, I hope the war is fine.
			-Girl Scout Troop 472

The children have colored the cards, 
dated from December, 
with Christmas trees, piles of presents,
snowmen smiling, waving.  Sara wants
a doll.  Evan, a dog.  Kyle promises
to pray for us.  

Outside the hooch, we open mail, 
hundreds of letters 
from youth groups, scout troops,
classes of school children.  

Kearns wants to write back, 
ask for pictures
of older sisters.  

We tape our favorites to the door.
In blue crayon, a stick-figure soldier poses
as he’s about to toss 
a black ball, 
fuse burning, 
at three other stick figures,
red cloth wrapped over faces, 
Iraki written
across stick chests.

In Jalula,* the children draw us pictures, too.

In white chalk, on concrete walls,
a box-shaped Humvee with two antennae
rising like balloons from the hatch.
A stick-soldier holds a machine-gun;
he waves at us, 
us, in the Humvees.

Further down the wall, a stick-man holds 
an RPG* 
aimed toward the Humvee,
the waving soldier’s head—
what the children want for Christmas,
or what they just want.

Jalula: A small town in Iraq 80 miles northeast of Baghdad in Diyala province
RPG: rocket propelled grenade


David Hernandez

The donkey. The donkey pulling the cart.
The caravan of dust. The cart made of plywood,
of crossbeam and junkyard tires. The donkey
made of donkey. The long face. The long ears.
The curled lashes. The obsidian eyes blinking
in the dust. The cart rolling, cracking the knuckles
of pebbles. The dust. The blanket over the cart.
The hidden mortar shells. The veins of wires.
The remote device. The red light. The donkey
trotting. The blue sky. The rolling cart. The dust
smudging the blue sky. The silent bell of the sun.
The Humvee. The soldiers. The dust-colored
uniforms. The boy from Montgomery, the boy
from Little Falls. The donkey cart approaching.
The dust. The laughter on their lips. The dust
on their lips. The moment before the moment.
The shockwave. The dust. The dust. The dust.


Bryan Alec Floyd

He came of a sharecrop farm family
and could barely read and write.
He had never thought 
about teaching his heart war.
When he personally received
a letter from the President
of the United States of America
he simply went, having faith.
He put on his uniform 
and disappeared
and became his uniform.
When he came back in a box,
he was buried with full military honors,
his family given the flag
that draped his coffin.
Now that flag flies every day
in front of his house.
When the neighbors' children pass by
they always look at that flag
and they always say,
"Someday there will be another war,
and I'm going to be a Marine.


Randall Jarrell

From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.*
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.°

*	“my wet fur froze” The sweating of pre-flight anxiety wet the airman’s fur-lined 
jacket and then the sweat froze at high altitude.  The reference is to the wet fur 
of a new-born animal.
	°Author's Note:  "A ball turret was a plexiglass sphere set into the belly of 
a B-17 or B-24 and inhabited by two .50 caliber machine-guns and one man, a short, 
small man.  When this gunner tracked with his machine-guns a fighter attacking the 
bomber from below, he revolved with the turret; hunched upside-down in his little sphere, 
he looked like the foetus in the womb.  The fighters which attacked him  were armed with 
cannon firing explosive shells.  The hose was a steam hose."


Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

*It is sweet and honorable to die for one's country.


Waiata Dawn Davies

The day he turned eighteen 
he sailed out of Liverpool 
on a corvette that nipped 
at the heels of slow tramps, 
shepherding them to Boston.

He listened to the sounds of radio 
silence, the breath of the Atlantic, 
the beat of ships’ engines and 
the wolf pack* stalking.

All that time he was cold, wet, 
hungry and frightened, except 
for one week in Barbados where 
they picked up a convoy, carrying 
sugar so beleaguered Britons 
could sweeten their rationed tea.

There he bought a gift for his mother, 
guarded it back to ‘the Pool’ 
and stepped ashore past piles 
of rubble which had been warehouses. 
Tired people in drab austerity smiled 
to see the young sailor heading 
through shattered streets, sea bag on shoulder 
carrying a great bunch of bananas, lush and 
gold on that grey Liverpool day.

*wolf pack: German submarines operating in a coordinated group.


Rudyard Kipling

I went into a public-'ouse° to get a pint o' beer,
The publican° 'e up an' sez, "We serve no red-coats° here."
The girls be'ind the bar they laughed an' giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an' to myself sez I:
	O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, go away";
   But it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins," when the band begins to play--
	The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
   O it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins," when the band begins to play.

I went into a theater as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but 'adn't none for me;
They sent me to the gallery° or round the music-'alls,
But when it comes to fightin', Lord! they'll shove me in the stalls!
	For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, wait outside";
	But its "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's, on the tide--°
	The troopship's on the tide, my boys, the troopship's on the tide,
	O it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide.

Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.°
	Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy 'ow's yer soul?"
	But it's "Thin red line of "eroes"° when the drums begin to roll--
	The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
	O it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll.

We aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints;
	While it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, fall be'ind,"
	But it's "Please to walk in front, sir," when there's trouble in the wind--
	There's trouble in the wind, my boys, there's trouble in the wind,
	O it's "Please to walk in front, sir," when there's trouble in the wind.

You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires, an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's°  Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.
	For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
	But it's "Savior of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot;
	An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything  you please;
	An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool--you bet that Tommy sees!

°Tommy:  short for "Thomas Atkins" as the typical name of a soldier in the British army
°public-'ouse: Public house:  a bar.
°publican;  bar owner
°red-coats: British soldier, whose traditional uniform included a red coat
°gallery: cheap seats in the balcony; The stalls are the expensive seats.
°the trooper's on the tide:  the troop ship is ready to sail
° Kit: equipment
°Thin red line of 'eroes:  W. H. Russell, a London Times correspondent used the phrase 
"thin red line tipped with steel" to describe the 93rd Highlanders infantry regiment as 
they stood to meet the  charge of Russian cavalry at Balaclava in the Crimean War in 1854
°Widow's: Queen Victoria's; Kipling sometimes referred to her as "The Widow at Windsor."


Wing Tek Lum

They held
her down, inserted a grenade by
force, pulling
the pin just
before letting go
with one
well-aimed heel to
seal her 
doom.  Quickly they ran
for cover.

She kneels
there, disheveled, bruised and
bleeding, unmercifully
undazed, eyes wide,
thighs pale, voice
quavering, shrill, all hands clawing
about; the belly wrenches,
ready to give
birth, at
this moment of the truest horror.


Edgar Lee Masters

Stranger!  Tell the people of Spoon River two things:
First that we lie here, obeying their words;
And next that had we known what was back of their words
We should not be lying here!


Gerald McCarthy

1    Med Building

They brought the dead
in helicopters and trucks
and tried to piece the bodies back together,
shoved them in plastic bags
to be sent home.
Sometimes there was an arm or leg
it lay around until the next shipment;
they made it fit somewhere.


Miklós Radnóti

Crazy.  He stumbles, flops, gets up,     and trudges on again.
He moves his ankles and his knees     like one wandering pain,
then sallies forth, as if a wing     lifted him where he went,
and when the ditch invites him in,     he dare not give consent,
and if you were to ask why not?     perhaps his answer is
a woman waits, a death more wise,     more beautiful than this.
Poor fool, the true believer:     for weeks, above the rooves,
but for the scorching whirlwind,     nothing lives or moves:
the housewall’s lying on its back,     the prunetree’s smashed and bare
even at home, when dark comes on,     the night is furred with fear.
Ah, if I could believe it:     that not only do I bear
what’s worth the keeping in my heart,     but home is really there;
if it might be!--as once it was,     on a veranda old and cool,
where the sweet bee of peace would buzz,     prune marmalade would chill,
late summer’s stillness sunbathe     in gardens half-asleep,
fruit sway among the branches,      stark naked in the deep,
Fanni waiting at the fence     blonde by its rusty red,
and shadows would write slowly out     all the slow morning said—
but still it might yet happen!     The moon’s so round today!
Friend, don’t walk on.  Give me a shout     and I’ll be on my way.
					                SEPTEMBER 1944


William Soutar

Stumpy Dunn, like a fell° lot mair
Wha straid° awa sae trig,°
Has traikit° hame again frae the war
Wi' a medal and a lang pin-leg.°

Up wi' your gless for Stumpy Dunn
And lat there be nae stint;°
We're nae owre shairº o' what he has won
But we're shair o' what he has tint.°

Monie a swankie,° wha aince was here
And swackit aff° his swig,
Wud think it weel to be hame frae the war
Wi' a medal and a lang pin-leg.

°fell: whole; °straid: strode; °trig: smart;
°traikit: limped; pin-leg: wooden leg;
°stint: holding back;  º shair:  sure °tint: lost;
°swanke: young kid; 
°swackit aff: tossed off


Bruce Weigl

In Vietnam I was always afraid of mines:
North Vietnamese mines, Vietcong mines,
French mines, American mines,
whole fields marked with warning signs.

A Bouncing Betty comes up waist high--
cuts you in half.
One man's legs were laid 
alongside him in the Dustoff,°
he asked for a chairback, morphine,
he screamed he wanted to give
his eyes away, his kidneys,
his heart . . . 

Here is how you walk at night:  slowly lift
 one leg, clear the sides with your arms, clear the back,
front, put the leg down, like swimming.

°Dustoff:  A liftship (helicopter) specifically suited
for taking out the wounded.


Walt Whitman

A march in the ranks hard-prest, and the road unknown, 
A route through a heavy wood with muffled steps in the darkness,
Our army foil'd with loss severe, and the sullen remnant retreating,
Till after midnight glimmer upon us the lights of a dim-lighted building,
We come to an open space in the woods, and halt by the dim-lighted building,
'Tis a large old church at the crossing roads, now an impromptu hospital,
Entering but for a minute I see a sight beyond all the pictures and poems ever made,
Shadows of deepest, deepest black, just lit by moving candles and lamps,
And by one great pitchy torch stationary with wild red flame and clouds of smoke,
By these, crowds, groups of forms vaguely I see on the floor, some in the pews laid down,
At my feet more distinctly a soldier, a mere lad, in danger of bleeding to death, (he is shot in the abdomen,)
I stanch the blood temporarily, (the youngster's face is white as a lily,)
Then before I depart I sweep my eyes o'er the scene fain to absorb it all,
Faces, varieties, postures beyond description, most in obscurity, some of them dead,
Surgeons operating, attendants holding lights, the smell of ether, the odor of blood,
The crowd, O the crowd of the bloody forms, the yard outside also fill'd,
Some on the bare ground, some on planks or stretchers, some in the death-spasm sweating,
An occasional scream or cry, the doctor's shouted orders or calls,
The glisten of the little steel instruments catching the glint of the torches,
These I resume as I chant, I see again the forms, I smell the odor,
Then hear outside the orders given, Fall in, my men, fall in;
But first I bend to the dying lad, his eyes open, a half-smile gives he me,
Then the eyes close, calmly close, and I speed forth to the darkness,
Resuming, marching, ever in darkness marching, on in the ranks,
The unknown road still marching.

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