American Life in Poetry: Column 146


Post-traumatic stress disorder is a new name for "shell
shock," a term once
applied only to military veterans.
Here the poet Marvin Bell describes a group
of these
emotionally damaged soldiers, gathered together
for breakfast. I'd
guess that just about everybody who
reads this column has known one or two men
like these.

Veterans of the Seventies

His army jacket bore the white rectangle
of one who has torn off his name. He sat mute
at the round table where the trip-wire veterans
ate breakfast. They were foxhole buddies
who went stateside without leaving the war.
They had the look of men who held their breath
and now their tongues. What is to say
beyond that said by the fathers who bent lower
and lower as the war went on, spines curving
toward the ground on which sons sat sandbagged
with ammo belts enough to make fine lace
of enemy flesh and blood. Now these who survived,
who got back in cargo planes emptied at the front,
lived hiddenly in the woods behind fence wires
strung through tin cans. Better an alarm
than the constant nightmare of something moving
on its belly to make your skin crawl
with the sensory memory of foxhole living.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The
Poetry Foundation
(www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher
of Poetry magazine. It is also supported
by the Department
of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem

copyright (c) 2007 by Marvin Bell, and reprinted from
"Mars Being Red," Copper
Canyon Press, 2007, by permission
of the author and publisher. The poem first
appeared in
"Gettysburg Review," Summer, 2007. Introduction copyright
(c) 2007
by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author,
Ted Kooser,served as
United States Poet Laureate Consultant
in Poetry to the Library of Congress
from 2004-2006.
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