Thursday, July 31, 2008

Cordwood: more poems from the forgotten war

Ralph Jacobs, the author of CORDWOOD, A COLLECTION OF KOREAN WAR POEMS, is a treasured friend and a Harvard educated medical doctor. He served in Dog Medical Company, First Marine Division, in the Korean War.

I served in the Marines from July 1950, through June 1951. . . I hope the poems will offer a personal lens for you to see and feel my experiences in Korea. Many of the events, situations, and dilemmas in these poems mirror what others have seen and felt in other wars."
Ralph Jacobs, from his Introduction
April, 2004

The three poems that follow are from Ralph’s second “chapter”: Chosin Reservoir Campaign. (More poems from this chapter of Cordwood and succeeding chapters will be posted in the future.)


Physician Casualty

(Our Marine tent hospital grasps
an escarpment in North Korea)

The only other doc details to me with odd gusto
his cases with shrapnel wounds, his battle fatigued,
his dysentery cases on IV’s, He shows
the tibial stump on a five-year-old,
the uninvited nine-month mamasan
waiting to deliver in the corner of our surgery.

We crunch snow, step into the docs’ cave.
On a rock ledge he curls into a down sleeping bag.
For the next two days he 2on’t move.
I make rounds, check him often, talk hours with him—
he stares at faces ripped by shell fragments—
narrates his triumphs over Mt. Hood, Mr. Rainier.
He won’t eat, he won’t drink
His piss turns mahogany brown.
I plead—You’ll be angry with yourself.

His debility deepens—his thoughts erode.
I must evacuate him.
For minutes I stare at snowy mountains. . .
shells explode in the distance, planes roar overhead.

Chosin Reservoir

Siberian winds snarl,
stab the Marine tent hospital,
trapped fifty miles from the sea,
beside the shell pocked evac airstrip,
dotted with frozen corpses.

Chinese hurl own snowy mountains,
howl like banshees, bugles blare.
Marines defend the airstrip savagely.

An airdrop supply crate—blood, saline,
Condoms, Dinty Moore stew,
one-oh-five ammo
thunders through the tent—
three corpsmen crushed.

My friend Jim is dead. Blood
warmed by a hot water bottle,
revives George, his splintered leg
in a cast—he’ll make it.

Tex’s ruptured spleen removed,
his guts sutured. He and surgeons
survive the risk of open-drop ether
next to the roaring stove.

The next morning, icicle-bearded Marines
load bundled stretchers board Air Evac C47’s.
I drink muddy coffee,
prepare for another day.

Privileged Communication

(In memoriam: General Lewis “Chesty” Puller)

In our docs’ hospital tent
our commander visits in the quiet evenings.
Knocks back remorse
With GI issue gullet scorching brandy.

He slumps forward—still seeing his men
assaulting caves in the pale moonlight
years ago on Guadalcanal,
the path strewn with bodies.

He recalls the unexpected eclipse of the moon
that suffocated high tide—
assault barges bashed into sand bars
spewing men far from shore off Tarawa.
He weeps as he remembers
his staggering troops in the waves,
with machine-gun fire and artillery
burying hundreds in surf and sand.

“I must never lose so many again.”

But now at the Chosin Reservoir
our Marine division is surrounded.
The Chinese have cut off all routes.

Poems from Jacobs first “chapter of poems: Trip to Korea, Inchon and Seoul Campaigns, can be read on this blog. (Spectrum blog has previously posted a piece I submitted in which Jacobs’ poem, Cordwood, is featured.)

“Cordwood” can be purchased from Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Bl., Corte Madera (415-927-9016) or Ralph Jacobs, 55 La Costa Ct, Novato, CA 94947 (415-898-6064)

1 comment:

mom2twoboys said...

An excellent companion (?) book might be War Trash by Ha Jin--the POV of a Chinese "volunteer" soldier who becomes a POW and pawn in the tug of war between the Taiwan/US and PRC/communists.