Thursday, September 11, 2008

Cordwood: three more poems

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. I will post poems from the two following chapters periodically in the weeks leading up to the presidential election.


The Only Road

We are not retreating—we are merely advancing in another direction.
--General Oliver P, Smith at the Chosin Reservoir

In frigid earliest dawn
our platoon lurches forward
against a stabbing wind
down the frozen rutted road
guarded by new snow, a few scrubby pines.
Shrouded mountains mirror a pallid sun.
Sentry peaks stare.

Our sergeant reconnoiters, signs halt.
Close-support Corsairs rocket, napalm,
machine-gun the Chinese roadblock ahead.

The sergeant gestures forward.
Enemy machine-gun fire.
Earth shards smack our legs.
Tom pitches—
a bullet through his hip.
His cheeks blue-white, his pupils fear-dilated.
Bright red blood soaks his uniform.
I bandage his hips tightly together,
ran a morphine syrette* into his arm.

Fear seizes me. I must leave him.
I tuck a blanket around him,
prop him against a sprawled roadside truck.
Its bullet riddled windshield clouds
the stare of its frozen driver.

O God, please let him live.
Let him be carried to a hospital.

*plastic syringe and needle to inject morphine tartrate

To the Sea

Moonlight outlines against ashen snow
a silent, spectral procession—without lights
box-ambulances, jeeps, trucks
lurch down the mountain in ruts
on the tortuous icy road.

Its cargo: the wounded, sardined,
insulated from artic wind and 30 below
With parkas, tent flaps, blanket, tarps.

Gaunt men trudge behind—
beards encrusted in ice—
strain to see through frozen lashes,
dead lift each frost-bitten foot, devoid of feeling.
stumble forward in rag-wrapped boots.

A white phosphorus flare.
Bullets splatter our ambulances,
mortar shells burst.
Sgt. Clements and his marines clamber up a knoll,
barrage the ambushing Chinese
with machine-gun, automatic carbine fire.

One of our men killed.
We bandage four wounded.
We roll on.

Christmas Holiday, 1950

The First Marine Division battles out from
the “Frozen Chosin” reservoir
to the sea at Hungnam, North Korea.
We give thanks.

Bleary-eyed bearded marines lurch
onto the deck of a decrepit Japanese LST.
We give thanks.

We weigh anchor. The only boiler shudders—
explodes at the harbor mouth.
The Japanese Sea currents us south to Pusan.
not north to Siberia.
We give thanks.

Under air cover we drift five days.
The Japanese crew share their larder—
boiled squid and rice.
We give thanks.

We bivouac in the snow in Masan west of Pusan.
Christmas morning in a nearby Catholic church:
candle iridescence, mystic Oriental music.
Dawning of life, of hope.
We give thanks.

A big turkey dinner flown in.
My straight flush in seven card stud poker.
Good bourbon, camaraderie—
grateful for life one more day.
We give thanks.

Poems from Jacobs first chapter of poems: Trip to Korea, Inchon and Seoul Campaigns, can be read on this blog. Three other poems from Jacob’s second chapter, Chosin Reservoir Campaign, are located here as well. In addition, 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)

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