Thursday, October 23, 2008

Cordwood: Poems from the Forgotten War, Final Chapter

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

poems from Ralph’s fourth and last “chapter”

(Chinese Spring Offensive)

Shimmering dawn on our
Marine test hospital
Earlier we slept soothed by the
tympani of an all night deluge.
Pine dripping, water droplets on sword ferns,
scallions fused with the pungency
of dung-fertilized soil.
Jumping frogs in erotic frenzy
swarmed in viridescent mounds.

Private McCabe grabbed a Chinese
before he could stab Dr. Ed Raney.
McCabe and Corporal Hansen grappled
six more assassins
in the doctors’ tent that night.

Morning: the big guns and rifles resounding.
I foresaw gaping wounds
exuding virulent mud.
First I contemplated
the throbbing and croaking
green mounds.

A through-and-through wound
of the small intestine.
Two surgeons curse, as they flip
a steady stream of six-inch white
roundworms onto the planked floor,
then stomp on each one.
A visiting surgeon stares and laughs.

Breathe the air when the roads are muddy
Don’t breathe when the roads are dusty

Lower right-sided stomach pain—
No, it’s not appendicitis—its worms,
the admission tend doc’s adage.
Roundworms, whipworms, hookworms
Schistosomes—or a combination.
The diagnosis—microscopic—
eggs in the stool.
One large dose of hexylresourcinol
Send that marine back to duty.

Breathe the air when the roads are muddy
Don’t breathe when the roads are dusty

My lab tech Gerry frowns—
I’ve found the eggs of Schistosoma haematobium—
not the S. japonicum found here.
The marine tells me—We were in Egypt.
We shipped across the Indian Ocean
to join you here. Gerry smiles.

Breathe the air when the roads are muddy
Don’t breathe when the roads are dusty

Most of our field hospital staff—parasite infestation.
How can we avoid these worms?
I advise—

Breathe the air when the roads are muddy
Don’t breathe when the roads are dusty

Our admission tent is full of stretchers—
men needing belly surgery, shrapnel wound
debridement, casts.

Eight to ten Chinese bayonet-slash and tramp
Through the side of that tent, bayonet
a corpsman, two patients lying on the ground.

“Get those goddamn gooks out of here”,
I order, kneeling by the stretcher
of my mangled blood-soaked marine—
“Everything’s under control. You’ll be OK.” I lie.

Mechanics, ambulance drivers, corpsmen
grab pistols, carbines, bayonets—
kill or capture.

“Chief Rice, fix the fucking side of the tent.”
I turn and start a transfusion.

Three of us operated on a thirteen-year-old
Last night. I seemed an eternity.
Beauty radiated from her broad checked face.
Rain tattooed, then crescendoed on our surgical tent.

We debrieded her left forearm.
We casted her right forearm
for compound fractures of her radius and ulna.
We wrested deep shrapnel from her left thigh.
We purged her right groin of muck, pus, necrosis—
exposing the fascia and femoral artery.

The early sun gleams.
Rain shimmers, drips from rhododendron leaves.
She died at dawn.

My jaw tightens.
I stand in our chow line.
A marine plays ball with an eight-year-old boy
outside our surgical tent.

Five Chinese soldiers slash and stamp
through a battalion aid station tent,
shoot a corpsman at blank range
in his chest land belly as he starts plasma IV.
Bayonet a medic syretting morphine,
slicing his arms and shoulders.
Slaughter the doctor—a burp-gun slammed to his head—
as he listens to a rattling lung.
Stumble over wounded on litters as they charge on.

A successful counterattack reclaims this scrap
Of forest—its yellow forsythia—
its jumble of men and equipment.

From the bloody muck marines gently retrieve
the wounded, ambulance them over rocks,
mud and ruts to our hospital.

As a civilian, I doctor each individual,
as a marine, I doctor men—
to keep a maximum bearing arms.

Must I send a man to death?
Our medical company—trucks, jeeps, ambulances
Advance in single file down the virgin road—just bulldozed
from the steep side of a mountain by army engineers.
A smoking Chinese rocket lands in our ammo trailer.
Appalled, I foresee our company blown up.
our army’s only road blown up.
Must I send a man to death?
My choice is clear—“Buzz,
run that trailer over the cliff.”

Our army lays mines
to kill enemy soldiers,
but they maim kids, mamasans, old men.
Our air force napalms a village
to kill enemy soldiers,
but it kills kids, mamasans, old men.
Our artillery barrages a city
to kill enemy soldiers,
but it kills, maims kids, mamasans, old men.

Corporal Polanski pleads to return to his unit,
To his BAR,* to protect his buddies.
His thigh wound is healing,
But emotional quirks may plunge him into psychosis.
I must have the courage to evacuate him.

*Browning Automatic Rifle

Poems from Jacobs’ chapters of poems: Trip to Korea, Inchon and Seoul Campaigns, and the Chosin Reservoir Campaign can be read on this blog. 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).

Ralph W. Jacobs, born in New Jersey in 1925, attended Duke University for his undergraduate studies and received his MD from Harvard Medical School. In World War II he served as a Navy corpsman. In the Korean War he served three years as a physician in the Navy Medical Corps. He practiced medicine in San Rafael, California, for forty years.

Since retirement he has been writing poetry and chairing a philosophy discussion group. He and his wife have four children and enjoy playing with their eight grandchildren.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It surprises me of how much things are the same even today...with young men writing poems about wars they were in...