Talking about poems just for the pleasure of it

Monday, March 5, 2012

Jim Northrup, "wahbegan"

Didja ever hear a sound
smell something
taste something
that brought you back
to Vietnam, instantly?
Didja ever wonder
when it would end?
It ended for my brother.
He died in the war
but didn't fall down
for fifteen tortured years.
His flashbacks are over,
another casualty whose name
will never be on the Wall.
Some can find peace
only in death.
The sound of his
family crying hurt.
The smell of the flowers
didn't comfort us.
The bitter taste
in my mouth
still sours me.
How about a memorial
for those who made it
through the war
but still died
before their time?

This painful poem gets some of its power from the way it renders the idea of "flashback" in a subtle parallel structure.  The speaker's brother experienced a lingering repetition of his time in Vietnam through triggers of sound, smell, and taste.  In the same way, the speaker now lives with the constant recollection of his brother's death:  the sense experiences associated with the event continue to mark his life, so that through grief, he himself has taken on a sour taste.

What makes this loss harder to bear is that it is not publicly memorialized.  This lack is noted at the poem's halfway point and then repeated at the end, without any mitigation or resolution for its feeling of injustice.