… I close my eyes and see the girl
running from her village, napalm
stuck to her dress like jelly,
her hands reaching for the no one
who waits in waves of heat before her.
From the title poem, “Song of Napalm” Bruce Weigl
Hurtling through the endless shrouded
gauntlet of Bragg Boulevard –
the machinery, the certainty,
of war secreted matter-of-factly
on either side of it – everything
arrested, etherized – the only danger
a broken tequila bottle
on the sand spit shoulder, neon
signs for bars and guns and tattoos,
a couple Rangers in camos
who nearly drop a mattress from Badcock’s
they’re loading in a pickup –
I carry Song of Napalm,
a first edition, on its jacket face
a helmeted GI, mouth agape
in mute keen. The glowing font
is napalm orange – Song and of
burning over the soldier’s eyes,
Napalm scored across his nostrils.
In the watery lamplight,
on the table next to my hotel bed,
the volume shape-shifts like a hologram.
It pages to black tunnels, wending on and on.
Even the beautiful detonates.
Yet the rounds in that book, its shrapnel,
lethal trope and caliber, remain humble,
almost shy, in combat –
purity that becomes Buddha.
Versed in the lotus,
the poet makes a small place for defeat.
It is sleep he yearns for;
war is an insomniac.
The little girl in the poem,
dedicated to his wife
(which I find soothing, here
in a strange room, without my wife),
is Kim Phúc, naked, fleeing
Trang Bang in ’72 –
Nick Ut’s famous photograph, Napalm Girl.
Carefully I read each word, each
metric foot, down to the syllable –
to help me reckon what truth travels
into and beyond immolation,
that I might be visited by that God.
The next morning at Howard Hall
Elementary, where Count Basie’s jazz
pipes through its corridors, I read
1st graders poems by Shel Silverstein:
zany tongue-twisting alliterative
nonsense – about a bear
in a refrigerator and how to make
a hippopotamus sandwich.
The children sit at my feet
and laugh uncontrollably.
Whispering liftships rise
in the haunted mist.