Winter 2009 - THE POTOMAC

Three Poems
   Matt Hohner

W is for War

W, Egyptian hieroglyph of water flowing,
short for German wolfram: tungsten,
an element burned as filaments in lamps
having very low wattage, or added to steel
to make it extremely hard and heat resistant--
great for plowshares--and tanks.
W, a ligatured VV. See “the act
of tying or binding.” See strangle.

War, from Indo-European
wers-, “to confuse, mix up.”
Leading to Old French guerre,
from which (as from oppression
and desperation) comes guerrilla.
And war: [obscure] military operations
as a profession or science. See war
machine, war games, war party,
war on drugs.

See also Old High German wurst,
meaning sausage, an all-mixed-up
kinda meat; as when in war we ask,
“Whose leg is this?” and “Where does
this body end and the next one begin?”
Or worst as in “the worst is yet to come.”
The “worst possible scenario.”

Worst, meaning “most inferior,
as in quality, condition, or effect;
most severe or unfavorable; being
furthest from an ideal or a standard”
(see Geneva Convention).

War: “a concerted effort or campaign
to combat or put an end to something
considered injurious.” Such as war.

W is for war, the last thing you see
before you have Xes in both eyes.

Gulf War Veteran

When he returned
from the desert,
a former high school
classmate brought home
an extra pair of ears,
each taken from
confirmed kills.

He talked of stars’
brilliance through
night vision lenses,
of breathing acrid smoke
from the well fires
and coughing up
globs of blood and oil,
of scorpions seeking
drops of moisture
in soldiers’ mouths
and stinging their tongues
as they slept.

Part of me died
that evening
when I saw him.

He never returned
from that war.

Dream, July 5, 2006

Coyote has crept into the house
up from the ravine where he
has followed deer from the county
into the city along Herring Run.
I go to rescue the cat
in the living room, fend off
the intruder by kicking at it,
kicking my wife in her calf
as I thrash about alseep,
waking myself up with a laugh
as Jen punches me in the shoulder,
rolls over, and falls back to sleep.
At night, these predators
creep into our life like doubt,
wild, uninvited, but something
we live with, fence out, fend off
when it gets too close, and listen
to at dusk as it calls from far off,
lonely, seeking insecurity, its mate.
We shudder at its untamability,
its reminder to huddle close
against the darkness
just beyond our embrace.

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