14-3 poetry

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A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis

14.3 (Summer 2014)





Michael H. Lythgoe: Chaotic Times in Rhythmic Seasons

Lt. Col. Lythgoe (USAF Retired) recently sent a bundle of excellent poems, from which we chose the following for now.  The first three, with their references of varying specificity to the plight of the forgotten soldier in the past few years (keenest in “Broken”), reflect the alarm that has overtaken many of us about our coherence as a nation.  Yet by editorial decision,  the poems conclude with “Old Seguaro”: a reminder that new life can flower from a bed of thorns, though the incubation period may take years.  We are confident that Mike would approve of the arrangement.  We have learned from his work before that seasons continue to cycle even as man strains the wheels off his wobbly wagon.



An older woman uninvited rubs my shoulder

after my reading. I did not know I needed pity.

I simply told a story about a Marine on a combat tour.

Everybody talks PTSD now. It means less and less.

But my combat buddies in The Corps

need real care more and more.


At the bar some guy says, yea, I was going to

sign up too… Who do you know in the VA Hospital

near you? How goes their care?

Does their scheduler get a bonus?

Does the appointment list keep changing?


Who really cares after the Memorial

Day parades, the Presidential visit

to Bagram Air Base? Who do you know

who serves in uniform? Do you help the USO,

the schools who send care packages to troops in

Afghanistan? Did a military wife who is a teacher

get your attention? Did her husband make it


home? What did you do for her, for him?

Send his unit some cookies. Better to get

a warrior with a head wound an appointment.

He does not want pity or more pills.

But he could use a little respect.

We need to fix this. I am not broken.

I am simply a soldier. I went to war.

Now I am back. I do not have PTSD.


The Cruelest Month

An art exhibit repeats Warhol’s subjects
lifted from the media, the headlines speak
death.  Spring opens fresh red cuts
in a copse of green trees, fast slashes
of cardinals.  Even though our soldiers
are mostly gone from Iraq and Afghanistan
American blood still spills.  A doctor there
to heal is shot.  The shooter is a guard
now healing in the same hospital.  Reports
from Kabul are conflicted.  Insider attacks
on Westerners highlight alienation with
foreigners–read U.S. and our allies, volunteers.
Over the border, Pakistan ends a ceasefire
with the Taliban: airstrikes in tribal area, Kyber.


Poem for Your Pocket #1

The art of cubism in the Sunday paper
today is portrayed in a full page ad, in color;
Picasso’s Portrait de femme (Dora Maar);
Rothko’s deep melon, purples on a vertical
canvas, edgy black horizontal, evening sale
at Rockefeller Plaza.  Post-War and Contemporary Art.
I want to take in all the news too, pack it
tight, squeeze all the life out, make it
safe as church bells for Divine Mercy Sunday,
two modern popes are dead saints today.
Blood and chlorine gas leak out in war.
We need container ships to hold all threats of war.
U.S. policies tilt East.  Japan and China spar
over empty islands.  Dora was a wartime inspiration.
Coffee grounds in newsprint inspire my garden.


Old Saguaro After Storm


Meteorologist draws battle lines.

Wild fires fueled by wind ravage six states.

Flames light the night sky in New Mexico.

Winter snows are in a meltdown. Furrows

wash away in the Missouri’s flow.

Hailstones rattle like slots in Vegas.


and windy in Nogales—Sonoran Desert.

I remember speechless August lightning

near Tucson, each afternoon, dry

lightning. No rain falls near Mexico.

Silent light show. A bone white church.


Lighting strikes rear tires off an RV’s rims.

A tall saguaro casts twisted shadows.

The wet spring paints the desert,

prickly pear colors resurrect. Cactus

fruits are pulled from sentinel tops

where a hawk scouts for prey.


Blooms last only a night and a day.

Open the fruit to taste; bless your heart

with the juice; pray for the mortal blooms.

May prayers pull down the monsoon.

The Tohono O’Odhan—native people—

drink in rare summer rains.


The desert is patient. It takes fifty years

for the saguaro to sing its flower song.

The Gila woodpecker excavates

a nest cavity in the pulpy cactus flesh,

leaves the hole to host an owl

before a seasonal downpour.


After lightning, thunder rumbles; rain

loods a dry river bed. Rush of water

in arroyo is rare. Comes a flower.


Col. Lythgoe recently taught a seminar for Lifelong Learning on the theme of The Literature of Espionage.