“A highly successful raid” by R.L. Johnson and The Voice before the Void

The spectacle of that woman’s grief being exploited in the U.S. Capitol embarrassed me and disgusted me; commentators and newsreaders describing it as “moving” amplified my revulsion. The commonplace exaltation of murdered military personnel paired with the commonplace disregard of militarily murdered people remains perpetually disappointing… and embarrassing, and disgusting.
-The Voice before the Void

“A highly successful raid”

R.L. Johnson and The Voice before the Void

Children and Ryan Owens fall dying,
the dust turning to soft mud in their eyes;
amid gunshots and wailing and crying,
the Devil alone can claim any prize.
The sounds of the battle are but distant,
the flashes of light dim and far away;
young lives pass into death nonexistent:
I read it all in the fake news today.

“America First” is clearly the motto
as bold leaders call Owens a hero
and make a spectacle of his widow,
so Americans snack and play the lotto
as their soldiers die for ol’ PepsiCo
and Yemeni children die for nothing.

“Oh, For a Home of Rest!” by Eliza Paul Kirkbride Gurney

The contemplation of suicide in the aftermath of loss.
-The Voice before the Void

“Oh, For a Home of Rest!”

Eliza Paul Kirkbride Gurney

Oh, for a home of rest!
Time lags alone so slow, so wearily;
Couldst thou but smile on me, I should be blest.
Alas, alas! that never more may be.
Oh, for the sky-lark’s wing to soar to thee!

This earth I would forsake
For starry realms whose sky’s forever fair;
There, tears are shed not, hearts will cease to ache,
And sorrow’s plaintive voice shall never break
The heavenly stillness that is reigning there.

Life’s every charm has fled,
The world is all a wilderness to me;
“For thou art numbered with the silent dead.”
Oh, how my heart o’er this dark thought has bled!
How I have longed for wings to follow thee!

In visions of the night
With angel smile thou beckon’st me away,
Pointing to worlds where hope is free from blight;
And then a cloud comes o’er that brow of light,
Seeming to chide me for my long delay.

“Lament” by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson

Armistice Day:
Survivor’s guilt – and we are all survivors, and are all guilty for all of war.
-The Voice before the Void

“Lament”

Wilfrid Wilson Gibson

We who are left, how shall we look again
Happily on the sun, or feel the rain, Continue reading

“The March” by J.C. Squire

Armistice Day
World War I poetry, in commemoration of all wars

“The March”

J.C. Squire

I heard a voice that cried, “Make way for those who died!”
And all the coloured crowd like ghosts at morning fled;
And down the waiting road, rank after rank there strode,
In mute and measured march a hundred thousand dead. Continue reading

“The Wind in the Trees” by S. Donald Cox

World War I:
Soldier’s war poetry.

“The Wind in the Trees”

S. Donald Cox

Wind! Wind! what do you bring?
With the whirling flake and the flying cloud?
A victor’s bays and a song to sing?
—Nay, but a hero’s shroud!

Wild wind! what do you bear—
A song of the men who fought and fell,
A tale of the strong to do and dare?
—Aye, and a tolling bell!

Wind! wind! what do you see—
The flying flags and the soldiers brave,
The marching men, the bold and free?
—Nay, but a new-dug grave! Continue reading

“The Glory of the Day was in her Face” by James Weldon Johnson

St. Valentine’s Day Special

“The Glory of the Day was in her Face”

James Weldon Johnson

The glory of the day was in her face,
The beauty of the night was in her eyes.
And over all her loveliness, the grace
Of Morning blushing in the early skies. Continue reading

“Dead Man’s Dump” by Isaac Rosenberg

World War I:
Soldier’s war poetry.

“Dead Man’s Dump”

Isaac Rosenberg

The plunging limbers over the shattered track
Racketed with their rusty freight,
Stuck out like many crowns of thorns,
And the rusty stakes like sceptres old
To stay the flood of brutish men
Upon our brothers dear.

The wheels lurched over sprawled dead
But pained them not, though their bones crunched;
Their shut mouths made no moan.
They lie there huddled, friend and foeman,
Man born of man, and born of woman;
And shells go crying over them
From night till night and now. Continue reading

“At the Home of Poe” by Frank Belknap Long

Edgar Allan Poe’s Birthday:
A lilting story of a life.
⁓The Voice before the Void

“At the Home of Poe: A Poem in Prose”

Frank Belknap Long

To H. P. Lovecraft

The home of Poe! It is like a fairy dwelling, a gnomic palace built of the aether of dreams. It is tiny and delicate and lovely, and replete with memories of sere leaves in November and of lilies in April. It is a castle of vanished hopes, of dimly-remembered dreams, of sad memories Continue reading

“Anthem for Doomed Youth” by Wilfred Owen

World War I:
Every day since, and every day forever, is somber, for the memory of millions.
⁓The Voice before the Void

“Anthem for Doomed Youth”

Wilfred Owen

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

“The Hill” by Edgar Lee Masters

The vastnesses of life (death), the paltriness, the irony. A great poem.
⁓The Voice before the Void

“The Hill”

from Spoon River Anthology

Edgar Lee Masters

Where are Elmer, Herman, Bert, Tom and Charley,
The weak of will, the strong of arm, the clown, the boozer, the fighter?
All, all are sleeping on the hill.

One passed in a fever,
One was burned in a mine,
One was killed in a brawl,
One died in a jail,
One fell from a bridge toiling for children and wife —
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill. Continue reading

“Grass” by Carl Sandburg

U.S. Memorial Day Special:
This poem is affecting and quiet. (Grass is abiding; battle is momentary.) This poem is recognized and anthologized. (Train riders are workaday, everyday, oblivious, all of us.) This poem feels to be one of the immortal poems that should live long beyond our current civilization. I thought I had a handle on it, but it is too complex. Is it a melancholic, uplifting poem about healing? Is it a bitter, rebuking poem about forgetting? The imagery of the grass seems serene, is set in contrast to the implied uproar of battle. The imagery of train riders has been archaic and therefore exotic for already fifty years, but continues to work, and should continue to continue to work. The five battles named are and should ever remain prominent in history, even when that history is far more distant and exotic than it already is today; in two thousand years and in ten thousand years, the slaughter of the battles should still be as comprehendible. Can any work of art imbue beauty to battle? This poem achieves something great… but what is that, exactly?
⁓The Voice before the Void

“Grass”

Carl Sandburg

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo,
Shovel them under and let me work–
I am the grass; I cover all.

And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
What place is this?
Where are we now?

I am the grass.
Let me work.

“Ashes of Soldiers” by Walt Whitman

U.S. Memorial Day Special:
Whitman’s love is unbearable.
⁓The Voice before the Void

“Ashes of Soldiers”

Walt Whitman

Ashes of soldiers South or North,
As I muse retrospective murmuring a chant in thought,
The war resumes, again to my sense your shapes,
And again the advance of the armies.

Noiseless as mists and vapors,
From their graves in the trenches ascending,
From cemeteries all through Virginia and Tennessee,
From every point of the compass out of the countless graves,
In wafted clouds, in myriads large, or squads of twos or threes or
single ones they come,
And silently gather round me. Continue reading

“Matilda” by Karrie Schaff

Mother’s Day Special:
…until forgotten.
⁓The Voice before the Void

“Matilda”

Karrie Schaff

My name is Matilda Shiff.
They used to call me Tilly.
I’ve had ten children,
and an alcoholic husband.
We had hard times,
many hard times.
I remember giving the kids
a nickel the first day of
school to purchase three
pencils for the year. Continue reading

Better Run: U.S. School Shootings, 1991-2014, and 3 Songs: “Jeremy” by Pearl Jam, “Youth of the Nation” by P.O.D., and “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People

Jeremy by Pearl Jam 1992 grunge rock song single cover art child gun firearm pistol school shooting

Columbine High School Shooting Anniversary Special:
Their children murdering themselves and being murdered by firearms in their schools is such a fixture of U.S. life that the Americans routinely consume songs about the subject on their radios.
⁓The Voice before the Void

Better Run: U.S. School Shootings, 1991-2014, and 3 Songs: “Jeremy” by Pearl Jam, “Youth of the Nation” by P.O.D., and “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People

Data from the Wikipedia incomplete “List of school shootings in the United States”:

1991
4 school shootings, with 1 person injured and 8 people killed

1992
4 school shootings, with 15 people injured and 8 people killed

The single “Jeremy” by the band Pearl Jam was released 1992 September 27. On the U.S. Billboard charts, it reached #79 on the Hot 100 chart, #5 on the Modern Rock chart, and #5 on the Mainstream Rock chart.

“Jeremy”

Eddie Vedder

At home, drawing pictures of mountain tops
With him on top
Lemon yellow sun, arms raised in a V
And the dead lay in pools of maroon below Continue reading

“Requiescat” by Oscar Wilde

To live is to lose.
⁓The Voice before the Void

“Requiescat”

Oscar Wilde

Tread lightly, she is near
Under the snow,
Speak gently, she can hear
The daisies grow. Continue reading

“Armistice Day” by Roselle Mercier Montgomery

Armistice Day Special:
Until war is abolished.
⁓The Voice before the Void

“Armistice Day”

Roselle Mercier Montgomery

I think I hear them stirring there, today,
Who have lain still
So long, so long, beside the Aisne and Loire,
On Verdun hill.

I think I hear them whispering, today,
The young, the brave,
The gallant and the gay–unmurmuring long,
There in the grave. Continue reading

“Joy” by The Voice before the Void

Armistice Day Special:
In commemoration of World War I

“Joy”

The Voice before the Void

Millions died in mud

Joy exists only as a shadow’s shadow
For death is the model and senses but fracture

Yet within ten centimeters lies buried pleasure Continue reading

“Shiloh: A Requiem” by Herman Melville

Battle of Shiloh Anniversary Special:
So many ever dead.
⁓The Voice before the Void

“Shiloh: A Requiem”

Herman Melville

Skimming lightly, wheeling still,
The swallows fly low
O’er the field in clouded days,
The forest-field of Shiloh —
Over the field where April rain
Solaced the parched ones stretched in pain,
Through the pauses of the night —
That followed the Sunday fight
Around the church of Shiloh —
The church so lone, the log-built one,
That echoed to many a parting groan
And natural prayer
Of dying foemen mingled there —
Foemen at morn, but friends at eve —
Fame or country least their care:
(What like a bullet can undeceive!)
But now they lie low,
While over them the swallows skim,
And all is hushed at Shiloh.

“O Captain! My Captain!” by Walt Whitman

Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday Special:
Whitman’s wrenching tribute to his president.
⁓The Voice before the Void

O Captain My Captain by Walt Whitman 1865 with revision notes

“O Captain! My Captain!”

Walt Whitman

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead. Continue reading

“Fredericksburg” by Thomas Bailey Aldrich

Battle of Fredericksburg Anniversary Special:
Ever do men destroy each other.
⁓The Voice before the Void

“Fredericksburg”

Thomas Bailey Aldrich

The increasing moonlight drifts across my bed,
And on the churchyard by the road, I know
It falls as white and noiselessly as snow. . . .
‘T was such a night two weary summers fled;
The stars, as now, were waning overhead.
Listen! Again the shrill-lipped bugles blow
Where the swift currents of the river flow
Past Fredericksburg; far off the heavens are red
With sudden conflagration; on yon height,
Linstock in hand, the gunners hold their breath;
A signal rocket pierces the dense night,
Flings its spent stars upon the town beneath:
Hark!–the artillery massing on the right,
Hark!–the black squadrons wheeling down to Death!

“As to some lovely temple, tenantless” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Sensual, macabre: a love poem as you’d expect from Millay.
⁓The Voice before the Void

“As to some lovely temple, tenantless”

Edna St. Vincent Millay

As to some lovely temple, tenantless
Long since, that once was sweet with shivering brass,
Knowing well its altars ruined and the grass
Grown up between the stones, yet from excess
Of grief hard driven, or great loneliness,
The worshiper returns, and those who pass
Marvel him crying on a name that was, —
So is it now with me in my distress.
Your body was a temple to Delight;
Cold are its ashes whence the breath is fled,
Yet here one time your spirit was wont to move;
Here might I hope to find you day or night,
And here I come to look for you, my love,
Even now, foolishly, knowing you are dead.

“Fighting South of the Castle” by anonymous

A 2,100-year-old Chinese war poem. The era and locale of any specific war is immaterial; the effect of all war remains recognizable.
⁓The Voice before the Void

“Fighting South of the Castle”

anonymous

translated from the Chinese by Arthur Waley

They fought south of the Castle,
They died north of the wall.
They died in the moors and were not buried.
Their flesh was the food of crows. Continue reading

“Into the Blizzard: Suicide by Ice” by The Voice before the Void

For much of the year in North Dakota and other obliteratingly cold climates, suicide can be as simple as going for a walk: an original sonnet.
⁓The Voice before the Void

“Into the Blizzard: Suicide by Ice”

The Voice before the Void

O Bastard blizzard blowing ice and smite:
Come; claim these fingers and these toes, this nose–
Of them no need have I where I go, where
Cold has no hold, where sun shall not heat me,
Nor wind freeze me, nor sorrow deplete me.
Blow you ice wind about my brow; cleanse my
Mind of the lies required of the alive–
Replace them with ice; encase me in ice.

My skin invisible through your flurries,
My voice inaudible above your roar,
Tonight when I sink in your drifts clean, pure,
To sleep, I shall be forced to rise no more.
At last, at long last: in ice I be free;
My Heart, my scorched Heart: calmed, cooled, finally.