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IOWA WINTER HAIKU

Canada geese honk
                    in the lopsided trailing
          edge—a ragged V

                              new snowbank glistens
          with bright flecks of diamond,
                    crystalline sugar

                    starlings clustering
power lines, strung beads against white
                              sky, heads under wings

                              constellations drift
          in headlights . . . slick sidewinders
          scuffling in the road

                    snowflakes spiral like
                              tiny birds pirouetting
in crisp knifeblade air

LOOKING FOR DOUBLE VICTORY

                  Written in response to the dedication of the
                  National World War II Memorial, 29 May 2004

 

                  “The V for victory sign is being displayed prominently in all so-called
                  democratic countries which are fighting for victory over aggression, slavery,
                  and tyranny. If the V sign means that to those now engaged in this great
                  conflict, then let we colored Americans adopt the double VV for a double
                  victory. The first V for victory over enemies from without, the second V for
                  victory over our enemies from within.”

                                —James G. Thompson, letter to the Pittsburgh Courier,
                                    31 January 1942 (quoted by Ronald Takaki in
Double Victory:
                                    A Multicultural History of America in World War II)
 

Around and through these fifty-six pillars
of white stone hung with wreaths of bronze,
drift and dive four hundred thousand ghosts—
keening, unheard, indignant desert birds.

The war to uphold FDR’s Four Freedoms,
fought by Americans who never in their lives
tasted freedom of speech, freedom of worship,
freedom from want, freedom from fear. Never.

Dorie Miller, black Navy messman
at Pearl Harbor, firing an ack-ack gun,
a weapon he was forbidden to touch, downed
four Japanese bombers . . . strange fruit.

Ernest Childers, Muscogee infantryman
With the “Thunderbird,” single-handedly
cleared two German machine-gun nests . . .
first Indian to win the Medal of Honor.

Guy Louis Gabaldon, Chicano
Marine from East LA, fluent speaker
of Japanese, captured eight hundred
prisoners on his own without a shot.

Susan Ahn, daughter of Ahn Chang Ho,
renowned Korean freedom fighter . . . first
Asian American in the US Navy, first
woman gunnery officer in 1944.

My Papa, my Lolo—Martin and Felix Gotera—
trudge through a fog of kayumanggi dust
lit by sword blade’s sinister flash. Bataan!
Bloody but unbowed. Survive. Mabuhay.

My friend Bino curses these pillars, calls
them “horns.” His father, death-march survivor, denied
burial at Arlington. “No Filipinos Allowed.”
The Rescission Act. Give then take away.

Friends, although eight eagles lift here two
laurel wreaths for victory, the “Double VV”
has yet to be fully won. The demon vanquished
abroad still lives, here, at home. Flourishing.

We still recall with anguish Truman’s bombs,
two hundred thousand victims, mostly women
and children, black rain, skin burning. Legacy
of dishonor. Not a military necessity.

Today, let us remember these honored dead.
Let us remember the civilians—many women—
who riveted planes, who lived behind barbed wire.
Live up to the vision of all these heroes . . . all.

Let us win the second victory, at last.
Make the Four Freedoms real for each and all.
Then let these four hundred thousand ghosts, angels,
Rest their fiery wings in God’s breast, and sleep.

CHORUS OF GLORIES

                                —Instructions for performance: assign one person (or group) to voice
                                    each speaker, then read the four “glories” aloud and in unison.
                                    Note: readers may need to practice several times, letting go of
                                    personal intonation in favor of group syllabics, to allow the
                                    glossolalic effect to take hold. Marvelous for parties, choir
                                    rehearsals, and university committee meetings.
 

                                                    —after Robert Mezey and John Barth
 

The Surfer

Chlorine be to the frother, and to the sand, and to the shoal we
coast. Acid wash in the beginner is gnarly, ever chill, babe.
Curl without land. We men.
 

The Dieter

Calories be in the fodder, and in the scent, and in the whole wheat
toast. As weight was in the beginning, is now and ever-so-Elvis,
whirl with Attends. Weigh ’em in.
 

The Avant-Garde Artiste

Galleries be to the Fad War, into the Scene, into the whole East
Coast. As we test ’em, the big ending is knowing if there shall be
pearls in our hand. Oh, man.
 

The “Pre-Owned Vehicle” Dealer

Glory be to the four-door, and to the shine, and to the full lease,
most. Mitsubishi, the beguiling, Nissan and ever Shelby,
hurled without end. Aim in.

CONTRIBUTOR

Vince Gotera serves as Editor of the North American Review. He is a
Professor of English at the University of Northern Iowa, where he teaches
creative writing (poetry and fiction) as well as multicultural literature.
His books include three poetry collections—
Dragonfly, Ghost Wars, and
Fighting Kite—as well as a critical study—Radical Visions: Poetry by
Vietnam Veterans.
 

ON “IOWA WINTER HAIKU” —

“My thanks to Derek Sheffield for pointing out that ‘Canada Geese’ is the
correct nomenclature, not ‘Canadian Geese.’ Since
Mirror Northwest’s
Contemporary Poetry pages are primarily a resource for students of
poetry writing, it’s important to note that current haiku writers no longer
feel constrained to write in the traditional 5-7-5 syllable pattern. I have
done so because of my interest in lineation and the different emotional
effects achieved through the modulation of endstop and enjambment,
especially in the context of a rigid syllabic scheme. For example, the
extreme enjambment in “trailing / edge” or “white / sky” are meant to
imply a hushed, pregnant starkness in the wintry landscape.”   
—VG
 

ON “LOOKING FOR DOUBLE VICTORY” —

“To mimic the pillars of the National WWII Memorial, I endstopped each
of the quatrains so that they are all freestanding. Also, to retain the
memorial’s spirit of honoring the combatants, I wrote the poem in
pentameter—admittedly, loose and rough—to allude to the tradition
of the iambic pentameter heroic couplet.”   
—VG
 

ON “CHORUS OF GLORIES” —

“This is a light-hearted experiment in poetic music, especially so-called
‘rich consonance.’ I am of course indebted to Hopkins and, more
particularly, Robert Mezey's ‘Prose and Cons’ in his book
Evening Wind
and also John Barth's ‘Glossolalia’ in
Lost in the Funhouse. Although my
‘Instructions for performance’ are tongue-in-cheek, I hope you will try
reading the different sections out loud chorally in unison groups.”   
—VG