Bruce Weigl

Song of Napalm


After the storm, after the rain stopped pounding,
we stood in the doorway watching horses
walk off lazily across the pasture's hill.
We stared through the black screen,
our vision altered by distance
so I thought I saw a mist
kicked up around their hooves when they faded
like cut-out horses
away from us.
The grass was never more blue in that light, more
scarlet; beyond the pasture
trees scraped their voices into the wind, branches
crosscrossed the sky like barbed wire
but you said they were only branches.

Okay. The storm stopped pounding.
I am trying to say this straight: for once
I was sane enough to pause and breathe
outside my wild plans and after the hard rain
I turned my back on the old curses. I believed
they swung finally away from me . . .

But still the branches are wire
and thunder is the pounding mortar,
still 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.

So I can keep on living,
so I can stay here beside you,
I try to imagine she runs down the road and wings
beat inside her until she rises
above the stinking jungle and her pain
eases, and your pain, and mine.

But the lie swings back again.
The lie works only as long as it takes to speak
and the girl runs only as far
as the napalm allows
until her burning tendons and crackling
muscles draw her up
into that final position
burning bodies so perfectly assume. Nothing
can change that, she is burned behind my eyes
and not your good love and not the rain-swept air
and not the jungle-green
pasture unfolding before us can deny it.

Copyright 1988 by Bruce Weigl
Reproduced with kind permission


The basic story line of Song of Napalm follows a Viet Nam soldiers' recollections of a scene he once saw. His mind tries to distort the image of a woman getting bombed with napalm into a pleasant scene. The effort to make the scene pleasurable is the mind's way of trying to protect itself from the horrific incident that actually happened. Bruce is trying to shelter his psyche from the debilitating effects of war. But in the end, he cannot maintain the self-deception, and must face the cold, hard truth.

The truth makes Bruce feel dirty next to his wife. He wants to try to make his memories of Viet Nam clean so that he can feel better being with her.


Patience Mason writes: "I see the poem as a straight narrative of what it is like to live with memories like that. He doesn't feel dirty. He has flashbacks triggered by rain and thunder and lightning and she wants him to be over it because she doesn't understand. He will never be "over it." When I give talks about PTSD to people who work with veterans I read that poem and one of mine which shows the incomprehensibility of the experience to family members even when they care. My husband wrote a book called Chickenhawk (Robert Mason) and I have written one called Recovering From The War (Patience Mason) and publish a newsletter for trauma survivors." (WolfSoul's NOTE: Patience publishes a newsletter for sufferers of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which can be found at: Her books, as well as those of her husband, Robert Mason, can also be purchased from the site. One of her poems can be found on my Poetry Post Page HERE.)

go to "Short" go to "The Last Lie"
go to "The Kiss" go to "Snowy Egret"
go to "Mercy " go to "On the Anniversary of Her Grace"