with critique by Jendi Reiter
Cold for June again this year.
Only in this stupid way
is her heart weak, but his
hale for her, so he won't go,
by himself, saying
it does not matter, those beaches
remain, great gun shocks will resound, strewn
litter of machines and men be again, the floating
harbors and bodies,
will always be there.
Sure a day that defined, refined him in its fire,
the fear, decks slicked by vomit, lip smacking waves, air rip of 88 shells, gun smoke
war fogs, the need for him
Rockaway lifeguard joined to a
life saving service
the need to pass the drowning men, returning
from the troop ships to the beach and back again,
—must get inland, link up, repulse counter
attacks to broom them back to the sea—(where only death is)
the count of drowning men dwindling,
melting into the cold sea,
this as good as any
image of war.
And he is right, what remains remains.
When they do go, they'll find some
of his fellows, some returning in every month
of every year, to remember what they were before
that day and place, what became.
And it is fit she return with him,
since for her he fought in that last good war.
Cold for June again this year. I
will go to Normandy some year
and they will all, all be there.
Copyright 2008 by Michael P. Riley
Critique by Jendi Reiter
Michael P. Riley's "On My Father's Dashed Hopes..." captures the stoic bravery of the generation that fought in World War II. Reticent about the horrors they saw in America's "last good war", these men and women now must call upon that same quiet strength to confront old age with dignity.
It's easy to imagine the narrator's father saying "Cold again for June this year," perhaps in a gruff Yankee voice, as his only comment on his cancelled plans. These are people for whom small talk must speak volumes. (As the military posters said, loose lips sink ships.) While their children and grandchildren, products of the therapeutic culture, are more in the habit of talking their feelings out, this veteran's wife might feel that the most sensitive thing he can do is spare her the reminder of her infirmity and avoid a conversation that would leave her feeling guilty.
His tactful sacrifice mirrors the one he made fifty years earlier, also (the poem tells us) for her. Then, he went to Normandy, plunging into the fear and chaos of battle; now, when that coastline is at peace, his sacrifice is to remain at home, supporting his wife in her fight against illness. The enduring tenderness of their marriage creates a small safe place amid the tumult of "decks slicked by vomit, lip smacking waves, air rip of 88 shells, gun smoke".
The poem's final lines bring past and present together, suggesting a completion that transcends time. "I/will go to Normandy some year/and they will all, all be there." In the end, there is no need for anxious haste. Whenever the speaker visits, the dead and the living will greet him, reconciled and reunited. The repetition of "all" assures us that death is not a permanent barrier—healing news for those veterans who remember, with relief and guilt, "the need to pass the drowning men" and continue their advance up the beach.
The ending echoes and resolves the earlier lines where the confusion of time periods was not so benign: "those beaches/remain...the floating/harbors and bodies,/will always be there." In a sense, he was not lying to his wife when he said he did not need to revisit the battlefield, since it is always with him, a part of his identity, that "day that defined, refined him in its fire".
What the veterans actually rediscover when they return to Normandy is their peacetime selves, "what they were before/that day and place, what became." Safe at home, they still carry the war inside them, and must go back to the scene of the violence in order to understand how peace feels. This is but one example of Riley's skillful use of paradox to weave connections between the wartime experience and the present day, crafting a war poem that is also a gentle love story.
Where could a poem like "On My Father's Dashed Hopes..." be submitted? The following contests may be of interest:
Brodine/Brodinsky Poetry Competition
Postmark Deadline: July 31
Connecticut Poetry Society offers top prize of $150 and anthology publication for unpublished poems up to 40 lines; 2008 is the final year for this contest
Wells Festival of Literature International Poetry Competition
Entries must be received by July 31
Prizes up to 500 pounds for unpublished poems; no simultaneous submissions; "the form need not be traditional, but rhythm and scansion will be expected"
Arvon International Poetry Contest
Entries must be received by August 15
One of the largest and most prestigious British contests for unpublished poems, with prizes up to 5,000 pounds; runs in even-numbered years only
Oregon State Poetry Association Contests
Postmark Deadline: September 5
Prizes up to $100 in open-theme category, $50 in other categories
Surrey International Writers' Conference Writing Contest
Entries must be received by September 5
Canadian literary conference offers prizes up to C$1,000 for poetry, fiction, essays, and children's literature; online entries accepted
Firstwriter.com International Poetry Competition
Entries must be received by October 1
Writers' resource site offers prizes up to 500 pounds for published or unpublished poems, 30 lines maximum; enter online only
Lucidity Poetry Journal Awards
Postmark Deadline: October 31
Prizes up to $100 for poems in "clear and concise English" that deal with people and interpersonal relationships
This poem and critique appeared in the July 2008 issue of Winning Writers Newsletter (subscribe free). If you'd like a chance to be critiqued, please email your poem to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send your poem in the body of your email, rather than as an attachment. One poem per month only, please.
Several of our critique poets have asked me whether their poem would be considered "published", and therefore ineligible for most contests, after appearing in our newsletter. My guess would be yes, but check with the contest coordinator just in case, because some publishers may treat print and online publications differently.