Basic Training

I have included 6 out of the 18 poems in the Korean War Project collection. The poems are in chronological order, more or less. The following is the first. 


Basic Training


All wars have rats, but morning after morning
I was still surprised to wake to one
a foot in length sitting on my chest,
its nose twitching or licking salt from claws.


            I had had experience with rats
            back on the farm we bought in ’41.
            For every one that trundled by in day,
            a hundred more scuttled through the night.


One night in the foxhole outside the bunker,
Frank and me killed 13 with our rifle butts.
What luxury! Up the road in gulags,
men were eating them for meat.


            My first rifle was a gift when I
            was ten, and in between the milking, planting,
            slopping hogs, I’d snipe those flea traps,
            toss them in a heap behind the barn.


In the dugout, I had the highest cot,
my face three feet from the bunker’s top.
Still, that didn’t stop the rats from reaching
me, dancing up a ladder made of men.


            In Iowa, we cut in half steel drums,
            poured in a couple feet of water, sprinkled
            strychnine in, laid a plank up to the rim.
            Come morning, I’d scoop out the bloated bodies.


            For four years we battled with the rats,
            until we brought the big guns in: a ferret
            and terrier did the job. I’m not saying
            living on the farm prepared a boy for war;


it just gave me rat experience is all.