Thank You for Your Service

Collected Poems

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About the Book

Fifty-five years in the writing, these are the collected poems of W.D. Ehrhart, one of the major figures in Vietnam War literature. Arranged chronologically, it allows readers to trace the development of a writer whose talents are bound together by the lingering physical, psychological, political and intellectual sensibilities the author first developed as a young enlisted Marine during the Vietnam War. And while many of the poems deal with the author’s encounter with the Vietnam War and its endless consequences, the poems range widely in content from family and friends to nature and the environment to the blessings and absurdities of the human condition.

About the Author(s)

Memoirist, poet and editor and former Marine W.D. Ehrhart teaches English and history at the Haverford School in Haverford, Pennsylvania. The author of twenty books, his prose and poetry have appeared in hundreds of publications including the Los Angeles Times, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Utne Reader, Reader’s Digest, American Poetry Review and the Virginia Quarterly Review.

Bibliographic Details

W.D. Ehrhart
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 310
Bibliographic Info: indexes
Copyright Date: 2019
pISBN: 978-1-4766-7853-5
eISBN: 978-1-4766-3662-7
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments  xv
Introduction by Lorrie Goldensohn  xix
Juvenilia, 1963–1967
So Much Time 1
Excerpts from the Mind of the Writer 1
Friendship 2
Viet Nam—February 1967 2
1969–1971
Listening Post 3
One Night on Guard Duty 4
The Sniper’s Mark 4
The Generals’ War 4
Hunting 5
Christ 5
Gettysburg 5
Dancing 6
Starships 6
To Swarthmore 7
1971–1973
Perimeter Guard 12
Souvenirs 13
Sergeant Jones 13
The Rat 14
Mail Call 14
The One That Died 14
Night Patrol 15
The Next Step 15
Guerrilla War 16
Time on Target 16
The Hawk and Two Suns 17
The Ambush 17
Another Life 18
The Bob Hope Christmas
Special 19
Coming Home 19
A Relative Thing 20
Old Myths 21
A Generation of Peace 22
Imagine 22
Rehoboth 23
The Living 24
September 25
Yours 26
Charleston 26
1974
Rhythm 29
The Flying Gypsy 29
Myers, Messick & Me 30
1975
The Last Day 31
The Obsession 31
The Traveler 32
Granddad 33
To the Asian Victors 33
The Fool 34
Geese 35
Bicentennial 36
Money in the Bank 37
Shadows 38
Making the Children Behave 39
The Silent 39
1976
Vietnam Veterans, After All 40
To Those Who Have Gone Home Tired 41
Going Home with the Monkeys 42
Ghosts 43
Going Down Off Columbia
Bar 43
To Maynard on the Long
Road Home 44
The Death of Kings 45
Colorado 46
Rootless 46
Letters 47
Cascais 47
Jimmy 48
1977
The Trial 49
Leaving the Guns Behind 50
Helpless 51
Coma 51
Letter 51
Portrait of Friends 52
After the Fire 53
Desire 54
Cast Out 54
Twodot, Montana 55
Growing Older Alone 56
The Last Prayer of
Michelangelo 57
Sanctuary 57
Welcome 58
Empire 59
1978
Vietnamese-Cambodian
Border War 61
The Spiders’ White Dream of Peace 61
An Exorcism 62
A Confirmation 63
Driving Through
Wisconsin 66
Great Horned Owl 67
Eighteen Months in Chicago 67
Waking Alone in Darkness 68
Peary & Henson Reach the North Pole 68
The Teacher 69
Turning Thirty 70
Again, Rehoboth 71
Companions 73
Last of the ­Hard-hearted Ladies 74
1979
Fog 75
Another Way of Seeing 76
The Grim Art of Teaching 77
The Dancers 77
Lost at Sea 78
Afraid of the Dark 79
The Dream 79
Driving into the Future 81
Sunset 82
1980
The Farmer 83
Near-sighted 84
Channel Fever 85
The World As It Is 86
The Vision 87
The Eruption of Mount St. Helens 88
Matters of the Heart 89
Briana 90
1981
Gifts 91
Sound Advice 92
Continuity 93
New Jersey Pine Barrens 94
Pagan 95
Deer 96
A Warning to My Students 96
1982
Surviving the Bomb One
More Day 98
The Blizzard of ­Sixty-six 98
Letter to the Survivors 99
Everett Dirksen, His Wife, You & Me 100
High Country 101
Cowgirls, Teachers & Dreams 102
Canoeing the Potomac 103
“…the light that cannot fade…” 104
The Outer Banks 105
The Suicide 110
1983
Climbing to Heaven 110
Moments When the World
Consents 111
Letter from an Old Lover 112
Appearances 113
Responsibility 113
The Reason Why 114
The Invasion of Grenada 115
1984
On the Right to Vote 115
1985
Winter Bells 116
Parade 117
POW/MIA 118
1986
Apples 119
For Mrs. Na 120
The Ducks on Wissahickon Creek 121
Twice Betrayed 121
Water 122
Adoquinas 123
Heather 124
1987
The Beech Tree 124
Some Other World 125
Nicaragua Libre 126
Why I Don’t Mind Rocking
Leela to Sleep 127
The Trouble with Poets 128
What Keeps Me Going 129
Small Song for Daddy 130
The Storm 130
Starting Over 131
Second Thoughts 132
1988
Lost Years 133
Chasing Locomotives 134
Secrets 134
Lenin 135
Keeping My Distance 136
Just for Laughs 137
The Next World War 138
Not Your Problem 138
For Anne, Approaching Thirty-five 139
1989
For a Coming Extinction 139
What You Gave Me 140
The Origins of Passion 141
America Enters the 1990s 142
The Way Light Bends 142
The Poet as Athlete 143
In the Valley of the Shadow 144
How I Live 145
The Facts of Life 146
The Heart of the Poem 147
What We’re Buying 147
1990
A Scientific Treatise for
My Wife 148
Song for Leela, Bobby & Me 149
The Old Soldiers 150
Love in an Evil Time 150
A Small Romance 151
The Children of Hanoi 152
Who Did What to Whom 152
The Lotus Cutters of Hồ Tây 153
Guns 153
Singing Hymns in Church 154
1991
The Cradle of Civilization 155
Finding My Old Battalion
Command Post 156
The Simple Lives of Cats 157
After the Latest Victory 157
A Vietnamese Bidding Farewell to the Remains of an American 158
Star Light, Star Bright 159
More Than You Ever
Imagined 160
America in the Late 20th Century 160
The Exercise of Power 161
The Open Door 162
Governor Rhodes Keeps
His Word 162
1992
The Distance We Travel 163
What War Does 165
Sleeping with General Chi 166
Making Love in the Garden 168
What I Know About Myself 168
On Any Given Day 169
Guatemala 170
Long Shot ­O’Leary Ain’t
Dead Yet 170
Midnight at the Vietnam
Veterans Memorial 171
The Last Time I Dreamed
About the War 172
1993
Small Talk 173
How It All Comes Back 173
Purple Heart 174
Red-tailed Hawks 175
Mostly Nothing Happens 176
1994
Beautiful Wreckage 180
Strangers 180
Not for You 181
Prayer for My Enemies 182
Suffer the Little Children 182
Sarajevo 183
Dropping Leela Off at School 184
After the Winter of 1994 185
1995
Drought 186
Variations on Squam Lake 186
The Perversion of Faith 187
Reading Out Loud 188
1996
Christmas Miracles 188
The First French Kiss 189
Visiting My Parents’ Graves 189
Cycling the Rosental 191
The Rocker 192
Ginger 193
Rehoboth, One Last Time 194
Night Sailing 194
Is It Always This Hard? 195
What Goes Around Comes Around 197
Because It’s Important 198
I Just Want You to Know 198
The Sergeant 199
Jogging with the Philosopher 200
A Meditation on Family
Geography and a Prayer for My Daughter 201
1997
Cliches Become Cliches
Because They’re True 202
Detroit River Blues 203
Artsy Fartsy Whiskey & Girls 204
Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer 205
The Orphan 206
1998
Music Lessons 206
1999
For My Daughter, Alone in the World 207
Gravestones at Oxwich Bay 208
Sins of the Fathers 208
2000
What Better Way to Begin 209
Letting Go 210
Sleeping with the Dead 211
On the Eve of Destruction 212
The Wreckage Along the Road 212
2001
The Damage We Do 213
September 11th 215
The Bombing of Afghanistan 216
2002
Seminar on the Nature of Reality 218
2003
Home Before Morning 219
Breakfast with You and Emily Dickinson 220
2004
Kosovo 222
Manning the Walls 223
Meditations on Pedagogy 225
All About Death 226
All About Love 227
Golfing with My Father 228
2005
Coaching Winter Track in Time of War 229
Reflections on the Papacy 230
Oh, Canada 231
Primitive Art, or: The Art of the Primitive 232
Home on the Range 233
2006
What the Fuss Is All About 234
Temple Poem 235
Down and Out in Darfur 235
2007
The Work of Love 236
The Bodies Beneath the Table 237
Turning Sixty 237
2008
What Makes a Man 239
Extra! Extra! 240
Epiphany 240
The Secret Lives of Boys 240
2009
Burning Leaves 242
Life in the Neighborhood 242
2010
Redipuglia 243
Children of Adam & Eve 245
2011
How History Gets Written 246
2012
Patrick 247
Judas Joyful 247
Cheating the Reaper 248
2013
What It Signifies 249
First Day of School 250
2014
The Baby in the Box 251
Long Time Gone 252
2015
Praying at the Altar 252
Spontaneous Combustion 253
It’s About You 254
The Amish Boys on Sunday 254
2016
Here’s to Us 255
I Dream of Alternate
Histories 256
Old Men Bodysurfing 257
The Poetry of Science 258
Lunch at the A&N Diner 258
Making America Great Again 259
2017
Dancing in the Streets 260
Silver Linings 261
2018
The Right to Bear Arms 262
Playing It Safe 262
Thank You for Your Service 263
Also by W.D. Ehrhart  265
Military History of W.D. Ehrhart  267
About the Poet  269
Index of Titles  271
Index of First Lines  275

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “A hunger for honesty and a charged lyricism have always made Bill Ehrhart’s poetry remarkably his own. Though he’s best known for his Vietnam War poems with their sharp moral outcry and humane insight, Thank You for Your Service: Collected Poems includes many lovely poems not about Vietnam. This book deserves serious recognition.”—John Balaban, poet-in-residence, North Carolina State University, author of Remembering Heaven’s Face
  • “Bill Ehrhart is the finest combat veteran poet to come out of the Vietnam War. But his poetry transcends his war experience and eloquently reveals the healing powers of family and love. In all of his written work, Bill is brutally honest in the revelation of his own and our society’s flaws and virtues. He is the master of sharing the most complex truths in seemingly simple language. He is a poet who will represent the important truths of our time for generations to come.”—Joseph T. Cox, Colonel, US Army, retired, author of The Written Wars
  • “Amazing; just amazing. Profound, powerful, startling. I’d be glad to be able to write these poems. I’m glad you can. And do. They’re really good. And good to read. Thank you for what you write, for what you remember.”—Daniel Ellsberg, author of Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers and The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner
  • “W.D. Ehrhart has been leading the vanguard of Vietnam War poets for decades. It’s hardly news that Ehrhart has garnered the reputation of ‘the dean of Vietnam war poetry.’ But his poems over the last several decades are also steadily gaining him recognition as a major contemporary American poet, with a range far wider and deeper than that of just a Vietnam War poet. In fact, I cannot think of a poet who has been giving us deeper and more valuable insights to our epoch. His poetry is not just insightful and beautiful but also extraordinarily accessible.”— H. Bruce Franklin, John Cotton Dana Professor of English & American Studies, Rutgers-Newark, Emeritus, author of Crash Course: From the Good War to the Forever War
  • “W.D. Ehrhart is one of the most important and enduring writers to have emerged from the American war in Vietnam. Since the publication of his first collection, A Generation of Peace, in 1975, his prodigious poetic production has rightfully earned him a reputation as one of the preeminent poets of the war—a war that provoked an exceptional outpouring of poetry. The significance of his contribution to this extraordinary body of work cannot be overstated. Still, it would be a mistake to think of Ehrhart as solely a war poet. His pieces offer interesting reflections on many aspects of American life, and these poems are no less penetrating in their vision, skilled in their description, profound in their thinking, or powerful in their emotion than the war works. Ehrhart is a poet who deserves to be widely read.”—Dr. Adam Gilbert, Leverhulme Fellow, University of Sussex, author of A Shadow on Our Hearts: Soldier-Poetry, Morality, and the American War in Vietnam
  • “Bill Ehrhart is the poet perhaps of the Vietnam War.”—Studs Terkel, oral historian and author of The Good War.
  • Reviews of The Bodies Beneath the Table: “The Poetry of W.D. Ehrhart is sublime, earthy, gritty and delicate, precise and original, uniquely appealing to both the heart and the intellect.”—M. L. Liebler, Wide Awake in Someone Else’s Dream
  • “Ehrhart takes the elemental experiences of our daily lives and transforms them into moments of compelling insight. These poems resonate with grace and decency.”—Dale Ritterbusch, Far from the Temple of Heaven.
  • Reviews of Beautiful Wreckage: “Welded in the fires of Vietnam, these strong, sure, memorable poems encompass love, family, and supple lyrics like ‘The Way Light Bends.’ The clarity of vision and depth of feelings in these pages will enhance Bill Ehrhart’s standing as a major voice of his generation.”—Daniel Hoffman, poetry consultant to the Library of Congress, now known as Poet Laureate of the United States
  • “Bill Ehrhart is a wonderful poet, a force of nature, a conscience that won’t let us off the hook. His writing is not the fashionable embroidery that these days too often passes for poetry. There are neither ready-made emotions nor ready-made answers here, only authentic experience, transmitted indelibly by Ehrhart’s crat and art. Anyone who can read this book without tears would be well-advised to go back and learn again how to read, and how to live.”—Philip Appleman, professor emeritus, Indiana University.
  • Reviews of Just for Laughs: “Above all, Ehrhart’s poems warn, we are accountable to future generations; we have a choice about what values we will pass on and which stories we will tell.”—Lorrie Smith, Landing Zones: Approaches to Literature of the Vietnam War
  • “Ehrhart’s voice may possess matter-of-fact rhythms, but that quality masques a content which bristles with intelligence and finally is downright startling.”—Michael Stephens, The Dramaturgy of Style
  • “Ehrhart’s poetry seems to catch in its flat cadences a tough realism and, through its accessible and direct mode of address, a genuine voice of conscience.”—Alf Louvre and Jeffrey Walsh, Tell Me Lies About Vietnam.