Featured Poet: Pam Bernard, Walpole
Pam Bernard, a poet and painter, received her BA from Harvard
University in History of Art and her MFA in Creative Writing from the
Graduate Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. Ms. Bernard
teaches at Emerson College and New Hampshire Community Technical
College. Her most recent awards are a second Massachusetts Cultural
Council Fellowship in Poetry, a National Endowment for the Arts
Fellowship in Creative Writing, and a MacDowell Fellowship. Her most
recent full-length collection of poetry is entitled Across the Dark.
Ms. Bernard lives in Walpole, New Hampshire.
Of her featured poems, Pam writes:
This series of narratives about the Great War is from my current
manuscript entitled Blood Garden. My father, who was well old enough
to have been my grandfather, was one of the first Americans to enter
the First World War in the fall of 1917. When he landed in France with
his best friend from home, he was seventeen years old. Those who
survived the conflict were not encouraged to offer witness. In fact,
the opposite was almost always the case as boys returned to their lives
with no way to express their experience. Ghastly nightmares he called
night horses were all that surfaced of my father’s life in the
trenches, and he suffered them until the day he died. While the truths
of the war for many remain blurred by time, we have other ways to
remember—left as we are with a genetic memory that gets passed down
through generations, just as surely as abuse within a family. I wish
in these poems to address this consequence of the Great War, and, I
hope, in the process, all war.
Excerpted from Blood Garden: an elegy for Raymond
American Yankee Division training camp, near Rennes, France
Never such innocence again.
Rain has been continuous—
supply roads are muck beds full
of lories sunk up to their axels, sodden
horses so weak from the crossing
they have forgotten their commands.
Drill fields are ankle-deep in mud.
At morning formations Raymond drops
from exhaustion and nearly drowns.
Tomorrow they leave finally for the front.
On the way, they are packed
into slatted cattle cars, others
on motor transports riding on
rubberless tires. Four months
in training with a wooden rifle,
now Raymond holds his brand new
Springfield on his lap.
For the first time he is frightened.
He can’t remember why he is there.
The stench of the front finds Raymond
long before he arrives. Carbolic
and ether, human and animal parts
in sepsis and putrefaction, chloride of lime,
cordite, the sickly stink of gas.
And mixed with it all, the waste
of a million men. The smell reaches
back into the primitive realm of the brain.
Run, it says, and don’t stop
until you are far away from here.
Young Raymond had spent the day
making land with his father. With wood
fulcrum and pry bar, they lifted
huge boulders onto the stone boat
hitched to the family’s old black Percheron.
Her long hip and wide powerful thighs
made light work of their burden.
Raymond commanded the last load
to meadow’s edge, where a doe and her two young
fed—mute, indistinguishable from
what surrounded them—
The boy sensed movement and turned—
but by then they were gone.
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