What does a poet do when the war is all over the news? He responds, she responds. Writers everywhere are responding to the horrific war in Ukraine, posting new work of their own and sharing poems by Ukrainian poets of today and the past. Artists of all kinds are telling us how they feel, what they see, who they are thinking of, what we can do. Jane Brox says we write to organize our response to world, and Tom Sexton says he writes because it’s what he can do.
Bill O’Connell lives in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts between the Connecticut River and Quabbin Reservoir. Bill is a recent winner in the Atlantic Currents II writing contest for his poem “When We Were All Still Alive,” the title poem from his new book from Open Field Press, which is available at SPDBooks.org. His other books are Sakonnet Point and On the Map to Your Life. Bill is a graduate of UMass Lowell, with a master’s degree from Colorado State University. He has a poem forthcoming in The Lowell Review 2022, due this month.
Bill O’Connell: Three Poems, War in Ukraine
Today we will learn what went on
in the war while we slept
far from the whistle and boom
of Grad rockets on Kiev —
what flying steel will do
to concrete, families in basements
hanging on. I saw it
in my mind and on
CNN: fireballs —
the laws of physics splattered,
a family with suitcases
shocked to death by a blast.
No darkness without the lit places —
the downtown of the mind defended
by partisans. In the movies the invaders
appear from the skies, the myth
of the next great coming —
metal-limbed, reduced to circuits
without senses but sensors
we outwit and explode
back into space,
to planets we can only imagine, seek
to go there and destroy.
No one slept in Kiev last night
where it is night again as we wake
to tune into CNN to view
the damage. Clucking our tongues
at the invaders, rivers of grief, cities
shot to rubble, televised war
in real time, no hero coming
to save the day
but heroes none the less
waiting among broken concrete
and burnt tanks
for the Russians.
Stop Making Sense Again
(watching war on CNN)
My body thinks the mind knows something.
The mind, oblivious, doesn’t recognize
pain unless it’s a migraine. Fingers grip
the hand: womb-wrap. Clench, clutch.
I didn’t want to own anything but
the world chased me down like an
overweight cop in a fast cruiser, wrote
me a lifetime ticket
and wrapped me up in it
like a UPS Covid package sterilized
before opening. Metaphor,
I tell my students, is how we
make sense: I am a rock, I am
an island formerly owned by Paul Simon.
Get it? Breaking News: Ukraine, Man’s
Inhumanity To Man. Next up we speak
with a shell-shocked retired general brought to you
by elderly ailments and Botox.
Tired of war? Boost up
with Botox. People will notice!
People will swipe left with worn out fingers.
Here’s Joe Namath with a number to call:
I bought a silver bullet
with a pill inside. Take it, Joe said,
take it. I was afraid it might be
The View From Here
I’ve had too much of Putin
pounding Ukraine into
a moonscape so I
shut off CNN and go up
(I’m going up I say
to my wife) to listen to
Miles & Trane and then
Vjay Iyer turn physics
into notes and space to filter
what comes to me through T.V.
and the Net: endless
channels of noise
Whitman might embrace
as the human condition
on parade. Miles plays
then Coltrane comes in
after Adderley to take
everything higher. Then
Vjay on the now-piano
translates YAWP into Sanskrit
with an Albany accent —
the war’s eight octaves,
the rhythm of shelling,
the people in the subways
singing their national anthem.