Poet's Corner

Prisms of War

Joe's most recent book of poetry (excerpts to the right and below).

"Prisms of War" was enthusiastically reviewed in "Books in Review II," an online-only complement to The VVA Veteran, the bimonthly print magazine published by Vietnam Veterans of America:


**Book copies may be purchased.**



Got some Double Bubble to chew
so I won't break more teeth gritting
at the images assaulting my sensibilities,
the smell of rotting meat,
mine, theirs, and the shit they feed us.
I wake up nights swinging at shadows
and roaches who want to eat my lips.
Cigarettes taste better in the dark
and the salt from my tears sweeter
than the ones I shed in anger
at the chains I cannot break.
Sometimes I lay fetal for hours,
listening to Clarence building another nest
In the cardboard box beneath my bed.
The little bastard shredded three poems,
one disciplinary report, and a book marker.
The screws shine flashlights hourly in my face
but I don't blink anymore.
I can hear paint drying on the walls,
steam pipes banging, fungus growing,
and something larger than a mouse in my trash bag.
Sometimes my old war wounds ache so bad
that I want to cry out for my mother
except she died long distance a few years ago
and besides — us hardened convicts
laugh at people like me . . . .


Mrs. Miller I remember
the look that passed between us.
There were leaves on the ground,
tears in our eyes.
Your son, my brother, is dead.
The flag folded properly
showing only the blue field.
My job was to stand tall
and present it to you.
I was a hard sargeant then
I mean —
presenting the flags should be routine
except —
I'm allergic to Taps.
My speech was:
"Mom, this flag
is what Kenny lived by,
believed in, and died for."
The look we shared
said something else.
Had a boy Marine died
for a liar's victory?
We called on God.
Even He was silent that day.
Mrs. Miller, wasn't it quiet that day?



I failed
I could not touch
her face
or kiss her
pale lips
through the security glass
and bad light
my own reflection
as her tears
were my tears
and together
in our own way
we faced
certain death
for her at home
with Sam the cat
in her fading arms
and mine
in a prison cell.