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  #1  
Unread 05-23-2022, 02:49 AM
John Riley John Riley is offline
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Default Fighting Men At the Liquor House

Fighting Men At the Liquor House

At the free meal, they dipped
store-bought bread into gravy,
pushed small pieces of floured beef
around a shallow, flowered bowl,
each man pressing his lips tight
as though challenging the others to speak
for what was there to talk about,
their war was long over, the big war before
the last big one, when tanks had chain-belt wheels
and gas masks hung from their belts.
The war they never understood
because it was only the fools
who thought they knew why
they were over thereóthese
once strong men now old,
their mason jars tagged with tape labels,
the names written on them unintelligible.
I remember them, sitting here now
in the pre-dawn morning, concerning
myself with words but most anxious
to not lose sight of the nights when
the old men never made it to their beds
and became old soldiers faded out,
their heads hanging at angles from tall cane chairs
and me, awake, raiding their stupor
until the sun returned and they woke
at dawn, under the still burning electric light
so unlike the starlight in France.


*I think I posted an earlier draft of this before.
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  #2  
Unread 05-23-2022, 04:12 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi John,

A good poem, I think, with a tremendous last line. I also like the angles these old men create on the chairs they fall asleep on.

I don't really have any suggestions. Except to keep the last line.

Cheers,
John
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  #3  
Unread 05-23-2022, 11:48 AM
Jason Ringler Jason Ringler is online now
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Hi John R,

I enjoyed this piece. The descriptions are clear and leave way for the story to have itís magic ( Iím not the best reader of prose and poetry is even trickier) but I feel like something went over my head at the ďraiding their stuporĒ part, and keeps me guessing as to what this person is doing while the old men are asleep and what is in their jars.

I like the title and the setting allows for some good visualization. I feel that generation being gone, thereís just purposeful things gone with them. I like the last section same as John Isbell, the old men and their starlight.
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  #4  
Unread 05-24-2022, 02:34 PM
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RCL RCL is offline
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"raiding their stupor" is the crystal clear statement of the writer's relationship to the old soldiers, warless and empty. I get a hint of "straw men" from the angles of their heads on the high stools. Sad, overall, though inevitable.
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  #5  
Unread 05-24-2022, 03:45 PM
Carl Copeland Carl Copeland is offline
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John, I especially liked the parts that everybody else especially liked, so I’ll just ditto their kudos. I have to admit that “raiding their stupor” went over my head too, until I finally came round to the sense that was immediately clear to Ralph—that the narrator, observing the old men, perhaps as material for a poem, felt as if he was photographing them with their pants down. Nicely put.

Carl

Last edited by Carl Copeland; 05-24-2022 at 06:40 PM.
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  #6  
Unread 05-24-2022, 09:00 PM
Jason Ringler Jason Ringler is online now
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Thanks RCL and Carl, I got it now.
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  #7  
Unread 05-25-2022, 05:23 AM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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.
Great scape of time and being, John. Full of interior rhymes and good sonics. I get a feeling of firing at all synapses. The last line is a visual metaphor of those synapses firing.
.
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  #8  
Unread 05-25-2022, 11:02 AM
John Riley John Riley is offline
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Thanks to each of you. I grew up in a white liquor house. (For the record, nobody called it moonshine.) The man we lived with, he took us in when my father deserted us, was born in 1886, and had done nothing his entire life but farm his seventy-five acres and make liquor. He lost half of his left arm in a cotton gin in 1919. I've written about him before and will again. Several of the men who came around to drink--none of them wanted anything to do with what they called "colored liquor" and swore it would kill you much faster--had fought in WWI. I spent many hours listening to them as they drank. I was already a history nut and they were like going back in time. One man told me about his mother, who was a young girl during the Civil War. How could I not be fascinated? I spent hours raiding their stupor and I am so glad that was worked out. To me, it's the key.

I'm sorry I went on so long. It's time, though. I had a guest professor, an older man, when I was in college back in the 70s who told me his great-grandfather had had dinner with Thomas Jefferson in the 1830s and that he had told him about it. Hearing that was like getting high for me but better. I wonder at times if it was a good thing to be so caught up in history and time. It means you see the world differently than people who know little of what happened before they were born. It makes one an oddball. Oh, well, too late to change now.
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Unread 05-25-2022, 01:25 PM
David Callin David Callin is offline
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I think it's terrific, John. Minor nits, I have a few ...

I got a little confused by "the big war before / the last big one", as I wasn't quite sure which was which there.

I wonder whether "unintelligible" should be "illegible".

And, with apologies, I may be a non-believer in "raiding their stupor". I think, perhaps wrongly, that you could put that better.

But on the whole, yes, it's terrific, and I am with John on the last line, although I might extend that praise to include the preceding line (or two) too.

Cheers

David
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  #10  
Unread 05-26-2022, 01:40 PM
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Sarah-Jane Crowson Sarah-Jane Crowson is offline
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Hi John,

I remember this from before - I liked it then but I like it more now - itís clearer in the details (I remember struggling with the mason jars before, but now I can see that they belong to the men, itís that signal for them being regular visitors). The end is perfect, the move from their waking to their memory of the war - and in this version I read something different too, that I hadnít read before, which is the image of the men in their chairs, that kind of snapshot vignette the picture of it.

Itís great, I think - it offers a snapshot, but with a story behind it. And I feel sympathy with the men, even though I will never know them - without feeling any sense of coy nostalgia - for these men feel real, and flawed, and interesting, and worth knowing about, which is why, I think, poems can sometimes be so much better than images.

Sarah-Jane
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