Susan’s last letter

My dearest John,
I cannot tell 
how much I wept, 
how hard it is for me
to sleep
imagining your shell-shocked comrades 
crying, mud-reeked in your
gangrene-boredom
of November rain,
but I know of lack 
of food and sustenance 
because also here
starvation stares from sunken eyes.

I know the howl of falling bombs,
at three AM, 
I know the sound of soldier’s boots
and agitated songs declaring war.
It feels like sleep
will only briefly come at dawn.

They say it’s going well,
in war, we win, they say that soon
a brave new world
for us 
will phoenix from the ashes
of the past, but John,
Oh dear, I cannot see 
how we can be
together.

John, I need to sleep,
and your letters stink of blood.
Dear, John, it’s time
to say goodbye,

I will leave this town, 
and find somewhere 
out west,
where the wind is free from death.

Come back, be well 
and break our soil,
sow seeds, bake bread
and find yourself a bright-eyed girl
who can sleep at night
and take care of you
my broken, burdened soldier-boy.

Spring in the Trenches, Ridge Wood, 1917
Paul Nash

Today we have the challenge to write Verse Epistle at dVerse, Sanaa hosts and give some great example. I found another reason to imagine war poetry in the form of a “dear John” letter to a soldier in a foreign land.

March 9, 2020

25 responses to “Susan’s last letter

  1. This is exquisitely drawn, Bjorn! You capture both the beauty and sadness of war poetry in this, especially like; “I know the sound of soldier’s boots and agitated songs declaring war. It feels like sleep will only briefly come at dawn.” Thank you so much for adding your voice to the prompt! 💝💝

  2. We all dread ‘dear John’ letters, but I think this one is heartfelt and honest, and although John would be sad to receive it, he would be relieved that she is making a life for herself. How tragic that they are both suffering with starvation and each in their own way; one with ‘shell-shocked comrades / crying, mud-reeked in […] gangrene-boredom / of November rain’ and the other with the ‘howl of falling bombs’ and ‘the sound of soldier’s boots / and agitated songs declaring war’.

  3. Devastating all around. Dear John’s reserves are already running on fumes. Not what he needed to read, even if it’s what she needed to say. Not now. Let him return home, in spring, when blossoms are on the trees 😦 Such a heartbreaking reality for anyone who has been in a war or one waiting at home.

  4. It’s like the 21st century writing to the 20th. One never does get the reek of the trenches out of one’s soul, I think. Well done —

  5. What a great war poem, heart-rending and likely to have happened more than we know. Beautiful, Bjorn!

  6. What a great war poem, heart-rending and likely to have happened more than we know. Beautiful, Bjorn!

  7. Ah… I like that it’s a take on a Dear John letter. A moving one at that. Being away at war has to be the worst time to get one of those.

    Pat

  8. Brilliant work, Bjorn. I can’t imagine either receiving this letter or — worse — having to write it, knowing that a heart will be broken in a man already in Hell. Masterfuly done.

  9. Kudos for high scores on this piece. I wish I had been brave enough to write in free verse. Mine is weighed down with classical form and a New Age foray into existential angst. War poems are so cool. You are getting better at them. Now just move up in history to other wars, right?

  10. I feel for both John and the writer of the letter. Even the winners are losers in a way. I also like the way you made use of the turn:

    ‘but John,
    Oh dear, I cannot see
    how we can be
    together.’

  11. Interesting that you chose a Paul Nash painting. I have one of his in my living room, rolling hills of post-war Sussex where he returned to cope with PTSD. Nash would’ve understood your poem because he lived it.

  12. This was a really interesting take on both war poetry and “dear John” letters–showing both sides of the coin…the painting perfectly suits the mood of the poem. Fantastic!

  13. A beautifully rendered Dear John letter. It reads like a real one. Capturing the sorrow and horror of war both at the front and at home. I can only feel both John and Susan deserves the kind of happy ending that war seldom gives.

  14. Hello my friend from Michigan. I liked this poetry. War didn’t bother me till I went to funeral of my friends. In my lifetime. The soldiers that did okay. Had a kind woman waiting. Outstanding poetry.

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