Song of Napalm

By Bruce Weigl b. 1949 Bruce Weigl

for my wife

After the storm, after the rain stopped pounding,   
We stood in the doorway watching horses   
Walk off lazily across the pasture’s hill.
We stared through the black screen,
Our vision altered by the distance
So I thought I saw a mist
Kicked up around their hooves when they faded   
Like cut-out horses
Away from us.
The grass was never more blue in that light, more   
Scarlet; beyond the pasture
Trees scraped their voices into the wind, branches   
Crisscrossed the sky like barbed wire
But you said they were only branches.

Okay. The storm stopped pounding.
I am trying to say this straight: for once   
I was sane enough to pause and breathe   
Outside my wild plans and after the hard rain   
I turned my back on the old curses. I believed   
They swung finally away from me ...

But still the branches are wire
And thunder is the pounding mortar,   
Still I close my eyes and see the girl   
Running from her village, napalm   
Stuck to her dress like jelly,
Her hands reaching for the no one   
Who waits in waves of heat before her.

So I can keep on living,
So I can stay here beside you,
I try to imagine she runs down the road and wings   
Beat inside her until she rises   
Above the stinking jungle and her pain
Eases, and your pain, and mine.

But the lie swings back again.
The lie works only as long as it takes to speak   
And the girl runs only as far
As the napalm allows
Until her burning tendons and crackling   
Muscles draw her up
into that final position

Burning bodies so perfectly assume. Nothing   
Can change that; she is burned behind my eyes   
And not your good love and not the rain-swept air   
And not the jungle green
Pasture unfolding before us can deny it.

Bruce Weigl, “Song of Napalm” from Archaeology of the Circle: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 1999 by Bruce Weigl. Reprinted with the permission of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.,

Source: Archeology of the Circle: New and Selected Poems (Grove/Atlantic Inc., 1999)

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Poet Bruce Weigl b. 1949

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Subjects Marriage & Companionship, War & Conflict, Living, Social Commentaries

Poetic Terms Free Verse


Soon after turning eighteen, Bruce Weigl enlisted in the Army and served in Vietnam for one year, beginning in December 1967. He was awarded the Bronze Star and returned to his hometown of Lorain, Ohio, where he enrolled in Lorain County Community College. As Weigl states in his best-selling prose memoir, The Circle of Hanh (2000), “The paradox of my life as a writer is that the war ruined my life and in return gave me my . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Marriage & Companionship, War & Conflict, Living, Social Commentaries

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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