W.D. Ehrhart joined the U.S. Marine Corps right after he graduated from high school in 1966 and served on active duty for three years. He arrived in Vietnam in February 1967, and went on to experience an eventful thirteen-month tour of duty. He was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds received in action in Hue City during the 1968 Tet Offensive, among other decorations.
His service in the Marine Corps in the Vietnam War became grist for the poetic mill that enabled Ehrhart to produce hundreds of fine poems dealing that subject. Of course, talent and hard work combined with Ehrhart’s experiences to come up with the collection of poems that fills most of the pages of his latest book, Thank You for Your Service (McFarland, 310 pp., $35, paper)
I tried hard to select a few lines from this group of chronologically arranged poems to convey the totality of Ehrhart’s talent, but I failed in that attempt. It was just too difficult to choose among so many outstanding poems.
If I had to list his best work (if, that is, an editor asked me to do so), I would name the following poems: “Scientific Treatise for My Wife,” “More Than You Ever Imagined,” “Afraid of the Dark,” “Waking Alone in Darkness,” “Desire, “The Fool, “ “Sins of the Fathers,” “Letting Go,” “Golfing with My Father,” “Home on the Range,” What Keeps Me Going,” and “How History Gets Written.”
If I had to choose a poem to quote some of Bill Ehrhart’s best poetic lines, I would go with “What Keeps Me Going”:
Pressed down by the weight of despair, I could sit for hours idly searching the ashes from my cigarette, the darkness of silos, the convoluted paths we have followed into this morass of disasters just waiting to happen,
But my daughter needs to sleep and wants me near. She knows nothing of my thoughts. Not one missile mars her questioning inspection of my eyes; she wants only the assurance of my smile, the familiar places just so:
Brown Bear, Thumper Bunny, Clown.
These are the circumference of her world. She sucks her thumb,
Rubs her face hard against the mattress
And begins again
The long night dreaming
Darkness into light.
Ehrhart’s book is filled with such poems and I delighted in them.
Thanks, Bill, for another great collection.