H.C. Palmer was drafted into the Army and served as a battalion surgeon in the the Vietnam War. He’s also been a cattle rancher. Palmer’s poetry makes the reader aware of the high cost in young male flesh of war in a new way—kind of like a kick in the guts. It’s on display in his first book of poetry, Feet of the Messenger: Poems (BkMk Press, 80 pp., $13.95)
Here is one example:
December 14, 2010, VA Hospital
Kansas City, Missouri
Back from his tour of Afghanistan, the soldier says,
Half my foot is gone, Doc, but I’m still in the Guard—
a peacetime soldier now. I take his foot, a stub
grafted at the arch, trace the spongy edges with my fingers.
No feeling. He laughs. Beautiful
work, don’t you think?
Thanks for this beautifully brutal poem, Dr. Palmer. And for seventy-five more pages of equally beautiful poems.
The book includes a wonderful quote from Karl Marlantes: “It won’t hurt you. It’s just to kill plants.”
I thought of that quote last night when I awoke screaming from the pain in my right knee. Then I laughed. That’s the power of poetry.
The more than seventy-five pages of poetry in this beautiful book all have impact on the reader, and they also have messages that all of us need. That’s also the power of good poetry.
I wish I could include more of Palmer’s poems in this review, but space prohibits that. The poem on page 41 is a poem everyone needs. It’s a lucid conversation with an infantryman who is “cradling a bullet in his brain.”
He thinks he’s going home to the Madison River Valley in Montana. He talks of the 24-inch rainbow. My heart was breaking as he was loaded into the dustoff for Ton San Nhut Hospital. He’s not going to make it back to the “most beautiful place in the world.”
Palmer has founded and leads a writing program for veterans in Kansas City. I wish I was in that class.