It has been a long wait for this new book of poetry from Bruce Weigl as his previous collection, The Abundance of Nothing, came out in 2012. The great poet (and fellow Vietnam War veteran) Yusef Komunyakaa said then that Weigl’s poems often gazed into “the hellish, heavenly mechanics of life and death.” The poems in his new book, On the Shores of Welcome Home (BOA Editions, 104 pp., $17, paper; $9.99, e book), continue that scrutiny.
Weigl—who now has written more than twenty books of poetry, translations, and essays—served in Vietnam with the First Cavalry Division from 1967-68 and his work is heavily influenced by his participation in the war. All of his poems are of high quality and all should be purchased for any collection of literature dealing with the Vietnam War. This latest group deals with the difficulty of returning from war and adapting to a new life; all deal with life and death matters.
On the Shores of Welcome Home, in which Weigl meditates on the ghosts and the grace one encounters in life’s second act, justly received the Isabella Gardner Poetry Award for 2019.
The poem that follows from the book is “Modern Paradox Sutra Fragment,” which exemplifies Weigl’s skills:
A sex offender father broke the jaw
Of his four-year-old cerebral
Palsy son in an unspecified act
Of rage. Change yourself the teacher tells me
Again, and again because you can’t change anyone else.
Knowing things ensures heartbreak. Not knowing
Is worse. Change yourself the teacher says;
Make more room for the suffering of others
Is what he means. Make more room and then let it
Flow through you. Let the broken-jawed little
Palsied boy who couldn’t even understand
His own poor life flow through you, and let his
Blurred screams flow through you and not through you
To feel them deeply and then to let them go.
I found it hard to let this poem go. It lingered in my consciousness as do many of Bruce Weigl’s poems. They have a way of sticking in the brain like jungle thorns in the torn flesh.