Lingering Fire by William Jackson Blackley

William Jackson’s Blackley’s poetry collection, Lingering Fire (Main Street Rag Publishing, 40 pp., $11, paper), which was published in 2015, contains excellent, mostly short poems with titles such as “Indirect Fire,” “Black Market Habits,” “Cities,” “Captain Crazy,” “Thermite,” “One Tour Too Many,” and “Blue Sunday.”

“Some of these poems were written during a very dark chapter in my life when I questioned even the existence of God,” Blackley writes. “They are based on my experiences growing up, with the draft, military training, battlefield action, coming home, talking with veterans and post-traumatic consequences of actions in Vietnam.” The poems “are, at times, my personal attempts to work through conflicted emotions rising from war experiences.”

The key to understanding this collection is a close reading of Blackley’s poem “Captain Crazy.” It’s about his fellow Vietnam War veteran Yusef Komunyakaa, the much-honored poet.

During my thirteen-and-a half-months in Vietnam I served as an office worker. However, in the months and years after I returned from the Vietnam War, I observed similar behavior to what Blackley describes in “Captain Crazy”. My sympathy for Komunyakaa and other returning Vietnam veterans was extreme, partially because I was similarly affected by my tour of duty.

Blackley

If you want to understand the fears of a Vietnam War veteran, read Komunyakaa’s poetry and your sympathy and understanding will be increased.

The poem I like best in the Lingering Fire is “Breaking Ranks.” Here are excerpts:

Home from Vietnam I carried engraved images of twisted and burned men everywhere I went

Never mentioned them, never even hinted at them until in the stands at my son’s soccer game one year I stunned myself and friends when ashen faced I stood and shouted “shut up shut up shut up” to a knot of teenagers chanting “kill them kill them kill them”

If you like hard-hitting poems that don’t mince words, this book is for you.

–David Willson