Reviewed by Joni Bour

If I started this review by telling you I hate poetry, would you be surprised that I liked, ”Notes to the Man Who Shot Me: Vietnam War Poems”? It was a big surprise to me! I mean, real life is not lived in perfect iambic pentameter, so I have trouble with trying to squeeze it into carefully counted, melodic sentences. Poems are musical, war is not. Well, maybe not, but Mr. Musgrave does tell his stories eloquently and poetically. He has given us little snapshots of the life of a young soldier. They are short bursts of words that together paint across every page both his story-telling talent and his courage. His poetry is a mural of spirit and sacrifice, honor and truth.

Some of his poems will strike you as funny. My husband, who served in the Navy for nearly four years, laughed out loud in a way he rarely does, when I read my favorite poem ”Gettin Religion” - where basically a Drill Sergeant at Marine boot camp tells all the recruits how they WILL all go voluntarily to church on Sunday. For those who had no declared religion, he would give them one. My husband laughed until tears came to his eyes and said that this was exactly the way it was.

Some of the poetry will tell you of unspeakable horrors, such as in “Corpsman Up”, when the author suddenly faces the realization that no matter how lucky, smart or well trained you are, sometimes it is just not enough and some lives you cannot save. His poems also recall some unthinkable realizations. In one painful poem, ”Real Estate”, he realizes that war is ALL about real estate – because in the end, the loss of life is the amount you paid for that piece of land, not the reason you fought for it. All of his poetry is touching, but one that particularly spoke to me was “Nightmare #7.62”. I will share only the last lines in his poem: ”I wake up sobbing. I know my dream is as easy to interpret as a McDonald’s menu, but that doesn’t mean it hurts any less”. This poem leaves me believing even more that no man or woman can survive war unscathed.

Many of the memories shared within these pages were barely livable once; imagine reliving them again and again. Perhaps that is why men like Mr. Musgrave write - to set the spirit of the soldier in them free. I wonder how many will be touched by his words? What may have started out as therapy for himself will surely be therapy for others seeking peace, knowledge or understanding. Of course none of those things come easy at first. But think of this poetry like a big rain storm. At first it comes down hard, really hard, and for some it will seem dark and lonely, maybe even too scary to look at out the window. But when that storm lets up a little, we will be able to remember all that the rains do for us - they wash the dust away, feed the crops and quench our thirst. The winds spread the seed which will plant the trees and gives oxygen to the earth.

A poet I am not, but I guess what I am trying to say is that some gifts come wrapped in pretty paper tied with a bow and when you open them up, right from the first look, you know they are the perfect thing - just what you wanted and you are happy! Other gifts, poems about a war that divided brother and country, killed our young men and wounded the bodies and souls of all the others - are gifts that take a little more time to appreciate. But after you have read them and closed the book for a while and given them some thought... well, then you will appreciate them. You will find out what I already know - these gifts are the right size, the right color and came at just the right time to wash away the dust.

EMAIL Joni Bour

RETURN To The Bookshelf

Posted 3/6/04