Michael Pruchnicki


38th Parallel


Once I lived in a village not far
from the thirty-eighth parallel
near Kaesong, in fact

The snow that February fell for days
blowing horizontally to the ground
hills and paddy fields filling with drifts

We lived, ten of us, in a hut
that smelled of kimchee and garlic
we huddled together on the warm floor

The sergeant in charge was from Chicago
a big-mouthed Irish guy from the South Side
he talked constantly about his gang back home

The North Koreans who ran the prison camp
grew to dislike the sergeant and our guys
we ate less and worked harder than the others

One night we talked it over with the sergeant
we told him that he had to compromise
and go along with our captors - or else

No doubt we angered him because
he got his Irish up and began striking out
an Italian guy from Hoboken put a shiv in him

We buried him next morning behind the messhall
the Korean in charge was pleased as punch
we ate better and worked a normal day

Today I often think of that hotheaded sergeant
who died in a foreign land because we were scared
and thought more of our own survival

Submitted: Wednesday, February 06, 2008

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  • Terence George Craddock (1/31/2010 10:41:00 AM)

    This is Korea, that fierce forgotten, hell hole in the winter, where only hate would not freeze up, a legacy of fear freezing the marrow of moral until Inchon and Douglas MacArthur got that miracle victory. So many murders so many true. An exceptionally well written poem. (Report) Reply

  • Tom J. Mariani (4/22/2008 7:04:00 PM)

    Your poem reminds me of both Faulkners's 'The Bear' and D. H. Lawrence's 'The Fox.' You do all this on the '38th Parallel. You too show graphic violence can be poetic. These are two of my examples of found prose poetry. (Report) Reply

  • Ivor Hogg (3/23/2008 1:53:00 PM)

    law of nature some die so that others may live but such memories do not fade (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 0 Points Janice Windle (3/7/2008 2:17:00 PM)

    The sting in the tale... your unsentimental telling of this story of a deed that can't be undone and needs to be lived with is powerful stuff, Mike. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 0 Points Simon Zonenblick (3/1/2008 2:58:00 PM)

    My favourite of your poems. It begins invitingly, a slice of autobiography. I like how the uncomfortable reality is only uncovered at length, and the stark, formal (military?) structure and rhythm. There also, as others point out, fantastic images enlivening the senses. (Report) Reply

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