Poems for America


America to whom I turned
looked after me the night I fell.
The spectre of the lantern learned
I was alone on the white owl’s hill.

The light went out and the step I took
led to the Rockies’ climbing air.
The fall was straight to the waiting oak.
I broke every branch that saved me there.

Timber the parent of my escape
proved American as the Bomb.
Spectral shouts and lights went up.
The bearers came and brought me home.

The white owl’s hill and the war-sea night
were the same as far as I have known,
if my numb fingers got it right:
and who broke the fall goes marching on.


America saved my life. I should like to
admit this conviction, free of fancy,
as the lasting reality time made of it.

It has been a long life. America, with whose
servicemen I shared a Pacific War perimeter
in a world of total combat, flew in
penicillin. While I was still in field
hospital, Truman dropped the Atom Bomb,
sending troops who had lived on their nerves
far too long half crazy in the night; and
guaranteeing my return home. Subsequently
I was to turn to America for periodic
residence, and to be given it amongst the
most generous people I have known. During
one sojourn, American oak broke a bad fall
that could have removed me as the Pacific
nearly did. At the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota,
where for several years I was a visitor,
cortisone was discovered; it sustains
breathing, and for that purpose I require it.

Hence this series of Poems For America,
given the specific title of America My Breath,
with Dedication and appended Histories.

If, in the series, I seem to have written as
a pillager, putting my New World to work for
me, I have done so as a person who found
there, for all its faults, a great nation,
and a sense of freedom and the remarkable.
I hope American friends will accept my
examination of their epic history. I have
used it as a warning image of what can be
lost, like breath