Poems by: John Berry Sr.’s

Prayer for My Child

not yet born

If not the stunning grace of unicorns,

These miracles as rare: At Gia Lai

A small boy walks on water. Who’s to say

This miracle is lessened by the horns 

Of that cool water buffalo beneath?

Insistent Presence, leave him room to pray!

Yet smartly field a thunderbolt gone stray,

And sometimes, at my father’s grave, a wreath.

Let him move, as I move, through shatter-cane 

In this Nebraska heat. Or murderous rain 

In rice fields, under fire, alive and wry.

Or if a daughter, may You fortify

Her vision that she see both truth in thorns 

And loveliness, more rare than unicorns.

Easter Sunday, 1969

Angel Wing Cambodian border.

Brief fight.

Other guy dies.

Is that Easter?

Do we live because someone bled?

Don’t know.

But it brings a man to his knees.


Stained, worn, 

my dad’s World War I greatcoat, 

smelling of damp old wool, 

hung in the basement.

He did not live long enough 

to hear about my war

so I never got to tell him 

about kerosene-fueled burning shit 

or rotting bodies amid the diesel.

He wanted his boys to be officers.

Said where there were outhouses, 

the enlisted lines were long.

Officers got right in.

And he told me the best smell 

was bending to kiss a sleeping child: 

sweat, wind, sun, and child hair.

The Platte, not the Mekong 

Not a four acre farm to provide one meal a day.

Just the flash and blaze of lightning and a hay stack.

Still, I slap leather which isn’t there

for my pistol which isn’t there,

for reassurance, which, for a split second,

isn’t there.

Corn fields, not rice paddies.

Steel irrigation systems, not ba gia

with her ancient legs walking in place

on treadles, and handle arms made of bamboo

to move water.

After war, you are never quite

where you belong.

Darkness of Snow

Darkness of snow, cold moon on rifle stock;

Heavy in lethal silence, bright with sleet,

Trees shimmer, and the stirring birds repeat 

The movement of the brittle leaves. The shock

Of slow wind, edging lifelessness to me

Quickens my stare into the snow that stills 

Dark forms, that may be deer, on darker hills, 

Increases, till I can no longer see.

My knowledge ends with visibility!

Snow fades on fresh, crystal tenacity

Lost against heat and blindness. When I turn

It is to blindness. Other snowflakes burn 

New loss against me. I remain the same 

In chill monotony of change: a name.

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