Three Poems by Bruce Morton

The Things We Carried

Sure, we wore the instruments of war:
The rifle, the bayonet, the pack, canteen,
And trenching tool. But these could be shed
For respite or based on assignment. But
What was always a burden, always wearing,
Was memory of home, the meals, aromas,
The holidays, the hugs, the warmth that did not
Make you sweat bullets, the worry about what
Jodie was doing with your girl back on the block.
Then there was the sense of self daily eroded,
Challenged and threatened, and always the fear,
The fear of loss of control, of loss of identity,
Of the unknown and the olive-drab known.
It was all this that we bore as we carried on.


Dog Tags

First things first. The dog tags.
A poor man’s poor excuse
For fashion, a kick in the teeth
As far as aesthetics go. But better
By far than a leash or collar,
Which in their own way they were.
Certainly much better than a tattoo.
Their cheap jingle-jangle dead give-
Away when stealth is essential. So
We wrapped them with rubber or tape
To conceal our presence, if not
Identity. Name and serial number,
Lest I forget. Blood type: Red, A-plus.
Faith: None. All there is to know.



It was a weapon
Not a gun, he said.
I did not see the difference—
Weapon gun, gun weapon.
Either way somebody was dead.
But it seemed an important
Distinction to the drill sergeant
As he instructed us to strip
The weapon while naming parts.
Caress them with light oil, slowly,
Eyes closed, carefully inserting
Rod and cleaning patch into
The barrel moving it back and forth.
Learn to love your weapon, he said.
You will sleep with it. Treat it right
It would love you, save your life.
Make you a killer. Fucking gun.


Bruce Morton divides his time between Montana and Arizona. His poems have appeared in many magazines. He was formerly dean at the Montana State University library.

Two Poems by Bruce Morton

Little Debbie Begs the Existential Question

So there it was, the existential question
Of my childhood. Each morning I would answer
The same question—“peanut butter and jelly
Or baloney?” No choice as to bread. Wonder
Bread, no wonder, it was fortified and white.

But the real moment of existential crisis
Was whether to eat, the sandwich that is,
For there was sweet Little Debbie smiling
On a transparent wrapper over a Swiss Roll,
Or Hostess offering cupcakes and Twinkies,
Or perhaps HoHos, Ding Dongs, and Devil
Dogs. These treats, only just deserts perhaps,
Temptations sweet to a fault, enthralled.

Then to go home to the inevitable inquisition,
“Did you eat your lunch?” There it was, parental
Disbelief, as I explained solemnly that I was
An existential victim of a shift of judgment
From prefrontal cortex to amygdala, yes,
That I was betrayed by basal ganglia, and ho ho,
Ding dong, Little Debbie seduced me, I confessed,
Conjuring a sincerity emboldened by surging sugar.


Motel: Spearfish, South Dakota

Early riser that I am
I have risen quietly
Sneaking out of our room
So as not to wake her
To nest in the lounge
Vending machine hum
And paper-cup drip
Of too-hot too-weak coffee
To play my word games
And write about the fat cat
Who has climbed over the front
Desk and up onto my couch
To closely check me out
With a mew of approval.


Bruce Morton divides his time between Montana and Arizona. His poems have recently appeared in Ibbetson Street, Grey Sparrow Journal, London Grip, Muddy River Poetry Review, and Sheila-Na-Gig. He was formerly dean at the Montana State University library.