War Songs

Metaphors in Clay and Poetry from the Vietnam Experience

War Songs ยท Poems

Temple Jar 1995 56" x 26" x 18"
Temple Jar
56″ x 26″ x 18″

Twilight breathes heavily
on the musty remains of the day
and strolls quietly
over the figures of the field
towards night and a welcome shroud
for the dead children,
the reward for the Asian barter.

I sit and watch this banquet for Nirvana.
Hands and wisdom and concern
again have failed to reconcile
the greed of war,
and my wordless eulogy waters the soil
with saline grief
to this, the incomprehensible.

Dona nobis pacem.

Detonators 1999 33" x 56" x 9"
33″ x 56″ x 9″

… shit I didn’t even feel it I mean for real I didn’t
even feel it we was all running except me I mean I was
running and the mine tripped and Jesus the blast I
couldn’t get up I mean the BLAST and I seen my boot
across the path and it was pumping man my fuckin” leg
oh God I didn’t even feel it Doc …

For a tiny piece of time
we touched like tacits
shared shaded hurts
played medicant to mutual wounds
inhaled complimentary sighs
all above the darkened mute sea
you and I, dearest friend, in the war.

We breathed a conjugate poem
shuttering understanding that was blind to others.
Now the turf lies over your eyes in some private grave somewhere.

I’m sorry that what’s-his-name was killed.

Shell Casings 1994 26" x 36" x 12"
Shell Casings
26″ x 36″ x 12″

Carter and I
sat up the night in the morgue bunker
directing our efforts
toward keeping the two candles lighted
which helped kill the odor
and frightened away the flies
until dawn when the rocketing stopped
and we could stack the bodies on the truck
trying to look detached.

Monument 1994 96" x 48" x 24"
96″ x 48″ x 24″

A silent amoeba of blood
searches through the obstacles of the sand
and pools beside the blackened barrel
cooling a return to its factory steel blue
and effortlessly traces the cylinder
to the lifeless finger frozen by death in a too slow squeeze
that escorted the bullet
which training had warned would come.
In unsolicited continuum the soldier’s eyes
fixed open,
stare after the deteriorating sun
will eat his flesh
digesting the deed into earth
which another time will obstacle
a silent amoeba of blood.

Whose unwilling soul coffins my loved one’s end?


Many of the names are kindly passing
and the pleading eyes are blurring
into indistinguishable faces.
I awaken less often to sirens
and startle infrequently at sounds.
Daily problems begin to concern me
and medical cases are once again
academic challenges.
Last year is all but forgotten
I tell myself
all but forgotten
last year.

RememberDo you remember the day I surprised you
at the beer party in DaNang and we raced
along the barbed wire beach until our
fatigues were so green with happy sweat
that we ended the game with a swim out
by the fishing buoy and that night after
waving goodbye from the helicopter I sat
and chuckled over your jokes
while the killed you.

Grady Harp
Grady Harp

War is a subject we deal with
when we are at peace, not
when we are at war. Pain not
felt is living pain — pain felt is past pain.
We never repress pleasure, only pain.

– Grady Harp, poet, physician

Stephen Freedman
Stephen Freedman
STUDIO during construction of WAR SONGS
STUDIO during construction of WAR SONGS
Grady Harp and Stephen Freedman

This collaboration is a synthesis,
a prolonged commitment by two
people who bring individual
experience to a starting point.
The interplay is a symbiotic
creation which has grown into its
own unique being, the product of
mutation and enhancement.
– Stephen Freedman

My art dealer, Grady Harp, had been a surgeon active in the war in Vietnam. I was so moved by the poems he’d written during that period, that I proposed a collaboration. The result was War Songs, a series of monumental vessels associated with Grady’s poems. The exhibition opened in Hawaii at Amaury St. Gilles Contemporary Fine Arts and toured numerous museums including the National Vietnam Veteran’s Museum in Chicago.