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Prairie Schooner 80.3 (2006) 148-149

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Orders for Vietnam in the Sea of Tranquility, and: Lightning, and: On the Thirty-Ninth Night

Orders for Vietnam in the Sea of Tranquility

The moment I mean isn't exactly
that moment when Armstrong set foot on the moon,
although we could say it was sacred, a seized
cratering of thought over the lifeless womb
of its untouched sand. How could he, or any
of us survive its shockwave of silence?
I rested with them in the sanctuary
of their seven-hour wait, minds entrenched

in the tenuous chance of their lifting off,
my own hand, white-knuckled, clutching the orders
for Vietnam. None of us slept. Instead
we imagined the cresting of wildflowers,
or the harsh possibility of being lost
and the frailty of the orbiter over our heads.


Sometimes the mind swirls (in spite of how much
we love, or how much we're loved back) like a cloud
filled with colliding hydrometeors. Each touch
of affection, each embrace, broken down
by the larger negatives: The deep voice
of gravity telling us, "We don't deserve [End Page 148]
it"; the fear building to millions of poised
volts waiting to discharge in the inner ear.

And then the flash across all the years of your
opposing regions, the predictable "four strikes"
(the body, mind, emotion, and soul). Your need
for love heated to twenty thousand degrees,
the compressing thunderous clap shaking the life
you want like a window facing the storm.

On the Thirty-Ninth Night

I alone choose if I'll sing the Raven's
song from this declining body, or if
I'll reason at the door of every man's
impending death like the prophet exiled
to an unfamiliar world (where the ends
of thought leave my mouth and float like twists
of cloud, a pillar-like exclamation
in the desert sky). I am the fragile

voyager wading this forty-day river
that has wrestled its way past miles of rocky
abrasion, miles of erosion bending line
after straight line. I alone choose the undisturbed
sediment and shale, the impressionless
sand, the cypress kneeling on the other side.

Barry Ballard's poetry has most recently appeared in Connecticut Review, Puerto del Sol, Phoebe, and more. His most recent collection is Plowing to the End of the Road (Finishing Line).



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