All the Heat We Could Carry, poems by Charlie Bondhus.
Winner of the 2013 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award
Winner of the 2013 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award, Charlie Bondhus’ All the Heat We Could Carry is a meditation on war, the effects of war, and in particular, the effects of war on gay soldiers. There is also a significant focus placed on the endless war in Afghanistan.
Granted, this doesn’t qualify as “typical” reading material for me, but as soon as I read this stanza from the poem titled “Homecoming” I was hooked (as many other readers were):
We went to the bedroom
to tend to your body, starved
from fifteen months of hard living.
I smelled chemicals, felt shrapnel’s grit,
saw your burns.
You told me about the sliver
of metal lodged in your right calf,
bone deep, inextractable, that would not
affect your ability to walk or sit
but would always be there, much in the same
way there will always be war
someplace, impinging on our lives.
This stanza in particular reveals an almost unexpected compilation of language you will find used throughout the book. The lines are smooth, the emotions are raw, and the sweat on the page is real. The dual meaning behind each poem throughout the book is beautifully complex. This is the work of a master poet.
The shifting scenes from being at home in America to war overseas and back again in these poems seem to expose the mindset and the emotions of the soldier. It’s quite obvious he is conflicted over the strangeness of war and the familiar, yet no less alien environment at home.
The most riveting poems in the book are set deep in the midst of war: “Morning After First Kill,” “Falling Asleep In Combat,” and “Putting A Body Into A Bag,” are some of the most beautifully violent poems I have ever read. The intertwined tenderness and violence of the words that make up these poems are so gut-wrenching you can’t help but want to read them over and over again.
The next-to-last poem in All the Heat We Could Carry sums up the entire tragedy of war and the experience of the solider—gay or straight—in these few lines:
Don’t think that
I’m going back for the U.S.A.
I love America but nobody’s died for it
since 1945. These days we’re dying
for the benefits; we’re dying for the adventure;
we’re dying for the chance
to make someone else die;
we’re dying because we’re no longer moved
by movies and video games; we’re dying because our parents
said work, school, or the military; we’re dying
because we don’t know who we are so,
like prophets of the Old Testament,
we go to the desert to hear a voice;
we’re dying to prove that we can die better
than anyone else; we’re dying to be told
that we are good; most of all, we’re dying
because we’re not sure
what else to do with ourselves.
All in all I would give All the Heat We Could Carry 5 out of 5 stars all the way around. The language, depth, and entertainment of the poems are nothing short of phenomenal. If you haven’t read Charlie Bondhus’ masterpiece yet, you’re really missing out.