Poetry Sunday: “Full Military Honors,”
by Elisabeth Corley


Full Military Honors

The backward boot in the swaying stirrup
a mutable signal to the old mount’s side.
He moves on anyway, a slave to history,
along for the ride.

The boot upside down
in the tree lacks polish and I don’t
want to know what’s in it.

Inside the concertina wire the world shrinks
like flesh from the bone—how fast
the body goes to nothing in the jungle heat.
Nothing left of feet but multitudinous bones.

Before the siege the barefoot boy might flap
his heels against the water buffalo and he
would go.
…………………Where is the buffalo when
there is no more water? Where is
the barefoot boy when the town runs out of rice?
Or lime. What does the cortege tell?
The brave foot rails at the bootless journey.
The students of history fall under its spell.


First published in the New Haven Review (July 2016).


Elisabeth Lewis Corley’s poems have appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review, Southern Poetry Review, Hyperion, Carolina Quarterly, Feminist Studies, BigCityLit, New Haven Review, Cold Mountain Review, Consequence, and others. She holds an MFA in poetry from the Warren Wilson Program for Writers and a BA with Highest Honors in Poetry from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she sometimes teaches poetry in performance and screenwriting. Her short film, “About Time,” directed by Joseph Megel and produced by Harland’s Creek Productions, made the festival rounds in 2013.

Listen to the poet reading “Full Military Honors” here.


Poet’s Note

“Full Military Honors” is part of a manuscript of poems mostly circling around one battle in the Vietnam War and its aftermath, events that unfolded in the spring of 1972 in An Loc, a hamlet sixty miles north of Saigon during the Easter Invasion and a long siege. Prior to the siege, An Loc had been the center of an increasingly thriving rural province where the American Vietnamization and Pacification strategy, aiming to move responsibility for the war to the South Vietnamese and to fortify them by stabilizing basic conditions on the ground, was in some ways working, thanks to dedicated efforts from American advisory teams and from the South Vietnamese Regional Forces/Provisional Forces, based in their homes and serving them with honor. The town of An Loc was razed. Fifty thousand people died there. Three years later, in 1975, the war would end with a victory for North Vietnam and reunification of the country. I have been working with this material, both in a book of poems and in a screenplay, based on official accounts of the battle and oral histories from my father, Col. Robert J. Corley (RET), who served as Province Senior Advisor in An Loc before and during the battle and siege and who died in April of this year.

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