As Veterans Day approaches, we are humbled by the experiences and courage Marilyn Johnston brings to her poetry. We stand with her, her beloved, and all the others who carry with them times and places that they went to for us, but that are unimaginable to us now and forever.

We will present another of Marilyn Johnston’s poems next Sunday, November 11, the day originally designated as Armistice Day in 1919 and renamed as Veterans Day in 1954. We are honored to recognize her today for this moving work.


Before Igniting

He enters the room, smelling of smoke
from the burning brush pile out back,
his eyes red like the glowing embers.
This is the moment when I see it all—
the fire fights that wake him in the night
and the roughened hands
that carried an M16,
his friend’s body,
the weight of all that’s unspoken.

And even now,
when he lies back after work,
the Vietnam soil coats him,
red layer upon layer—
trailing behind as he treads carefully
through the mine field
of each day.

Printed with permission of the poet. Photo by Defence Images via Flickr.

Marilyn Johnston is an Oregon writer and filmmaker.  Her work has been included in such publications as Calyx, To Topos Poetry International, and Café Destiny.  She received a Robert Penn Warren writing competition prize, as well as fellowships from Oregon Literary Arts, Fishtrap, and the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund for Women.  She is the founder of the Mid-Valley Veterans’ Writers.  Red Dust Rising, her collection of poems about her family healing from the Vietnam War, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.  Marilyn’s short documentary, “My Mother was a Coast Guard SPAR,” about a little known group of military women who served during WWII, was produced in 2010 and has played in film festivals in Toronto, Oregon, and Washington, DC, as well as on OPB television.

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  • Carroll Johnston November 7, 2012 at 11:20 am

    As the person who was largely the focal subject and impetus for my wife, Marilyn, writing her poetry book RED DUST RISING and the poem “Before Igniting”, I just want to say that “you don’t know the half of it” by only reading her biography on this web site. She is an exceptionally talented person and has won many other well-deserved awards not mentioned here. She is constantly working on new creations when she is not out and about helping other people in one way or the other.

  • Charlotte Sherman November 4, 2012 at 10:40 am

    What a treat to start the day’s reading with your poem. Thank you!

  • Diane Dettmann November 4, 2012 at 10:03 am

    Marilyn, thank you so much for sharing your beautiful poem ”Before Igniting” in honor of those who have served our country and their families. We need to remember and acknowledge the incredible sacrifices they have made for our country’s freedom and the lives of others throughout the world.

    I especially enjoyed the interview about your mother and learning about her experience as a SPAR, very informative. What a woman—an inspiration to all of us! The powerful images of military women in the video affirm the importance of capturing and sharing women’s stories and their contributions to our lives. My aunt enlisted as a WAC in WWII, unfortunately, we never captured her stories. Luckily, we managed to collect some of her childhood memories in a book we coauthored, Miriam Daughter of Finnish Immigrants.

    I’m in the early stages of writing an historical novel inspired by a friendship I had with a young Japanese girl in the 1950s. The story’s set in Minneapolis, Minnesota post WWII. I found the images of women in your video “My Mother was a Coast Guard SPAR” fascinating. They inspired me to get back to my manuscript! I want the book to be a statement to the strength, value and importance of women. Thank you SO much for sharing your writing. I look forward to reading your next poem.