About this Poem 

“Late last year I traveled by train across America and gave poetry readings in something like eighteen cities. Whenever I was alone on the train I worked on this poem, and in my head it’s dedicated to everyone I met in those cities, everyone I read with and stayed with and everyone whose stories I heard along the way. 'C’est la guerre' means 'it’s the war' in the French and it’s a phrase of resignation that seeped into our culture after WWII. It’s a bittersweet way of toasting what’s wrong in your life, with a slight kiss-off to the forces beyond your control. I am how I am, it’s the war, if you will. Roger Thornhill speaks the phrase in North by Northwest, which I saw for the first time on the tail end of this tour.”
—Danniel Schoonebeek

C'est La Guerre

Danniel Schoonebeek

If I see one more shred of pink rust come peeling off the face of this warehouse tonight. 

With my bouquet of railroad ties that I plucked from the Union Pacific who’ll witness me. 

When I’ve found the man who named the road on which you grew up and defaced him. 

And wearing his father’s crushed suit and his cufflinks I fire your name in his furrows. 

When I’ve poured his mother a whiskey and coffee and beer-back I’ll learn her our myth. 

We come from low country with deer ticks in our blood is that what they’re selling. 

In search of the black horse who spits on the hay and the barley and hunger strikes. 

Who lost the blue horse he loved and he’ll die with his eye on the wood where she fell. 

I fire your name in the furrows tonight for the ones who refuse to survive themselves. 

Who say every five seconds the nations of dead they tell me my job is assuage them. 

And every five seconds when I tear out their stitches I tear them out five seconds long. 

It is you with the planks of rotting down barns in your arms I am barreling toward. 

It is you from the jackshit connivances of yesterday’s scofflaw patrol I will kidnap. 

And who will say amen if I fell one more empire that was raised from a handful of litter.

And who will help quit our mothers who will not quit treading the rafters of savagery. 

And who will carry our fathers from the ditches where they crashed their radio flyers.  

With a bouquet of railroad ties in a crushed suit I will field you this question come winter. 

In the apocryphal gossip of sea kings my face is scrimshaw like they’ve never witnessed. 

He sunk himself like a dreadnaught into the sea to landmark her joy is that what they say. 

And who will witness me if I’m one page in a long book of ways to say no with no ending.

And if I come to your door come winter in crushed suit with the stitches to prove you.

Copyright © 2014 by Danniel Schoonebeek. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on March 6, 2014. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Danniel Schoonebeek

Danniel Schoonebeek

Danniel Schoonebeek is the author of American Barricade (YesYes Books, 2014). He is the recipient of residencies and fellowships from the Juniper Institute, Oregon State University, Poets House, and Summer Literary Seminars. He writes a column on poetry for The American Reader, edits the PEN Poetry Series, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.