Robert Bly 's poem is framed by its title "Driving through Minnesota During the Hanoi Bombings." The speaker is in a car with a companion, driving through the summer countryside while listening to a report on the radio about current actions in the Vietnam War. The reader is taken from...
Robert Bly's poem is framed by its title "Driving through Minnesota During the Hanoi Bombings." The speaker is in a car with a companion, driving through the summer countryside while listening to a report on the radio about current actions in the Vietnam War. The reader is taken from the serenity of the Minnesota landscape, with its "lakes just turning green" and "white turkeys" on "new grass," to the battlefront where a sergeant is saying,
I saw the boy
being tortured with a telephone generator
I felt sorry for him
And blew his head off with a shotgun.
The contrast between the speaker's surroundings and the news being broadcast through the radio is jarring, even traumatizing. It is impossible to forget scenes like the one described by the sergeant. The beauty of the "new grass" is not enough to counteract the horror of the
Terror just before death,
Shoulders torn, shot
The speaker and his companion are appalled at the news and at how calmly it is delivered. The Hanoi bombings of 1966 marked a serious escalation in hostilities in Vietnam, and the anti-war movement in America was galvanized by reports like these, which brought the harsh realities of the battlefield into everyday American life, where they could not be ignored or downplayed. The speaker notes his impotent rage at the atrocities, saying, "Our own cities were the ones we wanted to bomb!"
As it is, he and his companion are powerless to help the Vietnamese,
For the suffering of the stringy-chested
And the short rice-fed ones[.]
The horrors of war and the speaker's impotence in the face of his horror are nightmarish and make reality seem almost hallucinatory. The nightmare intrudes on every aspect of his life, making it impossible to enjoy even the simplest of things:
Our own gaiety
Will end up
In Asia, and you will look down in your cup
The Minnesota landscape is beautiful and quiet, but the reports from Vietnam have settled on the speaker's mind like "crystals," or shards of glass, tearing into the illusion that the whole world is as peaceful as Minnesota at this point in time.