Korean Love Songs from Klail City Death Trip Summary
Rafe Buenrostro, Rolando Hinojosa’s autobiographical character in this third installment of the Klail City series, steps outside the cultural context in which readers were first introduced to him in two earlier novels, Sketches of the Valley, and Other Works and Klail City: A Novel. Because this story is removed from Rafe’s accustomed Tex-Mex environment with its bilingual-bicultural atmosphere, Hinojosa wrote it in English rather than Spanish.
Korean Love Songs from Klail City Death Trip is a daring book. The first half consists of a series of poems, mostly in free verse, that recount the horrors of combat in which Rafe is involved. A bitter irony pervades the poems. Juxtaposed to mass destruction one finds a fragmented, small-minded military bureaucracy that seems, at times, bent on making the last days of military men under dire threat as miserable as it can, all in the name of maintaining discipline.
“Chinaman’s Hat (Hill 329)” focuses on soldiers who run from enemy fire, abandoning their weapons in the field. As an object lesson, the high command decrees that the 88th Field Battalion, for its “own good and discipline,” be forced to march back under guard to retrieve its abandoned weapons. This poem captures the terror of war, demonstrating the inability of officers to command their troops to hold fast in the face of almost certain death.
Enlisted men, deaf to the commands of their officers, flee as fast as they can from an enemy that is eventually destroyed by Air Force bombing. They leave their dead behind as well as their firearms. This poem, much in the style and tone of the World War I poetry of Wilfred Owen, is graphic, bitter, without hope. Human devastation lurks in every line; overshadowing the entire poem is the knowledge that there will be a tomorrow, more battles, other senseless deaths.
Even more chilling is “Night Burial Details,” a Dantesque poem about the dead with their foolish grins lying on a rain-soaked battlefield. The body bags are of high quality, their hasps the best that money can buy. An urgency motivates the burial details: Tomorrow will be hot, and unburied bodies emit a sickening stench.
Pits the size of a football field have been dug and filled with lime some forty miles away. The burial details remove dogtags and empty wallets of the things that soldiers carry—money, pictures, condoms. They tag wristwatches and rings, bag the occasional rosary and missal. They note the macabre, ironic humor of the fallen soldier who, on the back of a naughty French postcard, has written that in case of accident the president of the United States, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C., should be notified.
War poetry, if it is honest, has usually produced the most strident antiwar sentiments in print. The poems and sketches in this collection perpetuate that tradition.
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