David Connolly

David Connolly was born, raised and still lives in South Boston with his wife, Lisa. He is the father of two grown daughters, Christine and Jennifer, son Jake, and the grandfather of Samantha Anne, Michael and Aideen.  David served honorably in Vietnam with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. He takes pride in having been—and continuing to be—a Vietnam Veteran Against the War.
 
Connolly speaks insightfully of the place writing poetry holds in his life:
 
“Once I got to Vietnam and realized that I hadn't walked into what I thought I had walked into, poetry became one of the ways that I tried to sort things out in my head to try to stay sane, to try to make some sense out of what was going on around me. And once I got home it became even more so. If something woke me up in the middle of the night, some remembrance of a man's death or whatever, I would sit and I'd think about it and I'd write about it and I'd try to almost exorcise the ghost. And to some extent it worked.
 
I really credit my success in treating my own post-traumatic stress with poetry…. To try to bring something that was horrible and change it to where it approaches being art, it's very cleansing to the soul, very cleansing to the mind. And I think if you can do that, you not only create something that's better than this terrible remembrance, you also bring some credit and some justice and some remembrance to these men who died and these things that happened.
 
I think that's why poetry lends itself more to issues that you want to be really incisive about, to meet the listener and to try to treat the listener like he's sitting there beside you, like you're looking down the rifle with me.”

Why I Can't

Ratshit and the Weasel and I
are behind this paddy dike, see,
and Victor Charlie’s
he's giving us what for.
And Ratshit, he lifts his head,
just a little, but just enough
for the round
to go in one brown eye,
and I swear to Christ,
out the other.
And he starts thrashing,
and bleeding, and screaming,
and trying to get
the top of his head
to stay on,
but we have to keep shooting.

A B-40 tunnels into the dike
and blows the Weasel against me.
He doesn’t get the chance
to decide whether or not
he should give up and die.
Now I’m crying
and I’m screaming, “Medic,”
But I have to keep shooting.

At this point, I always wake,
and big, black Jerome
and little, white William,
my brothers,
are not dying beside me
even though
I can still smell their blood,
even though
I can still see them lying there.
You see, these two,
they’ve been taking turns
dying on me,
again and again and again
for all these long years,
and still people tell me,
“Forget Nam.” 

 

Questions for Reflection: Why I Can’t

When asked about his poem, “Why I Can’t,” Connelly talks about his two friends who were killed at his side. In his own words: We were in an observation post that was overrun. One of them had been my friend from training, the other one within weeks of getting to Vietnam. And I was left untouched. And again, this is one of the things that used to wake me up at night. And the more it woke me up, the more I decided I had to do something about this. I had to do something to memorialize these men's deaths and hopefully teach America what they sent their sons to do and how badly they died—for America.

  1. How is “Why I Can’t,” a poem about remembrance and a memorial to Connelly’s friends?
  2. What does the poem say about Connelly himself?
  3. What might writing this poem mean to Connelly? What effect does writing a poem like this have on the writer?
  4. What is it that Connelly is saying about war?