Saturday, May 15, 2010

Duty Officer's Log - A Poem

Today I feel like digressing from my usual posts about the many facets of personal strength. Today, a poem.

If you've followed this blog, you know that in a previous life I was a career Army officer. I may have also mentioned along the way that I wrote poetry as a young man. Some of it was published. I continued to write poetry even during my assignment to the English Department at West Point in the early 1970s.

Shortly after that, I gave it up. It was a time of change and confusion in American culture, and poetry seemed to be losing its way as an art form. Back then, you could write anything, arrange it in lines and people would uncritically accept it as poetry. In fact, it was considered politically incorrect to declare that someone's heartfelt composition was or was not poetry. And now after decades of this "anything goes" approach to art, it seems to me that poetry is now dead. No one publishes it. No one buys it. And no one reads it. Except the poets themselves, that is. And of course all those people who still write brief expressions arranged in lines and think of it as poetry.

Don't get me started or I might tell you what I really think.

One of the last poems I wrote back then was an experiment in form. I called it "Duty Officer's Log." For those of you who aren't familiar with how the military works, the duty officer is the official representative of the commander after hours. The responsibility rotates among commissioned officers on staff. The duty officer takes his post in the headquarters, where he spends the night, ready to handle whatever comes up. In my past life as a career Army officer, I pulled my share of tours.

When I wrote this poem many years ago, I wanted the subject matter to direct the form. The structure was suggested by the duty officer's log itself, an official paper form with spaces to make a record of what happens during the night.


1. The Duty Officer sits alone in an empty headquarters building.

2. He waits for the phone to ring.

3. He waits in dread of urgent messages, threats against silence.

4. The Duty Officer makes entries in his log.

5. While performing his duties, he listens to the evening news.

6. The President is in Martinique holding talks.

7. The Russians have violated the Arms Agreement.

8. A family of four has been murdered.

9. A topless dancer has been arrested for dancing bottomless.

10. A multi-billionaire has agreed to testify in court.

11. No explanation is offered for any of these events.

12. The Duty Officer is responsible for security.

13. He boards the elevator, rides it down, down.

14. He has forgotten there are so many depths.

15. When the door opens, he does not recognize the dim, lifeless halls.

16. But the Duty Officer means business.

17. He looks into every corner.

18. He tests every door.

19. He extinguishes every light on his way back to the elevator.

20. The Duty Officer turns the final corner and senses that he is lost.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2010. Building Personal Strength .

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