Sijo is a form of poetry from Korea that fits with my journey. For me, Sijo is a soulful play on words that summons both essence and existence.
Sijo is a poetics of completeness in the untamed reality of life, and it joins deep reflection with action: meaning and action unfold as one.
Sijo poems are three lines of some 45 syllables in total. The last line pivots into action instead of remaining in the state of contemplation.
When I was a friar monk, I was told by my mentor, Brother Herman De Porres Johnson, “the Order is not just contemplating the world, but more of a place to reflect on what can be done in the world.”
Brother Herman linked his message to me with one of the Dominican Order’s treasured sayings, “Contemplare et contemplata aliis tradere”—which means to contemplate and to give to others the fruits of contemplation.
A gift to warriors
This leads me to my journey home from the Iraq War. Though I contemplate my pain and the remedy for it, there must be more than just reflections or reactive thoughts. In my readjustment, I’m called to act, even in tranquil inaction. I’m called, via that third line of each poem, to avoid letting memories and thoughts of war overtake me.
The Sijo assists me in pursuing the warrior life at home with great wonderment, passion, will and compassion.
Sijo is a gift to warriors. Many Korean warriors wrote Sijo poems as metaphysical reflections to tame the soul for battle. The Sijo assists me in pursuing the warrior life at home with great wonderment, passion, will and compassion
I’m grateful to America for the opportunity to birth Korean creative expressions in the United States. It’s a challenge and a blessing. While the haiku can find glory in the gift of flowers and birds, Sijo throws me into deep thinking. I find my thoughts delve deep into the words of my existence before the war, my less-than becoming during the war and my attempts at being more than a one-trick-pony when I returned home.
The most beautiful aspect of Sijo is how that third line of each poem can inspire a lonely vet to overlook the many war books that force the reader to absorb manufactured, repetitive images of war.
Will these books help you get back with your ex? Will those pages inspire you to have confidence on that date with your destiny? Or help you avoid getting into a bar fight? Or get you out of isolation from family during Thanksgiving? Or will those war books save a life by preventing a veteran suicide?
Sijo has many uses for the warrior. Include them in your rucksack.
8 Sijo war poems
“Odysseus at Home/Then What?”
My heavy oar into roaring currents with intention of swift strokes,
I find myself alone in the sea of life splashing and waiting ,
Wishing to truly navigate home even after I have disembarked,
Am seen with just a war in my story without much else,
Wishing my story was the bright yellow ribbon as seen on TV,
Each day I try to be seen in failed scrabbles of bright words,
“Monk at War”
One hot day in Babylon, boy, in full flight carrying a brown package,
Iraqi boy runs to me and my trigger finger tempts me,
Beyond bravado I contemplate Psalm 23 and let boy pass,
“NMD: Noise of Mass Destruction”
Maqams are the dancing songs of sweetness for old Iraqi ears,
War has stopped the dancing ballad cries from Arabia with wordless noise,
A rocket attack plays over the ancient desert ditty,
“Marquee Military Literature and Some of Its Writers”
Blood and guts written by self-ordained published heroes,
Some bubblegum war books out there cheered, marketed and globalized,
Where are the Socratic war books littered with critical thought?
“Waking Life. Over There or Over Here?”
The call to prayer over there was dreamy yet put us to attention,
Over there the muezzin had a noble job to pray from the minaret.
Where are the respectable jobs here at home for our service?
“Carla: My First Sijo Poem to a Woman”
Your story inspired me to laugh and catch fireflies of summer from my younger years,
Iraq is a deadening lover I am ready to drop for you,
Your gentle hand on my troubled head at night makes it easy to decide,
“A Boy Witnessing his Dad”
Opened up on a table with blood beckoned the one who raised Lazarus,
The veterinarian began the symphony of care for the dying Saint Bernard,
Will my son ever witness such purity of heart in me as I witnessed my dad?