In “Examination of the Hero in a Time of War,” a long poem written during WWII, Wallace Stevens attempted to redefine the heroic so that it might pertain not merely to those whose victories took place on the battlefield. He offered a notion of the hero not as a person but as a “feeling” attainable to “the common man,” one in which it seemed “As if in seeing we saw our feeling / In the object seen.” Dan Beachy-Quick’s long, new wartime poem, “Heroisms,” brilliantly and comically investigates the phallocentrism implicit in that formulation (with all due respect). But instead of berating the hero outright for his masculinist assumptions and forceful projection of self onto the objective world, Beachy-Quick lets his figure of the hero, driven by the desire to possess and to master, commit one blunder after another. The poem implies that the path the hero is on may very well be one of maturing from a person who “never stops / Asking for an answer” into one who knows “There is a way to think that asks no questions / But divides every question in two,” but we never quite witness that evolution take place. We do, however, witness the hero tire and even grow frightened of gazing upon the world and finding only himself again. The poem doesn’t tell us what happens next—in part, presumably, for dramatic effect, but also because its author knows better than to imply that the changes yet to take place in the hero’s mind are all that easy to make. Moreover, we end without knowing what happens next because being at home with unknowing is, one hopes, our hero’s destination.

—Timothy Donnelly



The hero comes home!–the jerk
In his journeys

His penis grown so long he loops it through
His belt-loops to keep his pants up
And still its tip drags in the dust behind him

Drawing a line pointing backward
To everything the hero’s entered. It’s a kind of pride:

Origin, that voice
The brute severed from its face, saying as if

Saying forever
“Now crowd yourself back into time.”


Do the trick again where you throw your voice
Do that trick

Where you make the stone say “life is so hard”

That trick that makes the dead laugh so hard

That makes the stones follow you as you walk

The applause that is those tears in the sockets

Do the trick where you put your voice inside the head
Of one who has no voice, that one through whose mouth

You speak to yourself     golden-sandaled, purple-robed,
Descend you‚ descend you whom I love


Nice to walk on the tops of their heads

But hard to keep balance. There are other tricks
The crowd applauds with their hands

As the flower swallows its own head
A green sword cuts itself in half
So a tendril somersaults into a seed

But you can’t bury yourself

Fate rings a bell when the air is on fire
Everyone can breathe fire

But can you stop breathing
He says‚ until the sky turns blue



I speak these words directly into his yawn

Open cave of
                        his dark almost kind
of fire-lit mouth

And the shadows there my words form
These shadows in the back of the hero’s throat

We watch the trees walk past us and want to clap and clap
Except the chains are so loud when we move
We’re all afraid the leaves will grow afraid.

There are other ways to describe the year:

Acrobat bent so far backward he stands on his own head‚ or

Seasons of
The hero’s boredom.


Where the horror is comparison, honor sees
Hands in the trees instead of leaves—

Honesty asks why the applause is so quiet
When the wind blows so hard–

Breath is the atmosphere at utmost extreme
Where the lungs are flowers–thought the dew—

The sun doubts everything‚ a general statement
In whose light the hero sees these helpless things

Beg mercy, beg darkness for obscurity–
We do not comprehend the awe, it comprehends us–

When leaves fold in halves they look sleepy
Like eyes, but these eyes are fists


What he desires is a face he can desire
Without waking up or changing his own face
But desire puts on him a mask he cannot take off
No matter how he strains the flowers laugh
As he pulls on his ears with all his might
The flowers clap and show him patience
A bee gathers pollen from their dust-heavy eyes
As the hero wrestles his face into the ground


The mirror in his own house kept tricking him
Putting a hole in solid
In solid stone the apple tree bloomed
And the glimmer turning poppy in the sky
He calls the sun my poppy
When the sun is in his house only another room
He feels this awe when he steps forward and sees
His face feeling a shape called awe


The palace is nervous
Her fingers shake holding up her head
The light never veil enough to hide her many eyes

Every door is the erotic entry
Into the underworld
The hero laughs as he gropes Wisdom

Says hard things go soft and World says
Soft things get hard

Faces, facts, columns, flowers, eyes


He carries in his face an infant almost
Always crying

Witness behind the sham veil

Deception is the form description takes
When a tree falls to its knees and begs

For a form called mercy the hero
Feels a form called structure or pride


Speaks about himself to experience
Himself in words others gave him
But uttered deeds grow dark so dark
Clouds stutter and swarm around him
Removing him from himself the hero
Fears he his own frustrated battle
And the field an audience inside him


Name never subtle he invokes himself

The weather like a riddle he never stops
Asking for an answer instead of a process

(a cloud hides itself in its own display)

Divergent emergencies can split his thunder
Head in two, one voice saying to the other

Its typical lament: “I could’a been a source”


Growing aged and dying
One head became hundreds of
The hero’s most feared
Weapon he released with his breath
Only conquered the field
Didn’t know it was under attack


Dandelion‚ you sphinx
You riddle the epic you sing

Bind me fast is the lover’s prayer
But the hero’s lash is dispersal


He weds Circumference
So abandonment steps
Him always closer home

A center is a simple wreck
Impossible not to believe
The heart is a thing that beats

Beats in the air a ripple
As water beats out from stone
Tears what the hero follows

It rips through the ground
His bride leaves
A furrow in his brow


Circumference is that half-erotic everywhere
That makes the hero go hard

Betrayal a turned-around faithfulness
Abandons the center to prove the orb


There is a way to think that asks no questions
But divides every question in two

The peach splits apart and reveals
Its mind, the crenellated pit

The hero swallows whole each seed
His intestines consider gardens


When he belches the clouds congest

Shamelessness is a stunt they all appreciate
Those bones with the marrow dry inside them
Those sockets in the shoulders all of them in the eyes

When he farts the wrens begin
To sing as he scratches himself

He says‚ “Look at me, I’m a waterfall . . . ”

And the chorus is left behind to gather the wet
Pansies removed from his care and or thought

“ . . . Yet this is only half the truth‚”
And then he puts the waterfall away


Pick a flower and the ground opens

A woman opens up
Her heart pick a flower‚ any flower

The hero says a bouquet in his hand
His smile goes to seed

When he pretends his hands are weeds

But the source wilts


Earth so earthy in him so earthly
Or earthlike the little world accommodates
This sod he is so full

Of himself he calls himself “little fool”
With such tender love his tears turn
The garden into mud

Gods so godly above him so god-like
Throwing lightning and shining
In their faces he calls them

“those samples” and his laughter laughs
So heavenly or is it so heaven-like
The garden dries in his sigh


Opinion and prayer
or the onion’s layers
Chorus and chaos
or the curious rhyme
Tear away a peel
                            and find a tear
Speak in one voice
                            to keep measure or time


Fate       the ditch

Study nature to know

Yourself       a current

Through the debris
& the debris

Gets carried away


He smiles inside his own face and cries
Not the fear of monsters, but the fear that none exist
“Lightness” kept turning over and over in his mouth
Light then weight then light then weight

He cries inside his own face and smiles
“Monster” is a word and a word is a labyrinth
From one side you know your way about
From another side you no longer know your way about

“Fate”       he says it and it is like a torch
Chasing through the dark the person
Who wants to stay lost in the dark
Did he say “person”       Did he say “person”


Desire grows a face and then the mirror makes sense
Of reflection’s furious pursuit–the bells‚ the bells
Are shiny but they do not think when they ring
Stretching desire’s face into its own atrocious mask
Where the mouth is a ditch that smiles


Desire desires

The hero was taught and so he teaches
Tautology is the nature of

Whose breasts bell-like ring when she runs

And every tongue must say what it says

Calling me to myself, whoever
Me is

A name


Clap clap clap goes the tongue
Clap clap clap

Breath is no wonderment
But being out of breath works hard
As a flower works hard
In the sunlight to open

Fate is the awful equation
That makes of one two
And makes of two one

      They open almost like eyes

Is what he thinks as he runs
Away from his own applause

      The flowers