Monday, July 5, 2010

She Came in Handy & Molly Marine

The Poetry Bus has left the Farm, driven by the able Weaver. As I've been away for the holiday, I am a bit late at the stop, but I hope I can persuade her to stop long enough for Molly and me to hop aboard.

The challenge was to write something about a person or in the voice of that person; I've done both, but I must admit that I did so some while ago. If you've read before, please don't feel compelled to comment.

For those who haven't read these, let me explain the impetus for the poems. My son took a photo of a gravestone in a military cemetery. The stone is for a female marine from the WWII era. On her stone, it says (I kid you not), "SHE CAME IN HANDY."

I'll say. Sheesh.

She Came In Handy

When she signed up in ‘43
She got no special name,
But wore the eagle and the globe
And anchor all the same.

She trained with guns and aeroplanes
And learned to march just dandy,
But it was keeping things in check
She really came in handy.

They said she freed a man to fight
So he could win the war;
At home she did the vital jobs
That he had done before.

She typed the Captain’s letters up
And filed his work away,
She kept a calendar for him
And organized his day.

She felt great fear she couldn’t show
About the plans they made
To drop a bomb to end the war--
At least that’s what she prayed.

She gave her days to Uncle Sam
And when the war was done,
She shook their hands and said goodbye
And felt life had begun.

She married Jack and had three kids,
And when the kids were grown,
She helped by taking on the books
At the station that they owned.

She lived a life of sacrifice,
Blessed others by the giving,
And when she passed short years ago
She left a life worth living.

Upon her grave they set the stone
That told the world a story
Of one good life lived out in time
Without a thought for glory.

In words so sweet and measured out
Like little bits of candy
That summed her worth for all to see,
They said, “She came in handy.”

Molly Marine

Me? Bothered by a stone?
Why, child, there’s a ring to it—
rhymes with dandy, and I was that,
in that uniform I wore.
They told us not to fraternize,
but I could have. I’d march by those men,
and I knew the power of my hips!
Never used it, though.
I was a good girl, a good Marine.
Wore the eagle, globe and anchor.
Did my job for God and Uncle Sam,
in my own way.
I freed a man to fight, they said.
He went to die, and I went to work.
Spent my time typing up the war
and praying they’d not drop that bomb.
But they did.
That might have been the happiest
and the saddest day of my life,
Cause then it was done.
I traded a salute and Semper Fi
for an apron and a big belly –
three younguns and fifty-three good years
with one man before it was over.
But you know, once a Marine,
always a Marine, and I never
felt so proud in all my life as the day
they planted me here with the rest.
Seventy-nine years doing
for others what I could, and I reckon
I earned the way they summed my life.
It’s no insult, child: I came in handy.


  1. I am so incredibly impressed by the wonderful job you did with both these poems. I hadn't really given much though to how important these women were who servered uring these past wars, assuming military duties so that men could fight abroad. Thank you for reminding me.

    Excellent, moving poetry.

  2. Absolutely beautiful Karen - the bus would have been so much poorer without you and these two splendid poems - you have captured the essence! Of course I waited for you. The bus has only to go about a mile to Dominic for next week, so there was plenty of time. Hope to see you next Monday too.

  3. Like the gentle irony of the first poem. What an epitaph! I wondered what gave rise to it? Perhaps such and such will "come in handy" was a phrase she overused. Nevertheless, it's still an eyebrow-raiser to say the least and certainly deserves to have poetry written about it.

    If archaelogists find it 1000s of years from now it'll certainly tell them something of the sexual politics of the 20th century.

  4. For some reason, the comments that have been left here are not appearing on the blog, but they're coming into my email account.

    If you wish to comment, please do so, and I'll move them here with your attribution.


  5. I like the 'planted' in that second poem.

  6. Excellent, two sides to the story, two very different poems. I really like the rhythm and rhyme in the first poem

  7. What a neat idea.The two sides to the same story. It works (and you've told it) really well.But what on earth, 'She came in handy'!!?? On a gravestone.It's hard to believe.There must (hopefully) be a story to it like Dominic suggests.

  8. An interesting challenge this week, giving rise to some very different takes. You did it proud.

  9. Oh, Lord. What a funny thing to be remembered by in stone. It ranks up there with "I told you I was sick." I'm late reading the Bus tickets, but these poems are jewels. Great rhythm in the first one, and a beautiful voice in the second. I'm so glad you've immortalized her this way. I know she knows you've done it, and she is laughing.

  10. i remember these - still love 'em. i can still imagine "handy" being sung by duke ellington in a uso somewhere. and the voice of "molly" is spot-on - evidence to support that they were, indeed, the "greatest generation".

    i know things weren't perfect - but we'd do well to quit bickering and complaining and aspire to that stregth of character, that gratitude, and that belief that despite our differences, we can all be on the same side.

  11. Wonderful tale, beautifully told, I love the idea of giving both perspectives, loved the voice you gave her, very down to earth and no nonsense.
    thanks for sharing

  12. this is the first time i have read these poems. i like how both reflect and give credit to the important jobs women did in war.
    i liked the personal tone of the second one ;)

  13. What an incredible epitaph. Love the way you've brought one line to life and turned it into a story

  14. Yes, I remember these poems, and it is a pleasure to read them again. They make me think of my grandmother. She worked in a cotton mill for many years (taking the kids to work with her). It was dangerous and grueling work. When my grandfather was called to war, she was the sole breadwinner. She even started a business that ended up being a family run business. I didn't know she had started the business until I was grown, and it was mentioned in casual conversation. She never asked for credit.

    I love both poems. The voice in "Molly Marine" is awesome. It's a great contrast to the first poem, and what an ending! Wonderful words, Karen!

  15. Everyone - Thanks for your comments! I've had some Blogger issues and had to go back to my older version of Blogger to get my (and your) comments to work. What they means is that all of the individual comment/responses I wrote have disappeared. I think we're in business again, but I haven't the energy right now to re-create all of those responses.

    Please accept my thanks for your thoughtful and kind comments!