W.D. Ehrhart

1983 Poet Laureate

W. D. Ehrhart (b.1948) was born in western Pennsylvania and grew up in Perkasie, graduating from Pennridge High School in 1966, where he won the Pearl S. Buck Literary Achievement Award.  Enlisting in the US Marine Corps at age 17, he served a combat tour in Vietnam, received the Purple Heart Medal and a Navy Combat Action Ribbon, and earned the rank of sergeant before his release from active duty, when he became active in Vietnam Veterans Against the War.  He earned a BA from Swarthmore College, an MA from the University of Illinois, and a PhD from the University of Wales at Swansea.  The author of 19 books of prose and poetry, most recently a collection of poems called The Bodies Beneath the Table (Adastra Press, 2010), and 10 poetry chapbooks.  He is also the recipient of the President’s Medal from Veterans for Peace, two Pennsylvania Arts Council Fellowships, a Pew Fellowship in the Arts, and an Excellence in the Arts Award from Vietnam Veterans of America.  The husband of Anne and father of Leela, he teaches English and history at the Haverford School, where he also coaches winter track and sponsors the student arts and literature journal, Pegasus.

Coaching Winter Track in Time of War

The boys are running “suicides”
on the football field today:
ten-yard increments out to the fifty
and back again, push-ups in between.
It’s thirty degrees, but they sweat
like it’s summer in Baghdad,
curse like soldiers, swear to God
they’ll see you burn in Hell.

You could fall in love with boys
like these: so earnest, so eager, so
ready to do whatever you ask, so
full of themselves and the world.

How do you tell them it’s not that simple?
How do you tell them: question it all.
Question everything.  Even a coach.
Even a president.  How do you tell them:
ask the young dead soldiers coming home
each night in aluminum boxes
none of us is allowed to see,
an army of shades.

You tell the boys “good work” and call it a day,
stand alone in fading light while
memory’s phantoms circle the track
like weary athletes running a race
without a finish line.

(From The Bodies Beneath the Table)