A Short Introduction to A Small pain in my Chest by Michael Mack

About the Poet:

Michael Mack is a renowned poet, playwright, and performer. His stint in the U.S. air force as an aircraft crew chief gave him a lot of fodder for his poetry. Mack tried his hands at a variety of factory and labor jobs before he resumed his education again at MIT and graduated from their Writing Program.
Mack’s poems and stories have been aired on the NPR and he has been published variously in myriad journals. He has been awarded the First Prize in the Writer’s Circle National Poetry competition and a fellowship in dramatic writing from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, twice in 2005 and 2013. This fellowship is esteemed as one of the most competitive and prestigious individual Arts grants.
Mack has also attained fame because of his performances. He has performed both in academic and consumer circles.
One of his most famous publications is his collection of poetry titled ‘BALLADEER – The Poetry of Michael Mack”.

About A Small pain in my Chest:

A Small pain in my Chest belongs to the tradition of anti-war poetry spear-headed by the likes of Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, and Rupert Brooke. It has been written by the poet as a reaction to the Vietnam War. It is a relatively recent anti-war poem hence it is interesting to note how the poem still conforms to the traditions of anti-war poetry. This poem which narrates the last few moments of a dying soldier is a heart-rendering account of the battlefield travails of soldiers.
The poem’s claim to fame is that it had been read to an audience comprising of some five thousand people at the funeral of the first Blackhawk helicopter pilot. This poem is also recited during the meetings of Vietnam Veterans.

The Setting of A Small pain in my Chest:

A small pain in my Chest employs the Vietnam War as its setting, during which multitude of lives was thwarted. The poem takes us right into the middle of an ongoing battle instead of simply speaking about the plight of the soldiers. The poet does so in order to give us a first-hand experience of what the soldiers go through so that their plight can be presented more conspicuously on paper. The mood of the poem is that of despair and pain. We have in front of us a dying soldier who has been severely maimed, while in action. There is also an atmosphere of destruction in the poem which is brought out by reference to craters and bodies of dead soldiers.


Stanza-Wise Annotations of A Small pain in my Chest:

1st Stanza:
Soldier-boy: The soldier was not very old
Beckoning: Calling
Scores of figures: Hundreds of figures
On the ground lay still: Reference to the dead bodies of soldiers
2nd Stanza:
Morn: Morning
A small pain in my chest: Reference to the fatal wound of the soldier
3rd Stanza:
Warm blood: The wound has been freshly inflicted and hence the blood which flows from the wound is still warm.
Asian dirt: Indication towards the location of the battlefield – Vietnam
4th Stanza:
Fatigue: Tiredness
Two hundred strong: Two hundred fit soldiers
Crest: Top of a mountain or a hill – a very strategic place for planting an attack. Hill stops are considered as the trickiest zones by soldiers since no cover can be obtained once the soldier reaches the top of the hill.
The night exploded: There was a bomb explosion so intense in magnitude that it made the soldier feel as if the night was exploding
5th Stanza:
Big deep craters: Aftermath of war
6th Stanza:
Vim and Zest: enthusiasm and life force.
8th Stanza:
Winced: the soldier squinted his eyes against the glare of the bright sun