Poets Against War continues the tradition of socially engaged poetry by creating venues for poetry as a voice against war, tyranny and oppression.

homepoemsnewsletterpoetry mattersdonatearchivescontact us

On this page you'll find a selection of especially powerful poems and statements by prominent poets.

Ralph Angel Jim Harrison Adrienne Rich
John Balaban Brenda Hillman Primus St. John
Robert Bly Jane Hirshfield Ruth Stone
Hayden Carruth Shirley Kaufman Rose Styron
Peter Coyote Galway Kinnell Philip Whalen
Robert Creeley Carolyn Kizer C. K. Williams
Diane di Prima Maxine Kumin Terry Tempest Williams
Rita Dove W.S. Merwin Eleanor Wilner
Martín Espada Carol Muske-Dukes C.D. Wright
Lawrence Ferlinghetti William O'Daly
Martin Galvin Sharon Olds
Ursula K. Le Guin Gregory Orr
Marilyn Hacker Alicia Ostriker
Sam Hamill Robert Pinsky
Joy Harjo Katha Pollitt



Umoja: Each One of Us Counts

           One went the way of water,
             one crumpled under stone;
one climbed the air but plunged through fire,
           one fought the fear alone.

Remember us, though we are gone.

           A star flares on an epaulet,
           a ball rolls in harm's way;
       the glowing line onscreen goes flat,
           an anonymous bullet strays --

Remember us! Do not forget!

           One lay slathered in garlands,
               one left only a smear;
     one cracked a joke, smiled, then shrugged
               to show he didn't care.  

Do not forget that we were here.

     Do those who failed still miss the wind,
         that sweet breath from the sky?
         Do they still covet rock and moss
   or the swift, hard blink of the lizard's eye?

We walk on water, we are written on air.

     Let us honor the lost, the snatched, the
                                 relinquished,
     those vanquished by glory, muted by shame.
Stand up in the silence they've left and listen:
     those absent ones, unknown and unnamed --

remember!

their whispers fill the arena.

-- Rita Dove, 2003
(U.S. poet laureate, 1993-1995)

back to top

Speak Out

And a vast paranoia sweeps across the land
And America turns the attack on its Twin Towers
Into the beginning of the Third World War
The war with the Third World

And the terrorists in Washington
Are drafting all the young men

And no one speaks

And they are rousting out
All the ones with turbans
And they are flushing out
All the strange immigrants

And they are shipping all the young men
To the killing fields again

And no one speaks

And when they come to round up
All the great writers and poets and painters
The National Endowment of the Arts of Complacency
Will not speak

While all the young men
Will be killing all the young men
In the killing fields again

So now is the time for you to speak
All you lovers of liberty
All you lovers of the pursuit of happiness
All you lovers and sleepers
Deep in your private dreams

Now is the time for you to speak
O silent majority
Before they come for you

-- Lawrence Ferlinghetti

back to top


Complaint and Petition

Mr. President: On a clear cold
morning I address you from a remote
margin of your dominion in plain-
style Yankee quatrains because

I don't know your exalted language
of power. I'm thankful for that. This
is a complaint and petition, sent
to you in the long-held right I claim

As a citizen. To recapitulate your
wrong-doings is unnecessary; the topic
is large and prominent and already
occupies the attention of historians

and political scholars, whose findings
will in the near future expose your
incontinent and maniacal ambition
for all to see. Let it suffice to

say that you have warped the law and
flouted the will and wisdom of the
people as no other has before you.
You have behaved precisely as a tin-pot

tyrant in any benighted, inglorious
corner of the earth. And now you are
deviously and corruptly manipulating
events in order to create war.

Let us speak plainly. You wish to
murder millions, as you yourself
have said, to appease your fury. We
oppose such an agenda—we, the people,

artists, artisans, builders, makers,
honest American men and women,
especially the poets, for whom I dare
to speak. We say, desist, resign,

hide yourself in your own shame,
lest otherwise the evil you have
loosed will destroy everything
and love will quit the world.

-- Hayden Carruth, 1/28/03

back to top


The Olive Wood Fire

When Fergus woke crying at night.
I would carry him from his crib
to the rocking chair and sit holding him
before the fire of thousand-year-old olive wood.
Sometimes, for reasons I never knew
and he has forgotten, even after his bottle the big tears
would keep on rolling down his big cheeks
- the left cheek always more brilliant than the right -
and we would sit, some nights for hours, rocking
in the light eking itself out of the ancient wood,
and hold each other against the darkness,
his close behind and far away in the future,
mine I imagined all around.
One such time, fallen half-asleep myself,
I thought I heard a scream
- a flier crying out in horror
as he dropped fire on he didn't know what or whom,
or else a child thus set aflame -
and sat up alert. The olive wood fire
had burned low. In my arms lay Fergus,
fast asleep, left cheek glowing, God.

-- Galway Kinnell

back to top


State of the Union, 2003

I have not been to Jerusalem,
but Shirley talks about the bombs.
I have no god, but have seen the children praying
for it to stop. They pray to different gods.
The news is all old news again, repeated
like a bad habit, cheap tobacco, the social lie.

The children have seen so much death
that death means nothing to them now.
They wait in line for bread.
They wait in line for water.
Their eyes are black moons reflecting emptiness.
We've seen them a thousand times.

Soon, the President will speak.
He will have something to say about bombs
and freedom and our way of life.
I will turn the tv off. I always do.
Because I can't bear to look
at the monuments in his eyes.

-- Sam Hamill

back to top

Sheepherder Coffee

I used to like sheepherder coffee,
a cup of grounds in my old enameled pot,
then three cups of water and a fire,

and when it's hot, boiling into froth,
a half cup of cold water
to bring the grounds to the bottom.

It was strong and bitter and good
as I squatted on the riverbank,
under the great redwoods, all those years ago.

Some days, it was nearly all I got.
I was happy with my dog,
and cases of books in my funky truck.

But when I think of that posture now,
I can't help but think
of Palestinians huddled in their ruins,

the Afghani shepherd with his bleating goats,
the widow weeping, sending off her sons,
the Tibetan monk who can't go home.

There are fewer names for coffee
than for love. Squatting, they drink,
thinking, waiting for whatever comes.

-- Sam Hamill

back to top

Refusing

Refusing the invitation
I was not given,
being given instead
the invitation to refuse.
Which I accept.
Am grateful for.
The chance to be part of
the poet's chorus,
the caucus of those
whose politics
is obvious and earnest.
Whose wishes are simple:
sensible diplomacy,
everything to be negotiated.
Tough bargaining,
but easy on the violence.
That's what we poets
learned from poems:
it's all on the table,
but it's stupid
to break up the table
with an axe,
to splinter the chairs.

And it's madness
to ask poets to celebrate,
when people can't even
breathe deeply
for fear of war's imminence.

-- Gregory Orr

back to top

Morning News

Spring wafts up the smell of bus exhaust, of bread
and fried potatoes, tips green on the branches,
but it's old news: arrogance, ignorance, war.
A cinder-block wall shared by two houses
is new rubble. On one side was a kitchen
sink and a cupboard, on the other was
a bed, a bookshelf, three framed photographs.

Glass is shattered across the photographs;
two half-circles of
hardened pocket-bread
sit on the cupboard. There provisionally was
shelter, a plastic truck under the branches
of a fig-tree. A knife flashed in the kitchen,
merely dicing garlic. Engines of war
move inexorably towards certain houses

while citizens sit safe in other houses
reading the newspaper, whose photographs
give sanitized excuses for the war.
There are innumerable kinds of bread
brought up from bakeries, baked in the kitchen:
the date, the latitude, tell which one was
dropped by a child beneath the bloodied branches.

The uncontrolled and multifurcate branches
of possibility infiltrate houses'
walls, windowframes, ceilings. Where there was
a tower, a town: ash and burnt wires, a graph
on a distant computer screen. Elsewhere, a kitchen
table's setting gapes, where children bred
to branch into new lives were culled for war.

Who wore this starched smocked cotton dress? Who wore
this jersey blazoned for the local branch
of the district soccer team? Who left this black bread
and this flat gold bread in their abandoned houses?
Whose father begged for mercy in the kitchen?
Whose memory will frame the photograph
and use the memory for what it was

never meant for by this girl, that old man, who was
caught on a ball-field, near a window: war,
exhorted through the grief a photograph
revives (or was the team a covert branch
of a banned group; were maps drawn in the kitchen,
a bomb thrust in a hollowed loaf of bread?).
What did the old men pray for in their houses

of prayer, the teachers teach in schoolhouses
between blackouts and blasts, when each word was
flensed by new censure, books exchanged for bread,
both hostage to the happenstance of war?
Sometimes the only schoolroom is a kitchen.
Outside the window, black strokes on a graph
of broken glass, birds line up on bare branches.

"This letter curves, this one spreads its branches
like friends holding hands outside their houses."
Was the lesson stopped by gunfire, was
there panic, silence, does
a torn photograph
still gather children in the teacher's kitchen?
Are they there meticulously learning war-
time lessons with the signs for house, book, bread?

-- Marilyn Hacker

back to top

Letter to Hayden Carruth

Dear Hayden, I have owed you a letter for
one month, or two - your last one's misplaced. But I'm
back in New York. The world is howling,
bleeding and dying in banner headlines.

No hope from youthful pacifists, elderly
anarchists; no solutions from diplomats.
Men maddened with revealed religion
murder their neighbors with righteous fervor,

while claiming they're "defending democracy,"
our homespun junta exports the war machine.
They, too, have daily prayer-meetings,
photo-op-perfect for tame reporters.

("God Bless America" would be blasphemy
if there were a god concerned with humanity.)
Marie is blunt about it: things were
less awful (Stateside) in 1940.

I wasn't born... I've read shelves of books about
France under Vichy after the armistice:
war at imagination's distance.
Distance is telescoped now, shrinks daily.

Jews who learned their comportment from storm-troopers
act out the nightmares that woke their grandmothers;
Jews sit, black-clad, claim peace: their vigil's
not on the whistlestop pol's agenda.

"Our" loss is grave: American, sacralized.
We are dismayed that dead Palestinians,
Kashmiris, Chechens, Guatemalans,
also are mourned with demands for vengeance.

"Our" loss is grave, that is, till a president
in spanking-new non-combatant uniform
mandates a war: then, men and women
dying for oil will be needed heroes.

I'd rather live in France (or live anywhere
there's literate debate in the newspapers).
The English language is my mother
tongue, but it travels. Asylum, exile?

I know where I feel more like a foreigner
now that it seems my birth country silences
dissent with fear. Of death? Of difference?
I know which city lightens my mornings.

You had New England; I had diaspora,
an old folk song: "Wish I was where I would be,
Then I'd be where I am not." Would that
joy claimed its citizens, issued passports.

"First, do no harm," physicians, not presidents,
swear when inducted. I'm tired of rhetoric,
theirs or journalists' or my own ranting.
I'd like to hole up with Blake and Crashaw -

but there's a stack of student endeavors that
I've got to read, and write some encouraging
words on. Five hours of class tomorrow;
Tuesday, a dawn flight to California.

-- Marilyn Hacker

back to top

Collateral Damage

(for Miss Tin in Hue)

"The girl (captured; later, freed)
and I (collapsed by a snip of lead)
remember well the tea you steeped
for us in the garden, as music played
and the moon plied the harvest dusk.
You read the poem on a Chinese vase
that stood outside your father's room,
where he dozed in a mandarin dream
of King Gia Long's reposing at Ben Ngu.
We worry that you all are safe.
A house with pillars carved in poems
is floored with green rice fields
and roofed by all the heavens of this world."

.....Well, that was the poem, written
in fullest discovery and iambics
by a twenty-four-year old feeling lucky
not long after those scary events.
Three years later, he (i.e. yours truly)
went back with his young American wife
(not the girl above "captured...freed, etc.")
and the night before the '72 Spring Offensive
(which, you'll recall, almost took the city)
tried to find Miss Tin's house once again
.....in a thunderstorm, both wearing ponchos,
and he (a version of "me") clutching a .45 Colt
while she, just clutched his wet hand. Of course,
anyone might have shot us--the Viet Cong
infiltrating the city, the last Marines,
the jittery ARVN troops, or, really,
any wretch just trying to feed his family.
So here's the point: why would anyone
(esp. a: me, or b: my wife, or versions of same)
even dream of going out like that? ...Simple:
A. To show his bride a household built on poems.
B. To follow love on all his lunkhead ventures.
Anyway, when we found the gated compound,
we scared the wits out of the Vietnamese inside
on the verandah reading by tiny kerosene lamps
or snoozing in hammocks under mosquito netting
who took us for assassins, or ghosts, until
my wife pulled off her poncho hood, revealing
the completely unexpected: a pretty. blonde. White Devil.
Since Miss Tin wasn't there, they did the right thing
and denied knowing her, as night and river
hissed with rain and a lone goose honked forlornly.

The next night, we headed out again,
the monsoon flooding the darkened city,
the offensive booming in nearby hills,
and montagnards trekking into Hue in single file
as their jungle hamlets fell to the barrage.
I kept our jeep running, as my wife dashed out
to give away our piasters to the poor
bastards half-naked in the driving rain.
She gave it all away. Six month's salary,
a sack of banknotes watermarked with dragons,
(except what we needed to get back to Saigon,
but that's another story)...the point here being:
I often think of Miss Tin's pillared house in Hue
and those events now thirty years ago
whenever leaders cheer the new world order,
or generals regret "collateral damage."

-- John Balaban

back to top

American Wars

Like the topaz in the toad's head
the comfort in the terrible histories
was up front, easy to find:
Once upon a time in a kingdom far away.
Even to the dreadful now of news
we listened comforted
by far timezones, languages we didn't speak,
the wide, forgetful oceans.
Today, no comfort but the jewel courage.
The war is ours, now, here, it is our republic
facing its own betraying terror.
And how we tell the story is forever after.

-- Ursula K. Le Guin

back to top

The School Among the Ruins

Beirut.Baghdad.Sarajevo.Bethlehem.Kabul. Not of course here.


1.

Teaching the first lesson and the last
--great falling light of summer will you last
longer than schooltime?

When children flow
in columns at the doors
BOYS GIRLS and the busy teachers

open or close high windows
with hooked poles drawing darkgreen shades

closets unlocked, locked
questions unasked, asked, when

love of the fresh impeccable
sharp-pencilled yes
order without cruelty

a street on earth neither heaven nor hell
busy with commerce and worship
young teachers walking to school

fresh bread and early-open foodstalls


2.

When the offensive rocks the sky when nightglare
misconstrues day and night when lived-in

rooms from the upper city
tumble cratering lower streets

cornices of olden ornament human debris
when fear vacuums out the streets

When the whole town flinches
blood on the undersole thickening to glass

Whoever crosses hunched knees bent a contested zone
knows why she does this suicidal thing

School's now in session day and night
children sleep
in the classrooms teachers rolled close


3.

How the good teacher loved
his school the students
the lunchroom with fresh sandwiches

lemonade and milk
the classroom glass cages
of moss and turtles
teaching responsibility

A morning breaks without bread or fresh-poured milk
parents or lesson-plans

diarrhea first question of the day
children shivering it's September
Second question: where is my mother?


4.

One: I don't know where your mother
is Two: I don't know
why they are trying to hurt us
Three: or the latitude and longitude
of their hatred Four: I don't know if we
hate them as much I think there's more toilet paper
in the supply closet I'm going to break it open

Today this is your lesson:
write as clearly as you can
your name home street and number
down on this page
No you can't go home yet
but you aren't lost
this is our school

I'm not sure what we'll eat
we'll look for healthy roots and greens
searching for water though the pipes are broken


5.

There's a young cat sticking
her head through window bars
she's hungry like us
but can feed on mice
her bronze erupting fur
speaks of a life already wild

her golden eyes
don't give quarter She'll teach us Let's call her
Sister
when we get milk we'll give her some


6.

I've told you, let's try to sleep in this funny camp
All night pitiless pilotless things go shrieking
above us to somewhere

Don't let your faces turn to stone
Don't stop asking me why
Let's pay attention to our cat she needs us

Maybe tomorrow the bakers can fix their ovens


7.

"We sang them to naps told stories made
shadow-animals with our hands

washed human debris off boots and coats
sat learning by heart the names
some were too young to write
some had forgotten how"


Copyright © 2001

-- Adrienne Rich

back to top

Statement

It would not have been possible for me ever to trust someone who
acquired office by the shameful means Mr. Bush and his abettors resorted
to in the last presidential election. His nonentity was rapidly becoming
more apparent than ever when the catastrophe of Sept. 11, 2001, provided
him and his handlers with a role for him, that of "wartime leader",
which they, and he in turn, were quick to exploit. This role was used at
once to silence all criticism of the man and his words as unpatriotic,
and to provide the auspices for a sustained assault upon civil
liberties, environmental protections, and general welfare. The
perpetuation of this role of "wartime leader" is the primary reason--
more important even than the greed for oil fields and the wish to blot
out his father's failure-- for the present determination to visit war
upon Iraq, kill and maim countless people, and antagonize much of the
world of which Mr. Bush had not heard until recently. The real
iniquities of Saddam Hussein should be recognized, in this context, as
the pretexts they are. His earlier atrocities went unmentioned as long
as he was an ally of former Republican administrations, which were
happy, in their time, to supply him with weapons. I think that someone
who was maneuvered into office against the will of the electorate, as
Mr. Bush was, should be allowed to make no governmental decisions
(including judicial appointments) that might outlast his questionable
term, and if the reasons for war were many times greater than they have
been said to be I would oppose any thing of the kind under such
"leadership". To arrange a war in order to be re-elected outdoes even
the means employed in the last presidential election. Mr. Bush and his
plans are a greater danger to the United States than Saddam Hussein.

-- W. S. Merwin

back to top

Ogres

All night waking to the sound
of light rain falling softly
through the leaves in the quiet
valley below the window
and to Paula lying here
asleep beside me and to
the murmur beside the bed
of the dogs' snoring like small
waves coming ashore I
am amazed at the fortune
of this moment in the whole
of the dark this unspoken
favor while it is with us
this breathing peace and then I
think of the frauds in office
at this instant devising
their massacres in my name
what part of me could they have
come from were they made of my
loathing itself and dredged from
the bitter depths of my shame

-- W. S. Merwin

back to top

Found in the Free Library

 "Write as if you lived in an occupied country."
--Edwin Rolfe

And we were made afraid, and being afraid
we made him bigger than he was, a little man
and ignorant, wrapped like a vase of glass
in bubble wrap all his life, who never felt
a single lurch or bump, carried over
the rough surface of other lives like
the spoiled children of the sultans of old
in sedan chairs, on the backs of slaves,
the gold curtains on the chair
pulled shut against the dust and shit
of the road on which the people walked,
over whose heads, he rode, no more aware
than a wave that rattles pebbles on a beach.

And being afraid we forgot to notice
who pulled his golden strings, how
their banks overflowed while
the public coffers emptied, how
they stole our pensions, poured their smoke
into our lungs, how they beat our ploughshares
into swords, sold power to the lords of oil,
closed their fists to crush the children
of Iraq, took the future from our failing grasp
into their hoards, ignored our votes,
broke our treaties with the world,
and when our hungry children cried,
the doctors drugged them so they wouldn't fuss,
and prisons swelled enormously to hold
the desperate sons and daughters of the poor.
To us, they just said war, and war, and war.

For when they saw we were afraid,
how knowingly they played on every fear--
so conned, we scarcely saw their scorn,
hardly noticed as they took our funds, our rights,
and tapped our phones, turned back our clocks,
and then, to quell dissent, they sent....
(but here the document is torn)

-- Eleanor Wilner

back to top

Poem of War

       The old rancher of seventy-nine years
said while branding and nutting young bulls
   with the rank odor of burned hairs and flesh
  in the air, the oil slippery red nuts
plopping into a galvanized bucket,
      "this smells just like Guadalcanal."

* * *

        The theocratic cowboy forgetting Viet Nam rides
into town on a red horse. He's praying to himself
        not God, though the two are confused
      in the heat of vengeance. The music
      is the thump of derricks, the computerized
         lynch mob geek dissonance. Clint Eastwood
         whispers from an alley, "George, they
    were only movies." Shock and Awe.
        God is only on God's side. War prayers
         swim in their tanks of pus like poisoned
          frogs in algae laden ponds. The red horse
        he rides is the horse of blasphemy. Jesus
         leads a flower laden donkey across the Red Sea
          in the other directions, his nose full of the stink
      of corpses. Buddha and Mohammed offer
  cool water from a palm's shade while young
        men die in the rocket's red glare
          and in the old men's hard puckered dreams
          René Char asked, "Who stands on the gangplank
    directing operations, the captain or the rats?"
Whitman said, "so many young throats
       choked on their own blood." God says nothing.

-- Jim Harrison   February 13, 2003

back to top

Call and Answer

Tell me why it is we don¹t lift our voices these days
And cry over what is happening.  Have you noticed
The plans are made for Iraq and the ice cap is melting?

I say to myself:  "Go on, cry.  What¹s the sense
Of being an adult and having no voice?  Cry out!
See who will answer!  This is Call and Answer!"

We will have to call especially loud to reach
Our angels, who are hard of hearing; they are hiding
In the jugs of silence filled during our wars.

Have we agreed to so many wars that we can¹t
Escape from silence?  If we don¹t lift our voices, we allow
Others (who are ourselves) to rob the house.

How come we¹ve listened to the great criers -- Neruda,
Akhmatova, Thoreau, Frederick Douglass -- and now
We¹re silent as sparrows in the little bushes?

Some masters say our life lasts only seven days.
Where are we in the week?  Is it Thursday yet?
Hurry, cry now!  Soon Sunday night will come.

-- Robert Bly

back to top

THE APPROACHING WAR

The sorrow of a horse standing in a stable goes on
Day and night. The plane that crashes in the desert
Holds shadows under its wings for thirty years.

Each time Rembrandt touches his pen to the page,
So many Dutch barns fly up. Perhaps that happens
Because earth has pulled so many nights down.

Each time a hog, caught by one leg, hangs
Upside down, he looks at the ground from above.
Our elevation suggests that the knife is approaching.

Things go on. The weight of history begins
To bend us over once more. It won¹t be long before
We put our heads down on the chopping block again.

When we hear a Drupad singer with his low
Voice patiently waiting for the next breath,
We know the universe can get along without us.

The writer of this poem is forgetful like you.
For him, a century of forgetfulness can
Go by in the space of a single heartbeat.

-- Robert Bly

back to top

THE BLINDING OF SAMSON

Don't you see them? They are coming to blind Samson!
But some of us don't want the day to end!
If Samson goes blind, what will happen to the sea?

Isn't it bad enough that the sun goes down
Each night, while children throw shoes at the moon?
I remember my mother's grief at sunset.

Now I remember my father. I remember
Every father when he is wrestling with his son.
Oh Lord of the Four Quarters
You gypsy singers, make some raw cries!
Call in the crows to fly over the plowed fields.
I want the beating palms to cry out for Samson.

I want rough voices and shouting women
To cry out against the blinding of Samson.
I will always cry
Isn't it enough that the Evening Star sets every night
And lovemaking ends at dawn? Please, God, help
The human beings, for men are coming to blind Samson.

-- Robert Bly

back to top

Flags

Flags are everywhere.
Tied to cars, strapped
to twisted girders, fanning the air
where silver needles have pierced
the steel ribs of a bold idea,
tossing hope to the teeth of gravity
cinching the collar on a world
straining to breathe.
Men are lifting broken children
from stones in Beirut. A flop-eared mutt
guards a human foot in Bosnia.
Stacked skulls peek
through lianas in Cambodia, while a fireman
breathes into the mouth
of a dead infant in Oklahoma.
The cookies of mothers, pomegranates, musky sheets
of marriage beds, pistachios and birthday cakes
are drenched in oily smoke and iron slag. Everywhere,
electrons serve only their own will,
heavy metals float as ash. Gaps appear
in every skyline. Everywhere, flags
open their wings in the hearts
of people, flutter in the corner of my tv
while a man who thinks he is speaking,
barks, his lips
slick with marrow.

The prep-school boys
are rampaging again. The palm-frond bars
stocking brewskis, and 'gimme'-hats
for the the dead-drop boys,
the dirty secret boys,
from El Mozote and Panama,
off to Baghdad and Kabul now,
dropping in to Peshawar.--
Their itineraries clot the tongue
blood leaks from the ears of history.
the Class of '55 boys
are crazy for bottle-neck flies.
Soot-stained
snapshots, an upturned chair, a thumb--
--everywhere people are weeping and afraid,
waving flags, plotting check and mate,
as if one smooth move might rid the world
of shadows. They are burying
Jews in Tel Aviv, lofting flag-wrapped martyrs
in Ramallah, cursing the mourners in New York.
Everywhere, there is emptiness, tattered space
where someone once sauntered
or warmed their hands with steaming chestnuts.
Each banner a thousand deaths
somewhere
each flag a sword, or swooning plane,
somewhere,
each snapping pennant taps
a riddle in code:
can the heart of a people
be opened by a killer?
Closed by a leader?
Numbed to suffering even
as it weeps?

The dead
in Chile are poems,
in Nicaragua palms and vines;
in Yugoslavia catalogued in Brussels,
in Baghdad irradiated dirt.
In New York, dust
drifting on sills
and dashboards through vaporized glass,
dancing in freshets of air that whisper,
startling those holding their breaths
to hear the faintest of cries.
And the hard man with the soft eyes
resting in the shadows of poppies,
negotiates with the lavender angel
the number of souls required
as threads in a flag
woven to the glory
for Allah.



Autumn Equinox 2001

-- Peter Coyote

back to top

Ground Zero

What's after or before
seems a dull locus now
as if there ever could be more

or less of what there is,
a life lived just because
it is a life if nothing more.

The street goes by the door
just like it did before.
Years after I am dead,

there will be someone here instead
perhaps to open it,
look out to see what's there --

even if nothing is,
or ever was,
or somehow all got lost.

Persist, go on, believe.
Dreams may be all we have,
whatever one believe

of worlds wherever they are --
with people waiting there
will know us when we come

when all the strife is over,
all the sad battles lost or won,
all turned to dust.

-- Robert Creeley

back to top

NO

Yes that was me you saw shaking with bravery, with a government issued rifle on my back.  I'm sorry I could not greet you as you deserved, my relative.

No.  They were not my tears. I have a resevoir inside.  They will be cried by my sons, my daughters if I can't learn how to turn tears to stone.

Yes, that was me standing in the back door of the house in the alley, with a bowl of beans in my hands for the neighbors, a baby on my hip.

No.  I did not foresee the flood of blood. How they would forget our friendship, would return to kill me and the baby.

Yes, that was me whirling on the dance floor.  We made such a racket with all that joy.   I loved the whole world in that silly music.  

No.  I did not realize the terrible dance in the staccato of bullets.  

Yes. I smelled the burning grease of corpses after they were lit by the pages of our poems.  And like a fool I expected our words might rise up and jam the artillery in the hands of dictators.

No.  We had to keep going.  Our songs of grief cleaned the air of enemy spirits.  

Yes, I did see the terrible black clouds over the suburb as I cooked dinner. And the messages of the dying spelled there in the ashy sunset. Every one addressed:  “mother”.

No, there was nothing about it in the news.  Everything was the same.  Unemployment was up.  Another queen crowned with flowers.  Then there were the sports scores.

Yes, the distance was great between your country and mine.  Yet our children played in the path between our houses.  

We had no quarrel with each other.  

© Joy Harjo,  Honolulu, HI,  2003

back to top

The Dead Do Not Want Us Dead

The dead do not want us dead;
such petty errors are left for the living.
Nor do they want our mourning.
No gift to them--not rage, not weeping.
Return one of them, any one of them, to the earth,
and look: such foolish skipping,
such telling of bad jokes, such feasting!
Even a cucumber, even a single anise seed: feasting

-- Jane Hirshfield

back to top

Heaven As Anus

In the Defense Department there is a shop
where scientists sew the eyelids of rabbits open
lest they blink in the scorch of a nuclear drop

and elsewhere dolphins are being taught to defuse
bombs in the mockup of a harbor and monkeys
learn to perform the simple tasks of draftees.

It is done with electric shocks. Some mice
who have failed their time tests in the maze
now go to the wire unbidden for their jolts.

Implanting electrodes yields rich results:
alley cats turn from predators into prey.
Show them a sparrow and they cower

while the whitewall labs fill up with the feces of fear
where calves whose hearts have been done away
with walk and bleat on plastic pumps.

And what is any of this to the godhead,
these squeals, whines, writhings, unexpected jumps,
whose children burn alive, booby-trap the dead,
lops ears and testicles, core and disembowel?

It all ends at the hole. No words may enter
the house of excrement. We will meet there
as the sphincter of the good Lord opens wide
and He takes us all inside.

-- Maxine Kumin

back to top

The Dispute

They say: War is coming and we can hardly wait.
Whoever is readiest to die will win.

We say: The most modern technology will win.
We are the boys with the toys and we will win.

China says: the Chinese will sit back
while you shred each other, and smile inscrutably,

and build their infrastructure, and double their GNP,
and publish new editions of Lao Tse, and win.

-- Alicia Ostriker

back to top

Trying to Write a Poem Against the War

My daughter, who's as beautiful as the day,
hates politics: Face it, Ma,
they don't care what you think! All
passion, like Achilles,
she stalks off to her room,
to confide in her purple guitar and await
life's embassies.  She's right,
of course: bombs will be hurled
at ordinary streets
and leaders look grave for the cameras,
and what good are more poems against war
the real subject of which
so often seems to be the poet's superior
moral sensitivities? I could
be mailing myself to the moon
or marrying a palm tree,
and yet what can we do
but offer what we have?
and so I spend
this cold gray glittering morning
trying to write a poem against war
that perhaps may please my daughter
who hates politics
and does not care much for poetry, either.

-- Katha Pollit

back to top

Afterward, We May Want to Know What Happened

Amazing. We're all still here,
and everybody's talking at once.
But each moment works against us—we can't
hear everything—and gets us through the hour
in buses and taxis, airplanes
carving the sky, the slow shade of a cloud
that creeps through an open market with promises of
nighttime striking a deal with the daylight.

No. We can't see everything,
but when did looking convince us?
Now we don't want these flowers,
and we curse the vendor for showing them.
It's all regret, the fish on the ice,
the baskets of potatoes and green beans, all
regret, until regret too

is demolished. From the dust and rabble
steel skeletons stand in the grandeur of distance
and glass skin. And today, again,
we've hurried to Century City, but we arrive
forever early, unable to live up to our destination—
neither shades nor galoshes, but
the myth of afternoon.

Perhaps that's enough. Perhaps
it's all true. These designs of ourselves, and the wind,
somewhere else. Among corporate towers
and modular dunes, among vacant, dazzling plazas
we're all just here, and each voice
is a tiny fissure in the earth's veneer.
And each voice calls to us, calls in the spirit of
a beggar with something to give.


from Anxious Latitude

-- Ralph Angel

back to top

Army Burn Ward

This poem was written about the pain of Vietnam;

it could be about tomorrow. Please. Peace.



First the doctor peels dead skin away.

"Debriding," like a teacher, names it.

(Like a virgin, like a pockmarked whore.)

Then the whirlpool, pain-pull spiralling down

like fire, like broken birds inside him.

(Like a winter wedded to the bone.)

Then the grafting, four long strips of skin.

"Rebriding," in his shock he giggles,

(Gagging like a schoolboy, like a groom.)

gagging as his new skin wrinkles, worms,

rejecting him. Again the whirlpool

(Like an April pain in soft swarms twirled.)

wheels and stops. The sink-plug pulled, he stares

(Like an empty coat, a burned-out star.)

unblinking as the brides inside him die.

-- Martin Galvin

back to top

Les Americains

we are feral    rare
as mountain wolves
our hearts are pure
& stupid we     go down

pitted against our own

-- Diane di Prima

back to top

GOOD CLEAN FUN

It's terrorism, isn't it, when you're afraid to answer the door for lack of
a Green Card
afraid to look for work, walk into the hospital when yr child is sick,

and what else than terrorism cd you call those smallpox blankets we gave the
Indians
the trail of tears, the raids on Ghost Dancing tribes
It's terrorism when you're forbidden to speak yr language
paddled for it, made to run a hundred laps in the snow
in your thin & holey sneakers. What do you call it
when you're locked in yr high school classroom, armed policemen
manning the halls? Isn't it terrorism to force a young woman
to talk to her parents abt her clandestine love
the child she will or will not carry? Is it terrorism
to shoot striking onion workers (1934), pick off AIM members one by one?

What happened to the Hampton family in Chicago his bed;
would you call that terrorism? Or the MOVE kids in Philadelphia
bombed in their home. Or all the stories we don't know
buried in throats stuffed w/socks, or pierced w/bullets.
Wd you call it terrorism, what happened at Wounded Knee
or the Drug Wars picking off
the youth of our cities twenty years ago now;
you know the names.
What was COINTELPRO if not terrorism? What new initials are they calling
it today?

Is Leonard Peltier a victim of terrorism?
Is Mumia Abu-Jamal?

Is it terrorism if you are terrified
of the INS, the IRS, the landlord, yr boss, the man
who might do yr job for less?
if you're scared of yr health insurance
no health insurance
scared of yr street, yr hallway, scared every month
you might not get to the 1st and the next measly check?

Is it terrorism to take food from hungry school-kids?
To threaten teenagers who still have hope enough
have joy enough to bring babies into this mess?

How has terrorism touched you, shaped your life?
Are you afraid to go out, to walk in yr city, yr suburb, yr countryside?
To read, to speak yr own language, wear yr tribe's clothes?
Afraid of the thin-shelled birds w/twisted necks
poisoned by nitrates, by selenium?
Afraid that the dawn will be silent, the forests grey?

Is it terrorism to fill the Dnieper w/radiation?
or heat the ionosphere w/magnetism "to see what will happen"?
A wonderful weapon, they say, it will perturb
the weather pattern, disrupt communications
Who are the terrorists in the lumber wars?
(the water wars are coming)
And we haven't even talked about AIDS and cancer.

Is the assault on native intelligence & good will
that we call the evening news
anything other than an act of terror?

What was the Gulf War but terrorism
wearing the death mask of order? < one big car bomb it was
the guys who drove it dying now
one by one
Is acid rain a form of terrorism? (Think for yourself.)
Is GATT or NAFTA anything but a pact among brigands and their back-up men?
How long before they fight over the spoils? Who'll do their fighting for
them?

Is Alan Greenspan perhaps the biggest known & named
of our terrorist leaders, here, nurtured here,
trained here

the dark design of whose hearts makes
Hutu & Tutsi
Croat & Muslim & Serb
mere diversionary tactics before the onslaught

-- Diane di Prima

back to top

BULLETIN

It is happening even as you read this page. By the time you finish reading this it will be over.

She will have left the hotel and disappeared. He will have eaten the pills. That one will slip and crack her skull on the floor. That one will go out in a driveby shooting.

halfway around the world the bombs are dropping

As you read these words it is already too late. 200,000 children will have starved. One of them held the Jewel in his brain, another could cure plagues with her breath.

As you read this line one thousand have died of AIDS.
They die alone hidden in furnished rooms. They die on the ground all over Africa.

halfway around the world the bombs are falling

Do not think to correct this by refusing to read.
It happens as you put down the paper, head for the door.
The ozone reaches the point of no-return

the butterflies bellyflop, the last firefly, etc.
Do not think to correct this by reading.

The bombs burst the small skull of an Arab infant the silky black hair is stuck to your hands with brains. W/bits of blood. There is less shrieking than you would expect

a soft silence. The silence of the poor, those who could not afford to leave. Drop flowers on them from yr mind, why don't you? "I guess we'll have to stay and take our chances."

They die so silently even as we speak

Black eyes of children seek eyes of the dying mother
bricks fall dirt spurts like fountains in the streets.
In the time you fill a cup they die of thirst.

In the time it takes to turn off the radio.
Not past, not future

The huts are blazing now. South of Market a woman ODs with an elegant sigh. No more no less than is needed.

halfway around the world the bombs are dropping

-- Diane di Prima

back to top

Gulf War

Tout le ciel vert se meurt. 
Le dernier arbre brûle.
                   --Valery

The whole green sky is dying. The last tree flares.
With a great burst of supernatural rose
Under a canopy of poisonous airs.

Could we imagine our return to prayers
To end in time before time's final throes,
The green sky is dying as the last tree flares?

But we were young in judgement, old in years
Who could make peace: but it was war we chose,
To spread its canopy of poisoning airs.

Not all our children's pleas and women's fears
Could steer us from this hell. And now God knows
His whole green sky is dying as it flares.

Our crops of wheat have turned to fields of tares
This dreadful century staggered to its close
And the sky dies for us, its poisoned heris.

All rain was dust. Its granules were out of tears.
Throats burst as universal winter rose 
To kill the whole green sky, the last tree bare
Beneath its canopy of poisoned air. 

-- Carolyn Kizer

back to top

To the Forty-third President of the United States of America

Mr. President, our history speaks to us, the history of Chile 
and China, El Salvador and Nicaragua, Somalia, Puerto Rico—
today, our solemn duty is to defy your willful aggression,
to parse provocative words and habits, your heroic battle
to distract us. Perhaps you think God will protect us
from the religious zealots who sanctify your rule,
from your opportunism and the race renewal,
the investiture you have assumed because, as
always, it is not yours. Let me ask
an obvious question. 
                               If we are to establish peace
and security for our nation, must we not do
everything in our power to end
the beginnings of war, must we not allow
our imaginations to craft a lasting peace?
Are not the children you would choose
to incinerate our own? We try on masks
to trick our isolated, frightened selves,
to propagate our sacred uncertainties
among the children of this blue planet,
a world we create and ruin every day.
                                                       Mr. President,
where do we walk, where may we sit down,
where can we work or rest, weep or pray,
what field does a man sunder and seed
in a country living only in memory, dying
every day at the hands of those who profess
to love her most? They say God loves America,
and that this “old bitch gone in the teeth” is
heaven on earth; in preemptive violence,
in obstinacy, in entitlements for the rich,
this murdered land, this, the people's
earth, is our reward for being right
no matter how wrong we are. 
                                           What “urge and rage”
thrives in the American heart, that so many cheer
this obsessive, unilateral madness? 
                                                     Even through
precise layers of glass, the TV peddling
a thrilling efficiency, we cannot see them,
the ghosts that inhabit our malnourished
statistics, inhospitable closets, cold kitchens
where we eat meat and raise goblets of wine
to celebrate our belief that they are not like us.
I want to spend more time with my daughter,
my five-year-old, I want to see her, to know
she is alive. It is her “evening of the morning,”
she is just fine, though she implores me to tell her
the “acommitation of naked truth.” 
                                                  I imagine
Iraqis, weakened by sanctions, spending time
with their children. What do they play together,
what makes them laugh, what crude medicine
do parents spoon down fevered throats, when
they too are roused from nightmares of fragile
necklaces of bone, slung around the necks of
American fighters whose hearts we camouflage?
Who will witness the small charred bodies floating
in the Tigris, children writhing in pain, in smoking rubble,
in the ruins of Bab al-Wastani or the Mirjan Mosque,
severed limbs and glazed eyes that last night
followed their favorite story by candlelight? 
                                                              Mr. President,
what does it mean when you say Saddam Hussein,
Butcher of Baghdad, official liar, terrorizes himself?
If he brings terror upon himself, will our dark angels
exterminate him or his already wounded people;
and would you answer Mr. Korb: What if Kuwait grew carrots, what if Iraq's
main exports were chick peas and cotton shawls
destined for American women
longing for the exotic? 
                                 To be honest,
I have forgotten from what we must abstain,
yet we know how to prevent conception. “C'est la vie,”
you say, saddled up, ready to ride with your posse
across oil fields just like those in Texas.
It appears the one thing we cherish
more than petroleum or our children
is the greased machinery of destruction. 



Notes

1. “old bitch gone in the teeth”: Ezra Pound, from “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley” 

2. “urge and rage”: Anne Frank, from The Diary of a Young Girl (1947; tr. 1952), entry for 3 May 1944 

3. “evening of the morning”: Kyra Gray O'Daly 

4. “acommitation of naked truth”: Kyra Gray O'Daly 

5. Bab al-Wastani: the last remaining of the renowned gates of Baghdad 

6. Mirjan Mosque: ancient mosque, completed in 1358 

7. “If Kuwait grew carrots we wouldn't give a damn.” Lawrence Korb, former U.S. assistant secretary of defense, on the motives for “Operation Desert Storm” 

8. “The war on terror involves Saddam Hussein because of the nature of Saddam Hussein, the history of Saddam Hussein, and his willingness to terrorize himself.” George W. Bush 

9. “C'est la vie” : “Either they are with us or not. Either one is fine. C'est la vie.” An aide to George W. Bush, quoting him 

10. “I know some in Europe see me as a Texas cowboy with six-shooters at my side. But the truth is I prefer to ride with a posse.” One senior Bush aide, recalling President Bush's comment to Czech President Vaclav Havel in Prague (Fall 2002)

-- William O'Daly

back to top

If There Were No Days, Where Would We Live (excerpt)

The heart line begins
on the thumbless side of the palm
traveling horizontally under the fingers,
when it is clear & deeply etched
you have deep emotions...
so the war is over, my love,
and we have killed enough of them,
torched their homes
trampled their fields
mutilated their arms
burned their legs
harvested their ears
and wore them like dark pearls
drove them crazy
made night a sure sign
of death
their schools, lost canyons
with nothing blowing through them
and an exact count of
dead mothers
dead fathers
dead children
and all that was given
taken away.
What do you do now
with the hunger
and the poverty glaring in their faces?
St. Teresa
would have probably kissed it,
but we were not saints
we were soldiers
hiding in the enemy's world.
How many times
must I be dipped into the water
to be a child again?

-- Primus St. John

back to top

[Statement] Portrait of George W. Bush as a Cowboy, or: America's Foreign Policy of Peace 

(Warning: This is a rant and may not be good for your mental health)

Old myths die hard as they say in the American West, and perhaps no lie is as captivating as the romance of the American Cowboy. Talk about a sacred cow that lives on in Texas. What I want to know is how George W. Blue-blood Bush has spun his identity to the point where we believe him when he says his preference is “home on the range” rather than commander-in-chief.” Karl Rove, his trusty genius-in-residence, actually said, “Given the choice of Wall Street over Main Street, the President would choose Main Street every time.” Yup, he's just a regular ‘ole guy in a Stetson and levis who just happens to live in The White House.

He is a man who wears a Stetson and levis with a relentless appetite for war.. 
Yee-haw! Ride e'm cowboy, all the way to Iraq. Forgive me, but that's what it feels like every day in the USA, where conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh tells his viewers to “relax, we'll get our war” as he called the anti-war demonstrations anti-American demonstrations fueled by communists and environmental wackos. Never mind that freedom of speech is a tenet of American democracy or that dissent is what this country was founded on in the first place. Bush and his conservative army of listeners wants blood, not ours, but theirs. And theirs is no longer Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, but rather Saddam Hussein and Iraqi dissidents who are a more stable target, not prone to hiding in caves or shape shifting. We want to show what we've got by way of military prowess, in case the world has forgotten. 

Just the other day, Dan Rather exposed the latest military scheme called “Shock and Awe,” a strategy developed with the hopes it would “have this simultaneous effect rather like the nuclear weapons at Hiroshima, not taking days or weeks but minutes” to destroy the enemy. 300 to 400 cruise missiles would be deployed at once, more than the number launched during the entire 40 days of the first Gulf War. “The sheer size of this has never been seen before, never been contemplated before,” a Pentagon official said. “There will be not be a safe place in Baghdad,” “The horror and destruction will be so vast and fast it will inspire nothing but shock and awe.” Within minutes, blood-soaked handkerchiefs will be waving from the rubble begging for mercy, and then presto, the war will be over. Nice and neat, clap the dust off our hands. In and out, mission accomplished.

One lariat thrown around the neck of Saddam Hussein, and it's the end of the rodeo. George W. Bush will wave his white hat to the crowd as he takes a bow from the saddle of his fast-riding horse in the middle of the arena.

“Shock and awe.” Read all about it. Barrel riders secure the Iraqi oil for themselves in record time.

It is time to expose the myth of the American Cowboy for what it is, a lie designed to perpetuate the rugged loner who takes the law into his own hands.. 
It doesn't matter if in truth, he's just a hired hand of the people who pay him. Or that his real home is not on the range, but simply moving through with no sense of responsibility to the folks who live there. What matters is that he can speak in simple verse and smoke his Marlboro cigarettes with style at the same time he rides off into the sunset with his silver pistols lashed to his thighs as he feels his trustworthy horse between his legs. Bodies left behind or broken fences never mended don't trouble him. He is the perfect image for American individualism. Take what's yours and move on.

Of course we can “go it alone,” says George W. to the increasing world-wide opposition to war in Iraq. That's the American way. “You're either with us or against us.” As the president so eloquently said, “I don't do nuance.”

The cowboy president doesn't talk details, he just points his pistol in the general direction of fear and starts shooting off his rhetoric like those three quick bullets, “Axis of Evil,” that were heard around the world.
North Korea flashes news of nuclear weapons and then it's our turn to reply that our missiles are bigger than their missiles and now it's no longer rodeo time, but Super Bowl Sunday, with the United States Cowboy on the starting line with George as quarterback, his arm cocked and ready for a military touchdown.

George W. Bush loves a good game. The problem is -- war is not a game. And for those of us who do not view this man as our legitimate president, how do we get his attention?

I used to think democracy was a good place to start, but since September 11, and the creation of the new Department of Homeland Security, our civil liberties are being whittled and eroded away. Our voices raised in question are discredited and quelled. Fear has replaced reason. Confrontation has overruled contemplation. Entitlement has replaced respect as we watch environmental laws slashed and sensitive wildlands ravaged for their oil and ancient trees in the name of national security. The "war on terror" is first being waged here at home.

To those of you living in Europe, we thank you for your leadership of resistance. We thank you for gathering in the hundreds of thousands in London, Florence, Madrid, and Paris, showing us what is possible and inspiring our own demonstrations. And our numbers in the anti-war movement in America are growing. We thank you for crying foul on what we Americans have only dared to think to ourselves until now. And we thank you for your prayers and we pray with you believing there is a "conservative compassion" that can stay the violence of war. What we are learning from you is that those with a memory of war on their own soil are the first to call for patience and pause...

Perhaps, it will continue to be this kind of pressure from countries with a memory of fascism and a history of empires that have risen and fallen, that in the end will remind our cowboy culture in America that the poster with burnt edges, “Wanted Dead or Alive,” has never translated well in international law. America right now, under the Bush Regime, has a very destructive, call it foreign, policy for peace.

What I fear in America right now is this: War is the body bag flown home with a nice note from the president that reads, “She served our country well in the fight for freedom.” War is also amnesia, so that in the grief of that moment, Americans will choose to believe him and find ourselves imprisoned by our own arrogance. 

-- Terry Tempest Williams

back to top

Freedom of Speech

The erosion of voice is the build-up of war.
Silence no longer supports prayers, but lives inside the open mouths of the dead.

-- Terry Tempest Williams

back to top

Freedom From Speech

The erosion of voice is the build-up of war.
Silence no longer supports prayers,
but lives inside the open mouths of the dead.

February 12, 2003

-- Terry Tempest Williams

back to top

Statement of Conscience

Dear Mrs. Bush,

Thank you for your invitation to the White House event on February 12, “Poetry and the American Voice.” I appreciate the honor and I welcome recognition of poetry's vital presence in our country.

However, to my regret, I must decline to attend.

In our current political situation I am unwilling to participate in a Washington event that invokes an “American voice” in the singular.

Specifically, I mistrust the president's contention that we must invade Iraq preemptively, in defiance of important allies, and contrary to the processes of international law. He asks us to trust him that this extraordinary, violent and uncertain plan is in our interest.

Like many other ordinary Americans, I wish I could trust the president even though I oppose his policies. But he has not been trustworthy: for example, using deceptive, misleading arguments for his tax proposals, speaking as though that proposal would help “average” Americans-- which is a trick. On the issue of affirmative action, he hedged while running for office; now he is trying to hinder a modest, sensible affirmative action plan at a great state university, the University of Michigan; he uses deceptive language like “quotas” and “preferences”: more accurate for the way members of rich, powerful families enter private universities like Yale.

In these areas, closer to home for me than geopolitics, I know that the president has not been trustworthy, so I cannot trust him on the world stage. To participate in a poetry symposium that speaks of “the” American voice, in the house of authority I mistrust, on the verge of a questionable war, is impossible— the more so when I remember the candid, rebellious, individualistic voices of Dickinson, Whitman, Langston Hughes.

I salute your intentions, and I hope a time may come when we will again be able to honor such great ancestors, wholeheartedly, together, at the White House.

Sincerely,

--Robert Pinsky

back to top

BEFORE DISASTER (Yvor Winters, 1900-1967)

Evening traffic homeward burns
Swift and even on the turns,
Drifting weight in triple rows,
Fixed relation and repose.
This one edges out and by,
Inch by inch with steady eye.
But should error be increased,
Mass and moment are released;
Matter loosens, flooding blind,
Levels drivers to its kind.
Ranks of nations thus descend,
Watchful, to a stormy end.
By a moment's calm beguiled,
I have got a wife and child.
Fool and scoundrel guide the State.
Peace is whore to Greed and Hate.
Nowhere may I turn to flee:
Action is security.
Treading change with savage heel,
We must live or die by steel.

-- Robert Pinsky

back to top

Alabanza: In Praise of Local 100

           for the 43 members of Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees
           Local 100, working at the Windows on the World restaurant,
           who lost their lives in the attack on the World Trade Center

Alabanza. Praise the cook with a shaven head
and a tattoo on his shoulder that said Oye,
a blue-eyed Puerto Rican with people from Fajardo,
the harbor of pirates centuries ago.
Praise the lighthouse in Fajardo, candle
glimmering white to worship the dark saint of the sea.
Alabanza. Praise the cook's yellow Pirates cap
worn in the name of Roberto Clemente, his plane
that flamed into the ocean loaded with cans for Nicaragua,
for all the mouths chewing the ash of earthquakes.
Alabanza. Praise the kitchen radio, dial clicked
even before the dial on the oven, so that music and Spanish
rose before bread. Praise the bread. Alabanza.

Praise Manhattan from a hundred and seven flights up,
like Atlantis glimpsed through the windows of an ancient aquarium.
Praise the great windows where immigrants from the kitchen
could squint and almost see their world, hear the chant of nations:
Ecuador, México, Republica Dominicana,
Haiti, Yemen, Ghana, Bangladesh.
Alabanza. Praise the kitchen in the morning,
where the gas burned blue on every stove
and exhaust fans fired their diminutive propellers,
hands cracked eggs with quick thumbs
or sliced open cartons to build an altar of cans.
Alabanza. Praise the busboy's music, the chime-chime
of his dishes and silverware in the tub.
Alabanza. Praise the dish-dog, the dishwasher
who worked that morning because another dishwasher
could not stop coughing, or because he needed overtime
to pile the sacks of rice and beans for a family
floating away on some Caribbean island plagued by frogs.
Alabanza. Praise the waitress who heard the radio in the kitchen
and sang to herself about a man gone. Alabanza.

After the thunder wilder than thunder,
after the shudder deep in the glass of the great windows,
after the radio stopped singing like a tree full of terrified frogs,
after night burst the dam of day and flooded the kitchen,
for a time the stoves glowed in darkness like the lighthouse in Fajardo,
like a cook's soul. Soul I say, even if the dead cannot tell us
about the bristles of God's beard because God has no face,
soul I say, to name the smoke-beings flung in constellations
across the night sky of this city and cities to come.
Alabanza I say, even if God has no face.

Alabanza. When the war began, from Manhattan and Kabul
two constellations of smoke rose and drifted to each other,
mingling in icy air, and one said with an Afghan tongue:
Teach me to dance. We have no music here.
And the other said with a Spanish tongue:
I will teach you. Music is all we have.

-- Martín Espada

back to top

Ghazal for Open Hands

in memory of Agha Shahid Ali
                December 10, 2001
                Northampton, Massachusetts

The imam stands above your grave to pray with open hands,
cupping your spirit like grain in the palms of these open hands.

Poet of Kashmir, the graveyard lathers my shoes with mud
as the imam calls to Islam's God and lifts his open hands.

Ghazal-maker, your pine box sinks into a cumulus of snow,
red earth thumping on the coffin, dropped from open hands.

There are some today who murmur of the cancer in your brain
but do not know the words for speaking to Allah with open hands.

We listen to Islamic prayers at the cemetery, as we pay for bombs
to blossom into graves in places where they pray with open hands.

Far from here, the bombs we bless are tumbling down in loaves
of steel to tear away the fingers from their hungry open hands.

Shahid, your grave multiplies wild as cancer cells across Afghani earth,
countless prayers reverberating in the well of the throat, in open hands.

I cannot scrape off the mud choking my shoes or blink away the vision
of reaching into the hole for you, my hands open to your open hands.

-- Martín Espada

back to top

Blues for the Soldiers Who Told You

"I'm like a country who can't remember the last war."
                     Doug Anderson

They told you that the enemy and the liberated throng
swaddle themselves in the same robes and rags,
wear the same masks with eyes that follow you,
pray in the same bewildering tongue, until your rifle
trembles to rake the faces at every checkpoint.
They told you about the corpse of a boy or girl
rolled at your feet, hair gray with the powder
of rubble and bombardment, flies a whirlpool blackening both eyes,
said you¹ll learn the words for apology too late to join
the ceremony, as flies become the chorus of your nightmares.
They told you about the double amputee from your town,
legs lopped off by the blast, his basketball friend
bumping home in a flag-draped coffin
the cameras will not film anymore,
about veterans who drench themselves in liquor
like monks pouring gasoline on their heads.

They told you in poems and stories
you did not read, or stopped reading
as your cheeks scorched with inexplicable fever,
and because they spoke with a clarity that burned your face,
because they saw with the vision of a telescope
revolving around the earth, they spent years wandering
through jails and bars, exiled to roads after midnight
where gas stations snap their lights off one by one,
seers unseen at the coffee shop waiting for bacon and eggs,
calling at 3 AM to say I can¹t stop writing and you have to hear this.
You will not hear this, even after the war is over
and the troops drown in a monsoon of desert flowers
tossed by the crowd, blooming in their mouths
to stop their tongues with the sweetness of it.

-- Martín Espada

back to top

Cyclamen

      "And when it was claimed
      the war had ended, it had not ended."
      Denise Levertov

They are fragile, pale apparitions
among the stones after the heavy rains,
as if to tell us, "we're back,
you have to take notice."

Rosy and white like spun sugar wings
about to take off, we let these
tremblings alert us again
to possibility.

No more than that. While the planes
roar and practice over our heads,
and we dutifully buy bottled water,
tape for our sealed rooms,

and check our gas masks.
Caught in the same efficiency
that kills. How many times?
How many times?

                 January 29, 2003
                 Jerusalem

-- Shirley Kaufman

back to top

The Last Threshold

I want to believe we still talk about
Peace
      as if it were out there somewhere
an illumination in more Xmas card languages
than anyone speaks

                   "eventually"
won't come for me to see it

Deborah writes
              "we all live in a
morally ambiguous vortex"

but the rough beast is done
with his slouching
                  Bush is massing
his troops for the kill
our dinosaur generals are ready

they are used to the rivers
of blood
         that weep from dismembered bodies
         howl in the streets of Ramallah
         shriek in the streets of Jerusalem

                February 27, 2003
                Jerusalem

-- Shirley Kaufman

back to top

In Memoriam

DEAR MR. PRESIDENT,

    LOVE & POETRY

WIN--FOREVER.

    WAR IS ALWAYS

A GREAT BIG LOSE.

     I AM A POET AND

A LOVER AND A WINNER--

     HOW ABOUT YOU?


   Respectfully Yours, Philip Whalen 10:III:65

-- Philip Whalen

back to top

Be Serious

Perhaps it will snow.

Oh do be serious.

We know that Washington is thick in bunting

and Bush posters.

A crow of sadness

for the myth of democracy.

A Supreme Court appointed head of government,

a Republican Supreme Court appointed Republican president.

But what's a president?

And what is democracy?

Now we can see how

all those other countries

and states

and republics

live under their tyrants.

How the poor die in the streets.

-- Ruth Stone back to top

Who Cares?

The Reverend Moon from Korea

is perhaps tunneling into America,

like a bagworm on an apple.

A just return for the horrors of our armies

and Ike's "I will go to Korea!"

Moon means us no good,

but Bush means us ill.

They are each eating the fruit,

the apple that is the world,

and mothers are making popcorn.

Who cares if the third world population explodes?

They'll only starve anyway.

What is it one cup of coffee is equal to?

Fifteen acres of forest? No, it couldn't be that.

My daughter thinks they are aliens,

those not exactly elected

multimillionaire Republicans.

But all the fathers are at the ball game,

or, asleep in their easy chairs.

-- Ruth Stone back to top

GREEN PLANTS AND A BAMBOO FLUTE

Oaks tear up the storm floor
Nothing left to warn
The poisoned rat has poisoned the owl
The striped air of the state is choked
With pointed salty star materials
They've cut the tips off dollar bills
Now chipped stars everywhere seems like
Death planes with Daisy Chains
Bomb planes with cute little names
Swordfish stab the water's skin
The sea has no plot

Earlier thinkers thought of air
As a mist not a context
With each bomb the part
That was narrow shrinks.
Our god passes by briefly
From another existence
With his pretty floating rib
The one they call the twelfth
The webbed arch of caravans
Frames the desert horror
The owl's eyes follow them
on this side of the pale

One night in a vision
Your future car was buried
Today they drive the buried car
Turn like a three-part song
Electricity wants not to be anymore
Or to be darktricity
The brain is an atmosphere of rooms
A situation without a future
Where us presides over an it
The doom's-whim-bride's-trace fog
Doubles as a shroud

If the flute cannot be found
Its breath is in you
Making an @ sign of sex or grain
What was it thinking of
The catkins look so like grenades
Maybe the particle spirits
Will spin in the at of each address
Knock the wheel of fate from its orbit
Race to a curled up
Solomon's sleep in the clock's
Ring moist with air

-- Brenda Hillman back to top

Statement of Conscience

First Lady Laura Bush
The White House

10 February 2003

Dear First Lady,

These poems – the first by an Iraqi woman writing in the seventh century – I send you as a fellow mother.  The proposed pre-emptive strike seems to me a “September 11th” which can still be stopped in time, sparing many children.  It seems to me that all avenues to alternative actions should be explored now.  I pray you agree and will bring your deep and humane influence to bear, for the children.

Sincerely,

Sharon Olds back to top

Camel

My camel kneels at Ibn Marwan's door
and groans three times in birth pangs.
Men circle her each night
with torches lighting the hills.
A leader and a youth bring companion armor
and words bright as Yemen cloth.
But crude milking injured her.
Now softly, on the slopes of Thadaq,
she's given dry food.
Then quickly to water, on good hoofs,
fast, her body lean.
Her summer offspring is unweaned
but day already smells of autumn.

-- Laila Akhyaliyya
   7th Century
   Iraq

The Issues

(Rhodesia, 1978)

Just don't tell me about the issues.
I can see the pale spider-belly head of the
newborn who lies on the lawn, the web of
veins at the surface of her scalp, her skin
grey and gleaming, the clean line of the
bayonet down the center of her chest.
I see her mother's face, beaten and
beaten into the shape of a plant,
a cactus with grey spines and broad
dark maroon blooms.
I see her arm stretched out across her baby,
wrist resting, heavily, still, across the
tiny ribs.
             Don't speak to me about
politics. I've got eyes, man.


The Dead and the Living , A. A. Knopf, 1984

-- Sharon Olds

back to top

Statement of Conscience

I'd like to add my name to the list of poets speaking out against this shameful, corrupt, ill-conceived war.

-- Carol Muske-Dukes

back to top

The house of Bush

This is the house of madness.

This is the man who sits in the house of madness.
This is the time of the man named Bush who sits in the house of madness.
This is a time-bomb ticking away in the time of the man named Bush who
sits in the house of madness.

This is the child strapped to the bomb ticking away the time of the man
   named Bush who sits in the house of madness.
This is the ravaged land of the child strapped to the bomb ticking away
     the time of the man named Bush who sits in the house of madness.

These are the years and the cries of loss, the starving poor,
the reeling stocks, the chanting young, the face of the child
strapped to the bomb ticking away the time of the man named Bush
                                 who sits in the house of madness.

These are the oil wells pumping dry, the corporate lies, the Enron ties,
the reeling stocks, the jobless lines, the face of the child strapped to
the bomb ticking away by a cyclone fence with a nickel bag in Our Hometown
in the time of the man named Bush who sits in the house of madness.

These are the oil wells across the sea, the dictator's deal, the
torturer's cage, the affairs of state in the ravaged land of the child
strapped to the bomb ticking away in the time of the man named Bush who
                             sits alone in the all-White House of madness.

-- Carol Muske-Dukes

back to top

THE HEARTH
February 2003


1.

Alone after the news on a bitter
evening in the country, sleet slashing 
the stubbled fields, the river ice; 
I keep stirring up the recalcitrant fire,

but when I throw my plastic coffee cup
in with new kindling it perches intact
on a log for a strangely long time,
as though uncertain what to do,

until, in a somehow reluctant, almost 
creaturely way, it dents, collapses,
and decomposes to a dark slime
untwining itself on the stone hearth.

I once knew someone who was caught in a fire
and made it sound something like that.
He'd been loading a bomber and a napalm shell
had gone off; flung from the flames,

at first he felt nothing, and thought
he'd been spared, but then came the pain, 
then the hideous dark--he'd been blinded,
and so badly charred he spent years

in recovery: agonizing debridements, 
grafts, learning to speak through a mouth 
without lips, to read Braille with fingers 
lavaed with scar, to not want to die--

Though that never happened. He swore,
even years later, with a family,
that if he were back there, this time allowed 
to put himself out of his misery, he would.


2.

There was dying here tonight, after
dusk, by the road: an owl, 
eyes fixed and flared, breast 
so winter-white he seemed to shine 

a searchlight on himself, helicoptered
near a wire fence, then suddenly
banked, plunged, and vanished
into the swallowing dark with his prey.

Such an uncomplicated departure;
no detonation, nothing to mourn;
if the creature being torn from its life
made a sound, I didn't hear it.

But in truth I wasn't listening, I was thinking,
as I often do these days, of war;
I was thinking of my children, and their children, 
of the more than fear I feel for them,

and then of radar, rockets, shrapnel,
cities razed, soil poisoned
for a thousand generations; of suffering so vast
it nullifies everything else.

I stood in the wind in the raw cold
wondering how those with power over us
can effect such things, and by what
cynical reasoning pardon themselves.

The fire's ablaze now, its glow
on the windows takes the night even darker,
but it barely keeps the room warm.
I stoke it again, and crouch closer.

-- C. K. Williams

back to top

Statement of Conscience

Dear President and First Lady Bush,

I want to add my voice to the many who oppose the war which is mostly being treated as a major sporting event by the American media. I have yet to meet a single citizen who believes pre-emptive striking is appropriate for the mightiest country on earth. I have yet to meet anyone who thinks diplomacy is a secondary mode of conduct. I have yet to meet anyone who thinks the world will be one iota safer for our proposed actions. I have yet to meet anyone who thinks slaughter becomes US.

Everyone I know and in fact everyone I have ever met abhors your designs on the world and despairs of the wrath it will bring on our citizenry. You will no doubt go down in history as a decisive President and accommodating First Lady. You will go down as monsters.

C.D. Wright,   American Poet

back to top

Once Again the Old Urge to Be Alone in a Car No Matter Where the Local Roads Are Going


Sick of their own vocabularies and the mud it brings in--

to avoid all talk whenever possible

to avoid the unfortunately balding Englishwoman

to stand in one slow spot to watch the world crawl or limp along--

to be unsentimental about the mutt tethered to rubble 

and the crush of birds in the wire basket-- 

ashamed of her pleasure in being here--to be ashamed 

is to be the American--to watch a worn-out man over a Singer 

stitch up a pair of worn-out pants--threading along

shelves stocked with goods nobody wants--

to avoid standing water and fumes

from worn-out vehicles--to order carefully 

off the menu--to ride in silence on the bus 

rumbling down service roads back to the hotel-- 

to leave the boy aiming his uninhibited lens--to be lost 

among the indifferent palms with a tropical drink

to be watched by an anole on the ornamental iron

to stand in one slow spot watching two scorpions 

doing the merengue; to fasten a strand of larimar 

to her ankle--once more the old urge

to be alone in a rented car--saltwater-stripped hair 

wind-buffed shoulders--waking up in the full sun 

missing everyone--minimally deluded 

it would all stop--mercy out of nowhere like a wave 

in the face of an old friend she hasn't seen in years

yelling on television in the open-air lobby

his subtitled expletive: For Christ's sake: Hold your fire!

-- C.D. Wright

back to top

Untitled

What shall we sing
on the crest of a war
all sense we ride wrong
save the mad boy in power
deaf to the cries
deep in cities and forests
tuned only to praise
from his patriot chorus?
What anthems or lullabies
soon can restore us
after we killed the children?

3/03

-- Rose Styron back to top



POEMS OF THE MONTH
A showcase of best poems


CHAPBOOK
Poems by prominent poets


ARCHIVE
Poems of the week archive


SUBMIT A POEM
Participate in the movement

FIND A POEM
Search for poems