Here The Nation presents a few of the works posted on "Poets Against the War," (www.poetsagainstthewar.org), the website set up by Sam Hamill, poet and editor, when he called for poems and statements against war in Iraq. At last count, there were 8,200 entries. Hamill’s summons to poets followed Laura Bush’s invitation to a symposium on American poetry at the White House, which was "postponed" when it was learned that antiwar poems were to be presented.
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 September 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 oilfields 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 anything 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.
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.
New Hampshire, February 7, 2003
It’s snowing again.
All day, reruns
of the blizzard of ’78
for bragging rights
how it was to go hungry
after they’d thumped
the vending machines empty
the weatherman clomping
four miles on snowshoes
to get to his mike
so he could explain
how three lows
could collide to create
a lineup of isobars
footage of state troopers
peering into the caked
windows of cars
backed up for white
miles on the interstate.
of the bombings in Vietnam
2 million civilians blown
apart, most of them children
under 16, children
always the least
able to dive
for cover when
all that tonnage bursts
from a blind sky.
Snow here is
weighting the pine trees
while we wait for the worst:
for war to begin.
Schools closed, how
love a benign blizzard
a downhill scrimmage
of tubes and sleds. But who
remembers the blizzard
that burst on those other children?
Back then we called it
and will again.
Letter to a Fellow Activist
Still, I keep thinking it’s not really fitting
To send a "no thanks" when I wasn’t invited.
And I’m glad I won’t have to be cold to a person
Apparently decent and kind, a reader
Whose outlook poems and fictions have broadened.
Loyal, I think, to this nation, I hereby
Inculpate myself for making slapdash,
Insufficient and tardy efforts to save it
From the brutal, disastrous, avoidable brink
Our misguided Executive and Congress have brought us to.
Demonstrations, petitions, and reasoning seldom
Make an impression on heat-packing chauvinists.
They don’t give a flying…whatever, bent as they
Are on showing the world who’s in charge.
The practice of politics (always beyond belief
Boring) will take care of us if we fail
To take care of it. Despair is suburban,
So we soldier on, casting our ballots for candidates
Who won’t be elected, we write those who were,
We canvass and organize. No, in all honesty
I can’t, at age sixty, pretend I would welcome
Being clubbed or imprisoned; but I do root for those
Nonviolent actions performed in the interest
Of liberty, justice, and peace–for Americans,
Sure, but as well for all people everywhere.
To save the skin of one Arab, Israeli, or Yank
Would I write an obvious poem? You bet I would!
If only it could save. When gauging results
Of our deeds, though, I take an agnostic approach.
Seek justice: The aftermath’s not in our hands.
Since "All wars are boyish," would that all war
Criminals present and future would grow up
And not dream it’s cool or effective to pistol-whip
Erstwhile allies they’ve turned into enemies.
Should one ever resort to violent measures
In the name of a righteous cause? I’d say not.
Aren’t we a global concern, the Blue Planet’s
Symbiotic affiliates? Yes, because no man
Or nation’s an island, entire of itself.
If the bell should toll for Iraq or for Palestine,
It will toll for these States and Israel, too–
For the threatened ideals of fair play and loveliness
Embodied in poems we’re moved to live by.
PFC Corn here, reporting for peace watch.
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–
their whispers fill the arena.