Verses Versus War

An ongoing collection of poems against the impending war in Iraq


"SEVEN UNSUCCESSFUL ATTEMPTS AT MEMORIALIZING THOSE KILLED IN ACTION"

by Phil Vassallo

1.

Nothing
but the
darkness
hears the
dying
soldiers

lying
on the
landscape
crying
for their
mothers.

2.

The skies collapse
on ruptured earth.
Survivors count
the casualties.

3.

Floodlights guide the tractors
plowing corpses over
hillocks, into fissures,
down ravines. The soldiers
weep for nothing but their
aching bones, their stomachs.

4.

Survivors say that bastard luck
invoked them to renounce the dead.
"Forget, my man, tonight we fight.
So shed one tear to honor them,
but memory cannot win this war."

5.

And the soldiers in battlefields cannot quite fathom the privilege of war:
Vietnam, the Korean fiasco, the noble World Wars,
the appalling entitlement chance, in its cruelty, bestows

on their breathing as brothers in trenches lie dying beside
them, as darkness grows darker and bleeding flows brighter, as boys
in this moment can’t grieve for their lives but must slaughter their foes.

Now at daybreak behold the proverbial lilies of the field
as they sprout from the fault line to track the agronomy: Death
fertilizes. And then the vultures descend in maniacal flight.

6.

The Darkness passes:
Granddaughters trample the graves
to uproot lilies.

7.

The living breed death,
the dying breed life.

__________________

 

"Investigation / for Diane Wakoski"

by Jim McCurry

System Administrator wrote:
Your message
To: Clancy tom
Subject: investigation
did not reach the following recipient:
Tclancy@sdi.org
contact your system administrator

One of the keepers had horrible
spongelike skin. He was worse than the mother
standing at the edge in the piss pooled aisle
that borders the stony arena. The sharks
weren’t as cancerous as this citizen,
but they were less benign.

I was with the other visitors
at this theme park zoo.
At first the idea was that some tourists
wearing polka dot dresses and
white shirts and beanies with propellers
from Doleville, Kansas had
volunteered to fight them for a sum of cash.

And the setting was benign. Normal.
A channel of chemically treated
aqua pseudo water.
Swimming beasts.
But not
           for long.

Before long the sharks
walked upright through catacombs.
Some of them appeared human and wore suits.
A shark leapt over the low dividing wall
and put a paw on my left shoulder
and breathed death into my ear. He had
shifted to the rough shape of a huge black cat.
He was more fish than flesh. And no fur at all.
But he was panther.

The visitor next to me
seemed safe, a thousand thousand
miles away by comparison.

I thought what the fuck?

I was dead meat.

Reader, I recalled Saving Private Ryan, the hailstorm
of bullets that greeted those young men storming Normandy Beach,
and I thought, The war machine clicks into motion and the players
of the world stage with their magnificent behemoths,
their sleek metal beasts of efficient killing?
As when Princess Di died, and the morning
after her funeral the pundits on Sunday TV
were praising land mines
for their efficacy, their
suave and lethal potential, their legalized
mass-murder?

The war barons
happily get richer
while the poor get slaughtered.

Ain’t we got fun?
Rove, Cheney, Kissinger, Blair, Straw–
’tis of thee.

But my friend had more sand.

She dropped by to say,
nine one one could always still happen.

Even if we did
as the great ones urged,
those pacifists who lead by example,
like Colman McCarthy, Christ and Gandhi,
these ones who loom and
stand before us–mythic–
even in the stream of history–
it could always still happen.

Someone could get
a fundamentalist hair up his ass,
have a vision of the houris& the candles,
or something, and decide–
Martyrdom!
the only game in town.

It’s one thing to reply now.
Easy.

It’s easy to say, Yes, but
What about Lebanon, what about Gaza,
in extremis, the target sites
in extreme degradation

   what about the awesome
         aerial bombings ("LET’S ROCK!)
   –from extremely
          high elevations–
of Bosnia, or some other hell hole,

      by order of this or that chief Executive,
   through his chief surgeon wardog
with medals and bars?

Yes, what about
the strikes, from on high–
            that the blood of no American warrior
                might be spilled?

What about the women, the children,
    we kill

in the course of liberating
the women, the children,
from Saddam?

And are we going to make
America, much less the world, safe?
Sane and safe,
through the Bush policy
of preemption?

She said nine one one
could always still happen.

But–forgive me,
my friend–all
I could summon the wit, the will,
the largeness of heart to say,
was : Yes, I suppose.

#

______________

 

"Framed Music"

by Joanne Gonzalez

Framed on the wall
While my sons were growing up,
Was the sheet music
For the old song
" I Didn’t Raise My Boy To Be A Soldier."
They grew up to be kind
And gentle men.
One has a son now,
I gave him the framed music.
So I have done my part.
Haven’t I ?

______________

 

"Talons on the Olive Branch"

by Janet I. Buck

It’s time to grip the coming spring
as if a season is short,
short as a cracker’s snap.
Soon the trees will wear
their glaucous sleeves of jade
and birds will nest as if they trust
their gathered straw.
War seems all antithesis
to phrases in front of our eyes —
a foreign scent to daphne buds,
to lawns now waking from the ice.
All uniforms of camouflage —
obtrusive as a dollar bill
or sucker wrappers
sitting on a rainbow’s trail.
I pace the sidewalk under
a white soap moon —
its shrinking bar of ivory
rubbed hard against this needy world.

Hostile bullets cannot make
our minds forget the blanket of ash,
bodies like snowflakes
falling to pork chop ground.
I watch the way the shrubs live on,
tulips force their pencil stems
through frosty earth to write a book
worth reading to a tender child.
How did we get to this place
were any groundhog with a brain
would rightly prefer mahogany holes
to bloody yolks of coming light?
Blue jays treat each limb they see
as if it is an olive branch.
Then I hear the echoes of mistaken steps,
piercing screams, and battle cries
of ravens groping in the dark.

 


"Old News, New Wounds"

by Janet I. Buck

Violence as a uterus keeps giving birth.
When did death become old prose,
one bomb a full mosquito net
that multiplies and multiplies.
The front page, a grave among graves,
anonymous sorrows, limp remains
of ocean kelp clinging to inconsolable rock.
The haggard face of Khalid Mohammed
is plastered on the headline news.
His acorn eyes, the tendered jewels
of writhing snakes still at large.
Hissing lips with secrets stowed.

What happened to reporting joy?
My stanzas follow ugly suit.
I start a line with butterflies
and end with nothing but the husk.
I watch mine sink like wedding rings
in long, hard colons of pipes.
Retrieval ought to be my task.
Waters of seas are icing my hands.
Another woman’s son I know
is putting on his army digs.
She sees it as a sinful shade of green,
palette of approaching storm,
this bloodshed in the painter’s tray.

Mothers all across the world are tight
inside this taffy pull of pride and horror.
At Toys R Us, the sale of tiny tanks is up.
The rising stock of hopelessness
that makes us arch what bows we have.
Children pose the chilling question:
"When is Daddy coming home?"
A globe of fading picotees.
Borders dark, uncrossable.
Torn white lace of coming spring
so evident in cloying frost,
I wonder if the shirt will last.
Who will slash the canvas next?

 

______________

 

"Back Ordered"
©2003 Timothy M. Leonard
First published on Identity Theory


Parts were back ordered
including body bags
(77,000 now in Italian storage for ‘new’ war)
their future called for some heavy lifting
heavy duty cleaning materials
manipulation of material inside the entropy

Refugees streaming into the screaming
broadband media found work
in multi-national international conglomerates manufacturing sectors
grinding poverty
constructing their dream for export

At the edge of their refugee camps
they blended barley seeds
with leaves of grass for delicious breads
they carved on walls with neolithic new science tools
they rented out their dolmens on the weekends

Near the door to their cave of hunger
was a crude cardboard painting
of an Indonesian woman at her sewing machine
with a sign saying, Plenty of work, no shoes.

next to it was a young man
hanging
out on an American street
with the words
No work, $150 shoes.

+


"Shortwave Reception"
Written Kuwait 1987
© 2003 Timothy M. Leonard

Light,
Reflected by falling
Oil stocks on exchange,
Strike of the pen
Voices from prison breath
Concise

Northward,
Reeds and marshes
Welcome young martyrs,
Their holy quest a liberation
Of religious/political foundation
Concise in decay

Spring,
New growth, moral is high
On frontlines.
Human waves form,
Assault reeds and marshes.
Nature bends with wind,
Under falling weight.
Youth, caught in life’s crossfire,
Destined for statistic chart and
Body count
Laments

Wailing sirens,
Voices all a warning
For the light,
Concise and final
+


"Basra, Iraq, 1985"

© 2003 Timothy M. Leonard

Among dust storms
rising offshore
there is a specific attrition

Rusty oil tankers aim
bows at sunset’s burning edge

Gravestones
accept wind’s whisper
historical elements

Casualties wait patiently
for a hand to skip them
homeward

Solders’ swollen feet
approach water border rendezvous,
waiting tanks spit fire
baking flat Arabic bread

Mother bends her way past bodies
looking for a son
in twilight’s final gesture of futility

The wholeness becomes
an attribute of attrition


_______________

"Parable of the Dictator’s Body Doubles"

by Dennis Camire

Intelligence believed one or two doubles
might be found below the capital
or in the peasant’s humble goat shed.

Interrogation and torture soon reveal who
knew more about weapons of mass destruction
as executions of soldiers who refused

to gas their own citizens. By war’s end though,
five dictator look-alikes are discovered
below Palace floors and in bunkers

guarded by Republican Guards. What’s more,
having secreted the remains of all
his slaughtered relations, D.N.A. is no option;

having had doubles give speeches while he
and other doubles did voice overs,
the C.I.A. can rely on laser eye cameras

to reveal the true brute from the newsreels.
Meanwhile, the occupying countries’ peoples
demand executions in lieu of War Crimes

Tribunals; they call into talk shows
urging the "cattle prodding" of testicles
each time a double pleads it was policy

never to meet the dictator and other
doubles face to face. And bolstered by poles
accepting fifty-thousand civilian deaths

in a war to deter future terrorists
from killing innocent civilians,
is it any wonder the military general

soon decrees "all five doubles be hung
at the capital." Is it any surprise
the doubles are all spat upon

while marching to the gallows and pleading
about the awful day the state made them
choose between "doubling" or execution?

And imagine, now, the stadiums brimming
with citizens waiting to see the dictator
die five times upon a field-sized wide-screen

while government officials beam about
this lowering the international threat level
and restoring the world economy. Double take

the way millions listened for the
crack of vertebrae and final gasp
of human breath

from the last double’s asphyxiated neck
before the cameras turned to the
jumbo screens and capital’s streets

and, for a while, no one knew who to blame
as they all looked exactly the same
taking in their tortured faces

and swallowing
the smart bomb of
"hi Mom."

_________________

 

"O Say Can You Hear?"

by Stephen Oliver

The dripping Gorgon’s head
over the sands of Iraq, spittle of snakes flame out

from a thousand gun barrels –

at last! the two worlds unite in the death struggle,
the two as one to make a third:
fantasy is reality is fantasy.

America has become its own horror cartoon,
each thought locked within its renegade cell,

Bugs Bunny holds forth in the senate on
the bankrupt dream-stocks buried at Fort Knox.

Donald Duck meantime jerks off in disgust
over the American flag – quacks
the country’s been bushwacked,

‘ain’t worth a hill of beans’

in archaic colloquialisms of a nation near claim
jumping the Middle East.

The last capitalist gasp v the last medieval groan;
eventually, to make way for the eco-terrorists whose

motto: destroy what you cannot save: will sound
the retreat to a history vaporised – a memory erased.

So we come to inherit ‘Our Common Loss’.

The Space Shuttle Columbia makes
its long wave ‘good-bye’

bright finger nails tearing at the sky (like)

‘morning Lucifer, that star that beckons all
mankind to daily rounds’

scratching down God’s blackboard
as seven souls fly away
toward the Pleiades.

So we make our omens to live and die by.

____________________

 

"A SUITE

on the eve of the war on Iraq"

by Jim McCurry

Something’s afoot, the menu glossy. Something’s gamey,
half-indisposed,
but maybe it’s just the old paradoxical complaint.
Maybe our student were better served if we were robots.
I call my secretary: Go home and rest, let’s work together.
She answers on tape, saying, I am at home.


By now Nurse has tapped the vein within my elbow hinge.
I hold the gauze fast upon the red spot, by habit, thanking her.
The wretched nose spray, a wave of sweet malingering
nostalgia, I
sprawl in the foam, another mental health day
wake, nausea,
the night of anarchy & insurrections, choppers,
the last aerial attacks — I am
at last the dispossessed, the red spot,
the scrap of meat & bone, mindless, bleeding,
the infidel we liberate from ignorance,
the one who fails to worship freedom’s icon,
the slave of tyranny who will not bow
to the red white & blue.


The duct tape on the mother’s collar bone
marks her
for Saddam’s agents in black pajamas,
the last metastasis, the final
cancer
that will take the only kind wolf
in the West to suckle me.

II


Students, let us get together and chant—
Keep your Juvenal, your flaming Tacitus barbs—
not nearly tacit enough! Who can pay for us
the price of layers uncovered by Tuscany stonemen?
Tactless tactics, one admits, but who can afford
these sunstruck vintages? So—
here is today’s History–
bare or rudely dressed.


Add, if you will, fresh thyme, a wand of wayward rosemary,
a pungent, brittle sprig to this corse, if ready to hand.

III


Sweating at the end, the utmost verge of Lethe,
I stare bullets at the last domino to fall
before I exact my dull revenge: a red plastic
nuclear automatic spits blobs of octopus ink progresso,
dots accumuloso on my adversary’s torso, the Brown shirt foe.
A cloned cross of Larry, Curly & Moe, this barking basso
laughs himself to death beside me & who is this
dreadnaught in curlers who seems to awaken beside me
to yet another cramp of angst—scraping at
an empty jar for a scrap of malaise,
postmodern shortness of breath,
postmenstrual policy draft,
another CFR pill?

IV


Don’t send a boy, et cetera,
don’t wait a day or two.
Those marbles, those
shot dice. As fall’s no mere
mirror-bridge to winter, hello’s
that old tune
you thought you had to learn
to play, the claw
at the levis crotch,
nostrils, howitzers too,
cool eyes, some caliber
of bore—March
weather ‘s the window we need
to make hay. 50% of the people
of Iraq are 15 and younger,
but git Sad-
dam.

He
cain’t hide.

V


Horns venture.
Your ears grow points,
you stink
of raw red meat.
Sulphur. Classic
iconography.


Top secret layer of intelligence
warbucks aplenty
I need for you to go off into the night,
Mr Roman fucking Candle,
Mr President,
explode into sexier neckties,
more italicized brows,
smirks more obvious,
anti-kowtow.


Loiter with intent
(beware, you Gulf Oil Sabines)
the avenues of happiness


beneath the leafy indications
the poplar-like plumes,
the Virgil vigil, the virile
exclamations.


Arrow feathers.


Colonize the terror zones.


Our mind’s the bodies’ itch.

.


"pentacostal frustration rave"

by Jim McCurry

Dan Rather last night on Larry King
sd in answer to a caller’s
Do you support the Bushy war on Iraq
"i trust my President."


i can just hear Robin Williams saying in a morph’d
Scots accent, "Danny boy!
You’re on the wrong side!"


Mr. sssssszzzzzzcleanjawed Dan, are yuh sure?


oh uh yass
Full warp speed ahead–but,
hoot, mon–
are yuh so certain
of the ventriloquism


now, nah– Bushy fido, there,
good dog–


ossia


But are yuh quite sure
the serious overbite
might not make
sad unkinged Lears of us all?

Phil Vassallo writes: I am a New Jerseyan by way of The Bronx and of Maltese ancestry. I work as a corporate communication consultant, primarily developing and delivering writing and presentation skills programs, and I was a professor of writing in several colleges. I hold a B.A. in English from Baruch College, an M.S. in reading education from Lehman College, and a doctorate in educational theory from Rutgers University. I have published over 100 poems in various print journals and in websites, including Red Booth Review, Red River Review, Rustlings of the Wind, Cyber Oasis, Catalyzer, Snakeskin, Wilmington Blues, Atomic Petals, still, Twelfth Planet, Electric Acorn, Poetry Webring, Some Words, Lucid Moon, Spoken War, Librium Implant, Artistic Wasteland, Open Sewer, and Decathlon2000. I have also published over 100 articles as a freelance journalist and essayist. My column on education issues, “The Learning Class,” has been published in various newspapers and magazines across the nation and on EducationNews.org…

Joanne Gonzalez writes: "I have been a nurse, a hospice volunteer, an advocate for the elderly, and I am now a baker, and an assistant to the poet Virginia Hamilton Adair. I have a poem in the December 2002 edition of Rattle. A poem of mine was selected to be a poem of the day on the Poets Against The War website, for March 7, 2003."

Janet Buck‘s poetry, poetics, and fiction have appeared in The Pedestal Magazine, Poetry Magazine.com, CrossConnect, The Pittsburgh Quarterly, Kimera, The Rose & Thorn, 2River View, Southern Ocean Review, Disquieting Muses, Urban Spaghetti, Perihelion, Mind Fire, Born Magazine, pif, 3rd Muse, Verse Libre Quarterly, Big Bridge, pith and hundreds of journals world-wide

Tim Leonard, a Vietnam veteran, is a graduate of the University of Oregon. A poet, writer and digital photographer, his work has been published by CREATIVENUE.COM, POETRY SUPERHIGHWAY, STIRRING (V2EI), EBOOKSONTHE.NET, and JOURNAL E…Mr. Leonard has extensive international hotel management experience.

dennis camire is a poet, teacher, and bartender living in kennebunk maine. his poems have appeared in the mid-american review, words and images, firefly review, animus, a sense of place: collected maine poems, and other small journals. currently he is touring with the poetry trio "Trinity" on their "apocryphal gospel revival tour."

Stephen Oliver is the author of six major collections of poetry. His recent collection, Night of Warehouses: Poems 1978-2000, covers five volumes of poems and spans two decades. A poetry chapbook, DEADLY POLLEN, is to be published by Word Riot Press in 2003. In addition, a CD of poems titled, KING HIT Selected Readings – written and read by Stephen Oliver to original music composed by Matt Ottley, is to be released through Public Eyesore Records (Nebraska) in June, 2003. Stephen is a transtasman poet and writer who lives in Sydney.

jim mc curry, b. 10-3-43 in hawthorne (los angeles) california,
has taught at carl sandburg college since 1980, in poetry & philosophy;
since recently going online, his links include Big City Lit, Cyber Oasis,
Drought, and Snow Monkey—ten poems in all, four of which now
appear at the websites of the first two zines just named.
His philosophical interests center on nonduality: especially maha ati,
dzogchen, or madhyamika. (David Loy’s recent study, NONDUALITY,
is a convenient handle.) For example, "the man" includes Huang-po, Yun-men, Dogen. The trouble with What Is Enlightenment is the
dubious assumption that we can think our way to enlightenment,
or that there is truly conscious evolution, ‘progress,’ rather than
recovery of primordial innocence/happiness. In this respect, contrary to some of his best friends, actually, Jim is somewhat skeptical of Andrew Cohen’s work, and Ken Wilbur’s—not to say the work of Eckhart Tolle, let’s say. The literary interests include V. Woolf, B. Cendrars, Lydia Davis, Knut Hamsun, Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Casares and Borges, Marquez, Neruda, William Carlos Williams, Jack Collom. I think that’s enough indication. O yes, Pessoa.
Jim has a granfalloon of masks, some of whom are becoming
heteronyms, mebbe: Baron Axel Angst, Ramadooly Foofoo, H. Pumphrey Smogrove, and the most fully realized of all, Dogwag Bummerstead, PhD, aka Old Dog.

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