WAR

I have yet to wander the medieval battlefields
of Europe and it increasingly seems I never will.
I have visited my share of castles in Ireland and Scotland,
but the acoustics there are not good, and I did not
hear the anguished cry of soldiers falling in battle,

I have seen rivers, quiet now, where the blood
of the vanquished must have flowed in this war
and that, for Europe is a place of wars,
the perpetual gameboard for the greedy
and those who imagine themselves emperors.

I come from a distant place, where three wars
on its soil was deemed sufficient, but who will
freely give others the wars they have grown
altogether too used to fighting, and we gladly
offer up our sons to aid in the combat so long
as we only receive their bodies in the dark of night.

And perhaps that is our failing, for we know
war well, but we keep ourselves clean, and marvel
at the destruction we will never know first hand.

WE WERE SPECIAL

We were a special generation,
that’s what they told us, and although
we had no real idea who they were,
we drank the Kool-Aid and believed them.

We got liberal educations, were
smarter than our parents,
and went off to the wars that they
started for us, did enough drugs
to numb the pain of our existence,
and became first class working drones.

Our children are grown now, and they
have been told that they
are a special generation and although
they were skeptical, we convinced them.

Some got liberal educations, most
couldn’t afford that thought,
so we found wars for them to fight,
and drugs to kill the pain of lives
that were and would be nothing special,

and we wondered what they
would someday tell their children.

MAY DAY

We marched for hours, going
nowhere really, but nowhere was
the point of the marching so we
achieved the goal the Air Force set.
We didn’t even think it odd
that they made us shave our heads,
so we’d all look like fools,
there was a war on and we
were in the military, so we
had already proven that point.
We were the smarter ones,
as it turned out, enlistees
who’d spend our time on bases
getting the pilots ready to fly
into the danger we knew
we had so carefully avoided,
and for us the greatest risk
appeared daily in the mess hall.

First published in As You Were, the Military Review, Vol. 13, 2020

JE SAIS QUOI

I admit I am an odd duck, odder for not being a duck at all. But the expression has a certain je ne sais quoi to it, as does that expression and I am all about language. All that is a long round about way of acknowledging that I have always wanted to use the word antiphonal in my writing. I’m not terribly religious, and what faith I had has long been shaken by a world gone mad. Or at least a country gone mad. And even when I had some faith, I subscribed to the syllogism that religions music was to music, as military food was to food. We won’t even mention military music, that is an abject oxymoron.

BATTLESHIP

As a child I played Battleship
on a square grid, the ships marked
by hand, one for each of the players,
we were efficient by necessity.

My sons played Battleship, though
under a different name in deference
to my hatred of things martial,
on an electrically wired board.

My grandchildren haven’t yet
discovered the game, now played
on their iPads and iPhones, but it
is no doubt just a matter of time.

In Washington our president
plays the game with real ships
against China and Iran but it
is clear he doesn’t understand

how the game is played, and what
happens when you lose a ship,
but the sailors in the Navy know
all too well and dread the outcome

given his history in playing
against opponents who clearly
understand not only the rules
but also tactics and strategy.

SENSELESS

You place the shroud
over my head,
it is dark, but I
can still touch her cheek.

You cut off
my fingers, leaving
only stumps, but I
can still taste her tears.

You pull out
my tongue, there is
only bitterness, but I
can hear her morning laugh.

You drown me
in a sea of noise
nothing breaks the din, but I
smell her sweetness.

You fill the room
with the acrid smoke
tearing at my nostrils, but I
can remember her love.

Publshed in Mehfil Issue #8, August 2020
https://medium.com/mehfil/two-poems-2f60ad081ee7

TESTAMENT

Christ and his disciples
walk slowly through the lobby
en route to the bar, discussing
the evil of war and blind obedience.
They push three tables together
and slowly drain the pitchers
of Bud draft, laughing
over the sound of the Karaoke.
As the evening draws itself
into night, he boasts
in Aramaic that he
has translated more than half
of the Bhagavat Gita,
although he much prefers
the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
Satan, he suspects aloud,
is still trying fruitlessly
to finish Spinoza’s Ethics,
but without improved understanding
the old devil is doomed to failure.
As the night draws on, the hooker
hovers ever closer, and for a moment
he wonders if she would moan
as she feigned orgasm.
He lights another Camel
and crumples the empty pack
and throws it, knowing it will miss
the can and roll on the floor
under the bar rail, and he curses
in the ancient tongue.

First Appeared in Maelstrom, Issue 2, 2000

RIDING THE WASTELAND

We set out with bold ambition,
egos saddled and reined
across a landscape left barren
by our leaders who saw
only carefully stacked boards
and beams awaiting the master
carpenter, great floral sprays
dotting the lobbies of glass
and chrome edifices, created
in their own images.
We ride in search of
the promised land, and turn
a deaf ear to the windwalkers,
to the spirits of the children
sitting in the packed dirt streets
their bellies distended, crying
out for food, for justice
as the warlords sit in their cars
surveying the invisible parapets
of their armed fortresses.
We look quickly away
from the chindi of the young men
who rise from the neatly heaped soil
of the common burial mound, who
rise up in neat array and perch
on the edge of the freshly dug pit
waiting for the rat-a-tat rain
of death they know await them
unrepentant, unwilling to curse
Allah, bidding farewell to Tuzla.
We pause to chant the blessing way
but we have forgotten the words,
Arbeit Macht Frei, the gates
reduced to rust, the chimneys
no longer belching the sweet
smell of death into the winter morning.
We ride on oblivious to the faint glow
from the craters we have torn
into the earth, of the clouds
that only vaguely recall
the mushrooms of our progress.
We ride toward the horizon
where the great pillars of gold
and silver rise up, glinting in the sun
that once warmed them before
we cast them out into the desert
of our lust and craving.
We set out with bold ambition
but our horses have grown tired,
our canteens are empty
and the inferno threatens
to consume us.


First Appeared in Alchemy, Issue 2, Fall-Winter 1999.

A SUDDEN DEPARTURE

You sneaked away one night.
You were there, but while
sleep claimed me, you were gone
without notice or warning.
Where should I look for you?
In these barren hills
where the spirits of the first nations
roam, looking for their ancestral land?

Where should I look for you?
Wandering these verdant fields
where a hundred generations
have been sacrificed
to the will of power mad men
who know no satisfaction?

Where should I look for you?
In these filth ridden streets
and narrow alleys where
the rats scamper in search
of a meal, where a child
at play would be a fine repast?

Where should I look for you?
Across these wind blown sands
where brother has hunted brother
for three generations, each
laying God’s claim
to the birthright of the other
while wives and mothers
wail in mourning?


First published in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press (2008)

THE GIFTS

They brought him myrrh
on a flaming salver and all
he could do was say
“This is something I would expect
from a butcher or a carpenter,
and the camera angles
would never work, so bring
me napalm or punji stakes
that we have proven to work.”
They brought him ripe oranges
and the sweet meat of the pineapple,
its juice dripping from his chin,
and all he could do was tighten
his grip on the AK-47 and dream
of night on the edge of the jungle.
They brought him Rodin, Matisse,
Rembrant van Rijn, and Blake,
but all he would see was
Bosch and Goya, and then
only by the light of fading candles.
They brought him the String Quartet
in A Major played on Strads
and Guarnaris, but he
wanted the retort of the howitzer
the crump of the mortar,
the screams of the child.
They brought him his child
wrapped in bandages
missing fingers and toes,
and all he wanted was
the nursery, a newborn
in swaddling, suckling her breast
as he stroked her head
and remembered the moment
of her creation.


First published in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press (2008)