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      1. After-effects of war-times


        I’m waiting empty in a cold house,
        with shamrocks, the cat and favored books,
        listening for the old thud of new boots

        gunning to kick- in this loose-hinged heart.

        The grasping hands of minions
        with much to lose, I imagine, close on me.
        They drag me, incendiary,
        into their infra-red night.

        Unopened mail and seed starts on the table
        is how my neighbors find me gone.
        No bloated stench. No skeletal sneer.
        Only a storm door banging mad in wind.

        by G. Karl Marcus 


        American prisoners of war captured by North Korean forces await liberation at the 38th parallel on Oct. 5, 1950. (Soviet Photo Agency/Bettmann/Getty Images)

        I look him over and almost want to cry.
        Yet another of their adolescent “soldiers.”
        Undernourished body, filthy, lice-ridden
        hair—teeth a good pediatric dentist
        would consider a challenge to restructure.
        Age? Our interpreter says, “thirteen.”

        I light a Marlboro, relax, inhale the fumes
        and as my cigarette drifts towards him,
        trailing ash and smoke,
        suddenly he’s terrified,
        convinced that tortures older men described
        at the hands of a former enemy are about to begin.
        He tries to be a soldier, grits his teeth,
        shuts his eyes—and when I rise to disabuse him
        multiplies into roomfuls of helpless children
        cowering before strenuous lights
        that can streak across a desert sky in minutes,
        think their way over tv cable or miles of empty sand,
        searching for something of value.

        “It’s okay,” I assure him, as I stub
        my butt in the tray, and lay my hand
        on his shoulder, “That is not our way.”

        “You have been captured by americans.
        You will be treated as a prisoner of war
        in accord with Geneva conventions.
        After you’ve showered and been deloused
        and answered a few dozen questions
        we will give you medical attention…
        treat those open sores…
        monitor your blood and urine.

        There will be therapy, Levi clothes,
        mineral water, coca cola, videos,
        freedom to worship allah, Metallica, or Christ,
        and hi-tech food. Watch out. The plate is hot.”

        by David Alpaugh 


        To the blind, deaf mute faithless forests
        without a name, without the be, without a core,
        how happy is one welling upon fire
        earth wind water?

        How happy is one who faithfully recites rote prayers
        and homilies, and is without grace?

        How happy is one who knows season’s systems,
        and still sows in winters and summers?

        How happy is one who weeps and weeps wretchedly
        and still admires catastrophes?

        How happy is one who creates paintbrushes, with perfect bristles,
        and cannot draw, let alone sketch?

        How happy is one who can count days and nights
        with cigarette butts and smoke
        and still reads tea leaves swirling in dark premonitions?

        How happy is one who sovereigns,
        and still finds new ways to exhale misery’s diameters
        by mushroom clouds and sorties?

        How happy is one who souveniers parts of one’s body
        with tattos and rings and still takes painkillers?

        How happy is one who survives
        and still looks to futures as bottles and pills?

        How happy is one who imitates God’s children,
        and still doesn’t know differences in formality and formation?

        How happy is one who ministers to kings and queens,
        and still finds a subset of fiefdoms?

        How happy is one who meticulously entreprenueralizes
        and sees saints and waifs as cogs and things?

        How happy is one who is condemned to creation,
        and watches wayward children churned into insolent tyrants?

        How happy is one blemished by virgin births,
        and still cannot stand so long on fire earth
        wind water?

        How happy are agile minds quick to excavate and read,
        and whose hearts can never bequeath a name
        for these aching needs?

        by Paul Moon 


        this greed
        this air we breathe
        how now brown cow
        the AIDS disease
        the simple truth
        deceit and fears
        as empires crumble
        no tears
        our turn
        one power
        ten million children dead
        who’s suffering?
        Mother Nature
        he forest’s gone
        precious, precious, precious war
        they’re burning books
        time’s up
        no more:
        the need to know your ABC
        an outstretched hand (no dignity)
        money markets
        sweat shop children
        big bad wolf
        the taste of water
        one, two, three worlds
        human slaughter.

        by David Jordan 

        A Call to the Old Marine

        Full of rage
        Lied about his age
        As he signed the page
        Became a marine
        Same story as before
        Yet another war
        To kill and die
        For a lie
        When your na?ve
        Many lies you’ll believe
        So he went through hell
        And served his country well?

        But there comes a time
        When we cannot be oblivious to the crime
        How we are manipulated
        By war profiteers
        Who tell us who must be hated
        Exploiting our fears

        Stand up, man, be brave
        You have America to save
        As a youth
        You fought for the truth
        You’ve seen this act before
        Stand up once more
        Do not let them deceive
        And make us grieve
        In more war

        by John Kaniecki 

        In the Name of Brotherhood

        I joined for the love of loyal friends,
        Companions who’d fight until the end
        Far from the dramas of highschool,
        For hope, dignity, and set rules.

        I joined in peace, but got lost in war
        Now I don’t know what I’m fighting for.
        can’t distinguish the bad from good.
        I joined in the name of brotherhood.
        I set out to find my broken dreams
        But their promises aren’t what they seemed.
        This war is a desert of loneliness
        And I find my home is what I miss.

        I joined in peace but got lost in war.
        Now I don’t know what I’m fighting for.
        If I had the chance I doubt I would
        Join in the name of brotherhood,
        Kill to survive, no time for doubt,
        So many innocents dead, I couldn’t count.
        A secret mission gone awry.
        Bloody and beaten my body lies.

        I joined in peace but got lost in war
        Now I don’t know what I fought for.
        I’d take it all back if I only could,
        I’d rather have lived in brotherhood.

        by Stephanie Moss
        (edited by Sandra Stephenson) 

        A day at the beach

        …..sunlight spreads wider to the hot pitch of summer’s perfection. Mother, tired of print and peccadilloes, rushes to the water, where she swims straight out on the ocean’s curve, the salt on her lips, undercurrents pushing against her thighs. Effortless, taut and well tuned like desire, she swims toward the horizon then stops, spreading her arms to float gently, kicking her legs in the green light below, resting her head on the sound of the sea. Her eyes check the sky for grey worry-lines, see nothing but blue postcard purity.

        No bloody-fanged monster will rear up from its mud lair on the ocean’s soundless floor to seize her body in its giant maw. No clattering bronze-winged creature will snatch her from the water to feed a crag’s nest of young. Why then, in the midst of safety, this landfall of rocks, blisters and briars scratching the delicate sides of her mind? Why this quiet panic even as strong men splash within hailing distance, and two canoes paddled by teenagers are within hauling reach, if she’s not afraid of sinking and drowning in the deep? She knows that she cannot choose not to know, that daily news infiltrates her blood cells like poison stitched in the cut of her clothes. The gold ring on her finger, the gold chain around her neck, a decade of good works: all these gifts she would give for the sweetness of shutting down the brain, of pure instinct like a worm’s passing dirt through its entrails, of living life in the joy and reflex of making love and her body’s music, choices made without cool premeditation. Any gift required of her she would give not to know about missiles and firestorms and warheads that would boil her in the sea. Floating in circles of sun, she wonders about men in their submarines, the slip of machines heavy with the world’s end somewhere below the level of light and reason in the cold cold tombs of their certainty. Potent weapons aimed at each other like metallic cocks ready to explode, she feels unsafe on the tip of a match about to strike over a sea of gas.

        Still, what pain can there be when angels swim next to curly-headed gods in the sea? Circling, opening and shutting her eyes, her hair fanned out like wisps of black cloud caught in the glimmer of the ocean’s silver lights, she swims under the wall of arguments to the side where fun and fantasy are. There she becomes heat and scintillating flesh attracting strongly muscled men, Neptunes splashing about the warm waters of her brain; there panic describes a boy playing a reed flute in a copse of trees. But undertows of fact and fear drag her back to the hard embrace of nuclear arms, where she cannot escape the smell of fires nor the red flow of eyes running down cheeks. The blue vacant bowl of the gleaming sky, the play of children in the dancing sea, are not really true any more. Talk of the apple’s appleness, of God’s essence or grace; refutation by the rock, the uses of silence and things of joy and beauty forever are not the truths of today, nor the rhetoric of freedom; nor when deep death hunkers down on the shore of the sea, snuffing out fun and fantasy. The water is cold, the day hard to bear. Her skin breathes in the beginnings, the endings, and a silent black scream flies from her tongue. She spins, whirling in the still heart of chaos, reaching for the shape of seed and flower.

        She ducks, hides under mushrooms and debris as, screaming over the roll of the waves, a host of dying children in flames run to vanquished, eliminated mothers. Unconscious, come now while sunflowers still follow the sun and music is made by flautists in subways and poets cry that no-one listens any more. Come now, while there’s still time for fish and lily-pads, and rainbows pouring into living lakes. Spinning, she swims again under the wall. The uncalculated fall of a leaf is there; little girls skipping rope are there. Kate Greenaway illustrations and speeches by politicians are there, that comforting life of pictures in award-winning books for infants of three still sucking their thumbs. Is the Bible true, she asks, God’s promise that oceans will not spill over the earth, drowning apologists and pigs in their sties; that the end will not be an expression of divine wrath measured in tidal waves and unceasing rainfall? Pulled away again, she tries for words that mean what they say, unviolated by cunning men who call venom the sweetest apple-juice. Devil’s business, this mounting of weapons to burn the world, to outdo Stalingrad, Alexandria, Auschwitz, Babi Yar, St. Bartholomew’s Day, Nagasaki, to raise tons of cinder to a blackened sun. She slips under the surface of the sea, submerges in security. Here, where no land nor air is, she feels safe, for she trusts ancient promises more than politicians and generals, who calculate the worth of her life in the tallies and find her a justifiable pile of ash; her children, her past, her future, all expendable. She knows they will kill to the end of time and to protect their time. Like a heretic at the stake, she must perish to save her soul from Satan’s grasp.

        Shark’s anger pushes her up into light where flames fall away, unable to touch what she must do in the world’s dying. On the land she can see the old woman gathering seashells from another age; her silly loving husband pretending that monstrosity is a game; teenagers and musclemen locked in self-admiration. In the sky she hears a cormorant’s call, its voice pierced with poison, its graceful flight slowed by winds of panic, strong above water smelling of gas and fire. She swims to land, aware of the future: of men rotting in open graves, of women blasted to shadows, of children consumed in balls of fire made by men whose brains are padded with apologies for death. The foam swirls about her ankles, her hair becomes a net to catch sparks of light and reason; knowing fire can take her, she strides to the shore. She’s strong enough to cultivate roses at ground zero. She can raise her two hands against warriors and politicians. Her feet touch the golden sand, the wind picks up and the shapes of seeds are planted firmly in the wind as the children run to her laughing, voices loud with jubilation.

        by Kenneth Radu

        Full poem previously published in _Treading Water_, Oberon Press, 1992