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Unread 04-10-2022, 05:33 PM
Michael Cantor Michael Cantor is offline
Join Date: Oct 2001
Location: Plum Island, MA; Santa Fe, NM
Posts: 11,175
Default The Horrors of War

We've had several threads on poems by others dealing with the horrors of war. I suspect many of us have written our own. Here are a few to start it off.

The Journalist

The when came first, and was no problem since
clocks hung on the market wall had stopped
precisely at the time he had to know,
and there were watches too, all smashed it seemed,
and parts of straps, and down the blackened street
a grand old tower timepiece still retained
an hour hand; and what was good was that
they all agreed: there was no fog or mystery.

Where was simple also, since the maps
and GPS coordinates all showed this village
or that town, and most had names, or he could
find someone to tell him this is The-Street-
or here is
The Place-of-Orange-Trees-That-Burned-All-Night
He would write it down slowly, in his way,
and soon began to find the names himself.

He often stumbled, though, at what, for what
was not so clear. Some kind of IED,
they’d say, perhaps behind a truck or car.
Men came with masks and guns and called out names.
The belt is wrapped around a piece of corpse.
A woman, all in black, in line for food.

He learned more acronyms, and all the vast
new nuances that came with improvised.

And next was who, and who turned out to be
impossible. The bloodstains on stone walls
were who, and headless bodies found in lakes,
and gunners torched inside their vehicles,
and chunks of flesh and fat; and still the questions
rang of who was this and who did that,
and who was shot or bombed beyond all moral
sense, and who was God to suffer this?

And when he came to why he took a walk
at noon, behind a berm of blasted earth,
and stripped off forty pounds of Kevlar vest
and shirtless, spinning, spinning in the sun,
leaned against a rock, and puked, and wept;
but still the sun remained, and still he went
on going out each day to sanctify
the old, old cry: who, what, when, where, why?

Toy Soldiers

The little tin men in their little tin hats
bang their loud little drums for the blood they won't shed;
and the ones who don’t fight lead the rat-a-tat-tats
when the little tin men in their little tin hats
fill the air with their calls like a clatter of cats —
until nothing is left but the rats and the dead,
and the little tin men with their little tin hats,
and their loud little drums, and the blood that's been shed.
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Unread 04-10-2022, 09:14 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
Join Date: Mar 2017
Location: TX
Posts: 6,630

Hi Michael,

I think I prefer your second poem here, which I like a fair bit. It seems to me easier to write a short war poem than a long one, pace Homer. Here is I think my only war poem, posted here some months ago.



A tree will move but will not walk away.
It speaks and maybe the wind hears it. I
have seen a tree turn in the wind, about
the time of day the sun is up and all
you see is trees. This is a place I might
well shed a tear. Yes, I am on the level.

There’s trouble at the border. It’s a thing
the trees don’t really care about. Along
that dotted line, men are exchanging shots.
Some are on horseback, some in a mass grave.
They call out in the cool air and the notes
they make this morning seem as if alive.

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Unread 04-11-2022, 01:50 PM
RCL's Avatar
RCL RCL is offline
Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Posts: 6,766

Three contributions (posted earlier) to the anti-war discussion.

Seeds of War

Their seeds ripped off by comrade Stalin
a century ago now fall on
the Ukrainians' soil—their essence
steel. We know
that's not to feed them:
it’s to starve, to kill, to steal their freedom.
Let Putin's orcs reap what they sow.

Note: Stalin’s adopted surname means steel. Ukrainians call the invaders orcs, after brutal humanoid monsters created by Tolkien.


After and with Thoreau

Ants battled on my Walden woodpile,
Small reds against much larger blacks.
The wood was strewn with dying and dead:
Imperialist blacks and republican reds.

A red clamped on a black ant’s chest
Was shaken till a back leg broke.
I watched another red assault
The black ant’s back and gnaw his neck—

An Achilles avenging his Patroclus?
The black destroyed all the reds’ limbs,
Lopped off their heads and left with them.
Who won this internecine bellum?

Most warrior Myrmidons soon dead,
Ant squads claimed corpses, black and red.

Note: This is meant to be a microcosm of Thoreau’s discussion in Walden, Chapter 12: “Brute Neighbors.”

First appeared in New Verse News; later in Autumn Sky Poetry Daily

The Word War

Remembering Wilfred Owen’s
Dulce Et Decorum Est

He wrote in verse about this word
on a blank page as pale as death.
Though silent, it is mindfully heard.
He wrote in verse a word of the absurd
sweet lie: pro patria mori earns a reward
of decorous honors for one’s last breath.
He wrote in verse about this word
on a pale page—on repetitive death.

First appeared in New Verse News
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Unread 04-11-2022, 03:23 PM
Ann Drysdale's Avatar
Ann Drysdale Ann Drysdale is offline
Join Date: Feb 2009
Location: Old South Wales (UK)
Posts: 6,682

The Old Lie

What would Owen have written, had he lived?
It seems presumptuous to speculate.
Had he returned home whole to those he loved
would he have foundered, inarticulate
without the special stimulus of war?
Would he have flown a Spitfire next time round
or turned Dunkerque into "A Beach Too Far",
scabbing it over neatly, like a wound?
And what would he have made of "Shock and Awe" -
the great cacophony of graceless might
that mocked the things we said we did it for?
Another day ends in another night.
Why should I try to find his voice again?
They wouldn't listen now. They didn't then.

This, of course, was Iraq. I was a member of a Quaker group called Welsh Writers Against the War. We wrote, we marched and we demonstrated, and we achieved sod all.
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Unread 04-11-2022, 09:06 PM
Martin Elster Martin Elster is offline
Join Date: Nov 2007
Location: Connecticut, USA
Posts: 7,563


Great casks hung in the atmosphere—
***too near!—
so black, they looked like enmity
***to me,
then burst, and tore my ears asunder,
***their thunder
like rocks that rammed the earth and stunned her.
Across the sea, as far from sight
as Neptune, battlefields ignite—
too near to me, their thunder!


We heard the bugle’s strident warison
and charged the enemy. Across the mire
the horses hurtled. Caught in musket fire,
a flock of starlings winged away. Who won?
We? The enemy? The birds? Outrun
our fate? Absurd! No one could re-inspire,
could ever prevail upon me to attire
myself in fighting coats. The Fates have spun
their web. My friends are gone. We had a choice:
turn tail or mount our ponies and then rise
in spirit like fierce falcons. The clarion’s voice,
our quickened pulse, sharp gun smoke in the air,
we galloped as they galloped. None would spare
the other, ant-like, yet far more unwise.

(The above is a bouts-rimés.)
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Unread 04-12-2022, 10:33 PM
John Riley John Riley is offline
Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: North Carolina
Posts: 6,270

Still working on this one. The title is a placeholder.


What you see are the remains:
the woodland, the smoke, the retreating flames.
Somewhere, perhaps, in a far-away country
the sky is bluer and roses cling to a stone wall,
palm trees lull a mild wind.
Here there is nothing.
Here there is nothing but snow on the branches of the spruce.
Here there is nothing to kiss with warm lips.
Here lips grow cold with time.
You claim, my child, your heart is brave,
and living without hope is worse than death.
What do you expect of death?
Should we love instead these long sick hours of life,
these narrow years of yearning,
the brief blooming of a desert rise?
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Unread 04-13-2022, 11:16 PM
Michael Cantor Michael Cantor is offline
Join Date: Oct 2001
Location: Plum Island, MA; Santa Fe, NM
Posts: 11,175

Letter of Complaint to World War Two

In my life I have loved two women
and you knew them both before I did:
seduced one and tried to kill the other.

Sachiko adored you.
Her father a Tokyo mafioso, a gang boss, a yakuza;
you must have been proud of him, he
followed that Rising Sun
that big old blood red meatball
through Mongolia and Singapore, later
ran military construction in Taiwan.
Your air raids were wonderful.
Everybody fussed over her in the shelters;
she always had extra toys.
One of my father’s aides
took me to the hospital every day,
to sing for the wounded soldiers.
I jumped from bed to bed
until they clapped and cheered.
I'm sure they hated me!
When you were over.
the family was repatriated to Kyushu,
an area you had savaged.
No homes, barely any food.
One day a new girl came to school
in a bright yellow dress
carrying a shiny tin lunch box stuffed with
freshly made rice balls,
American candy.
Those other kids
beat the shit out of me
and the teacher helped.
Tore my dress apart, smeared
mud and dirt all over me.
Took my lunch.
Called my father a criminal.
Now she is Spike.
Lives alone in Manhattan,
paints large canvases,
will not talk to other Japanese:
but still speaks of you fondly.

Marta was born on the Baltic Sea
In a house on a beach
behind a strip of pines,
in front of a birch forest;
descended from the
Northern warrior women.
Do you remember?
You shot at her in 1939, asshole,
on the way to Saxony,
and again three years later
crossing a river below Munich,
helping her parents push a hand cart
through Europe.
Her father spoke six languages,
ran a DP camp, forged the papers
that took them here.
Marta learned unaccented English within one year,
willfully disremembering Latvian and German.
We were born one week apart.
I remember you perfectly,
every victory, every scrap metal drive.
She will not recall your face
except when pictures of refugees and wagons
fleeing Saigon
flash on a screen without warning.
But we are here and you are not.
We have outlived you,
my warrior woman and I,
my fierce pagan love.

(This appeared in my most recent book, Furusato.)
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Unread 04-14-2022, 01:19 AM
derek fenton derek fenton is offline
New Member
Join Date: Oct 2010
Location: Perth Western Australia
Posts: 49

I wrote this poem for my brother sixteen years ago after he volunteered to take part in a relief convoy from South Africa to Zimbabwe.
He had fought in a futile and misguided war there and wanted to give something back to the people who had once been his enemy. He reconciled with them, but is now crippled by PTSD, anxiety and bipolar disorder, a casualty of the futility of war like millions of others and many of our friends who died needlessly.


Is that the baobab which shaded him
thirty five years ago as he prised
landmines and booby traps from lethal lairs
knowing that every second could be his last.

Is that a descendant of the baboon
who mocked him, an unbeliever, as he
crossed himself ironically back then
and took the go away bird literally

staying away from the land of his birth.
Until now, a bible not an F.N.
to protect him: a weapon to convert
people whose parents and grandparents
once wanted him dead.

Later that night, lying on his back
gazing at a dazzling sky, convinced
of the existence of a caring God,
he feels at home again thanking
his training for allowing him eternal life.

In the dishevelled cemetery nearby
a comrade’s bones are chewed by ants
as they have been for centuries.

The baobab’s deformed arms tickle tinkling stars
bohowing baboons breed boisterously
and platoons of ants march in time to the cemetery.

Published by the late Les Murray in Quadrant Magazine in Australia in @008.

Last edited by derek fenton; 04-14-2022 at 01:22 AM. Reason: Addition of publishing details.
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Unread 04-14-2022, 01:27 AM
derek fenton derek fenton is offline
New Member
Join Date: Oct 2010
Location: Perth Western Australia
Posts: 49

should read 2008. Apologies
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Unread 04-14-2022, 06:41 AM
Martin Elster Martin Elster is offline
Join Date: Nov 2007
Location: Connecticut, USA
Posts: 7,563

Snatched from the Farm: Three Sisters

One line consists of elderly and ill;
the other young and fit and working age,
who’ll get a bowl of drugged soup as their wage
and even get the hang of a new skill.
Two sisters in the “healthy” line now see
their sibling standing in the other row—
the sibling with the eczema. They know
that something doesn’t look right here. The three
must walk or die together. They’ve no choice.
The youngest sprints across the yard to pull
the “sick” one back. The trains will soon be full,
and when they stop, nobody will rejoice.
They’re off together rolling down the track,
three teens whose parents never will be back.

As fodder for the factories, they trekked
barefoot across the snow fields. Hunks of bread
were all that kept their reed-like frames erect.
One bitter morning, just beneath their tread,
they noticed spuds and scooped them up. Those raw
tubers they’d conceal and eat at night,
aware their persecutors had a law
prohibiting these girls from such delight.
In camp that evening, lined up in the quad,
the sisters, close amid the others, shook
as one in ten were murdered by the squad.
When the girl beside them dropped, they didn’t look,
but knew they had been spared. The following dawn
they held each other as they plodded on.

They walked and slept, but didn’t die together.
The Russians came and then the sisters set
their sights on Palestine, where each one met
a man, had kids, and then the crucial tether
that lasted through the horror snapped when two
stayed put and saw the youngest move away.
She watched her children blossom day by day
in a land of hope or, leastwise, somewhere new.
She and her family once owned a farm
in Bratislava. Now she’s in a place
where caregivers abound. The human race
will kill or comfort, dish out food or harm.
She dreams now, not of trials and ordeals,
but of the cows, the chickens, and the fields.

(Appeared in Poetry Super Highway, won a poetry contest, and appeared in my book, “Celestial Euphony.”)
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