War Poems 2007
War poetry sent to the War Poetry website in 2007
Note. factual background: March 2007
It is four years this month since the invasion of Iraq.
The losses in the war against Iraq include
655,000 Iraqi dead
3,168 American dead
133 British dead
23,677 Americans seriously injured (US wounded and air-transported 32,544).
(from the website of www.stopwar.org.uk )
Poems sent to the War Poetry website in 2007
Troopers by Curt Bennett
War and Silence by Jagannathan Viswanathan
Bien venue by Sudeep Pagedar
On returning home by "DL"
Downward Spiral by "DL"
Writing Home "DL"
Midday darkness by "DL"
Desert Skies under blackout by "DL"
Beauty in fire by "DL"
Protest by "DL"
Entreated by Athena by Tatiana Retivov
Retreat by Tatiana Retivov
This could be about either British or American kids, but a sense of what they personally deal with in a combat situation. Curtis D. Bennett.
Note from editor: Curtis D Bennett is exceptionally well qualified to write this poem. He is a veteran of Vietnam where he fought as a pilot and on the ground as a marine.]
In quiet dignity, they trudge their war,
Weapons ready, line on line, in dusty, desert boots
Walking the crowded broken biblical city,
Where rivers of black, human excrement
Trickle the shadowed alleys and cobbled streets.
The helmet mounted mirror- visors reflect the loathing,
The hostile, seething resentment and hatred,
Emanating from the dark and silent, watching people
Born and native to this ancient desert land.
There is a unique poise about these troops,
A quality not found in peers,
The special bearing, common only
To young men in combat.
They bear a stoic, resignation,
A façade of wary acceptance,
A weariness in their movements
As they slowly walk the war.
Struggling with its elements,
And inside, struggling with themselves,
For just below the surface,
They keep the well-known secret,
The haunting fear and cowardice, common to all.
Twenty-four–seven they walk that line,
Living up to their reputation,
Assuming the swagger, the hard line,
A casual indifference to death
That masks their deep seeded fear of dying,
The overwhelming urge to break and run,
The paralyzing instinct to freeze or hide
While silently praying in secret
That whatever happens, they won’t look bad!
That is why they are at war;
For this is where they would rather be
Then face the shame of not going,
Of being accused of not having “it,”
To uphold that fragile concept of honor
By placing their reputations on the line.
So proudly, they carry their reputation,
For that is all that remains of their dignity,
Even if it means...they must die for it.
Curtis D. Bennett
6 March 2007
War and Silence
(Inspired by "Baghdad ER")
Before the war there are the vile taunts and howls of men
Who consider some of their brethren less than human
And want them removed from the face of the earth
They bay like wolves searching for prey
Then there is the unending threnody of death raining form the sky
Mortar Bombs, Artillery Shells, Napalm Bombs and Missiles
And sometimes even an earth shattering atom bomb
They screech and scream like the warning sirens
Is there silence in war?
Yes at the end for those who don’t survive cannot hear
And those who are alive are deafened by the sounds of war
You can say there is dead silence except for the ululation in the wake.
I welcome you to this place,
this venue of Global Progress.
Here, shall the new be brought in and
the spent, old, discarded.
Welcome to this...civilisation.
You now stand at the audit to a new generation:
a new breed of thought and deed.
More powerful than the ones before,
they do not follow the rules of 'logic'
Reason, instead, follows them and
is at their beck and call.
Very versatile, as can be seen:
One reason explains all!
You are welcome, to roam about and
explore all that we offer you.
Go on, go about,
play, jump, prance,
jump off that cliff; go on, take a chance.
Welcome, O' Mortals, to this
Brave New World.
It is now yours till,
of course, you maim, murder, kill;
Eventually destroy it.
Before this Brave New World,
we had a street on which we built our homes;
yes, homes, not houses.
So, we thought
one day, it all blew up and
as the fires died down,
as we went through the shattered remnants of
our past lives, we knew.
We knew that they were just...
From Mumbai, India. Age 17 (2006)
Poems by DL
A British soldier, who identifies himself only as DL,writes about a number of his war experiences.
His military experience and life today
"I spent nine years in total in the army, in the Royal Corps of Signals, as what the army calls a Communications Specialist (Electronic Warfare). Basically the Army's radio eavesdroppers.
I enlisted in 1989, when the world appeared (on the surface at least) a very peaceful place. I was only three months out of training when posted to Saudi Arabia one week after my 20th birthday. Since EW operators are rather thin on the ground, and signals intelligence is a vital role in any military operation, we tend to be amongst the first units deployed to any trouble spots.
In the space of my ten years service, I served in (in chronological order) Germany, the Gulf , Bosnia under UN command in 1993, A 12 month tour in Northern Ireland in 1994-5,then back to Bosnia for six months with NATO in 1996. Finally a six month tour with the UN in Cyprus in 1998 before being injured in a training accident leading to my discharge on medical grounds late in 1998.
I started writing during my UN tour in Bosnia in 1993, writing about home to my family, mainly as a means of escape from the bitter conflict which surrounded us and the sheer frustration of the UN's rules of engagement, which had basically reduced front line combat troops to "body counters". I gradually began to write more about the events I was involved in, as a means of release (a very common occurrence I see with the other contributors to the warpoetry website).
This has continued since then, and I'm currently engaged, (when I have the time in between working and raising a family) in writing a biographical account of the events of my life, mainly the damage that war can do to all it touches, and moving on into normal life."
On Returning Home
(Written whilst on leave, after completing a UN tour in Bosnia, 1993.)
Christmas is happening,
All around, people laugh, play,
Shop, looking for nice things to give,
The world hasn’t changed,
It’s all as it was before,
Happy, carefree people,
You go about your lives.
If bliss is caused by ignorance,
We are one blissful nation.
You pass me in the street,
As you hurry to buy your presents,
Gifts that cost you dear,
But have only weeks of value
For those who will receive them.
You pass me by, you see another happy shopper,
One of your own, nothing unusual.
Yet only I know where I’ve been;
Only I know what I’ve seen.
Last week I was watching,
Last week I was a witness,
A witness to the worst that man can do,
A house, a home for a happy family,
Merely wanting to live a pleasant life,
Now burned into charred flesh and ashes,
All killed, all slaughtered, all destroyed,
Last week, I saw this,
Just last week.
Still you all shop,
Spending your money, carefree,
Untouched by war, this land of peace
For fifty years, this land unburned.
Yet a few hours journey from where you consume with joy,
Hate consumes life with fire,
You know it’s happening,
It’s all on TV, yet to you, it’s a distant affair.
So far away.
Yet it isn’t so far, it’s here within me,
That distant image on your TV screen,
Etched into my battered soul.
While you walk beside me,
You don’t know what I’ve seen,
That I still smell the bodies,
While I shop, while I walk amongst you,
Emptiness in my heart, for all time.
In centuries past,
They say they fought against them,
They killed their kind,
Difference their only reason.
Old men told tales, Chetnik, Ustase, Muslim,
Of the evil that they did,
And in their eyes, glory filled with pain.
Now it's their turn,
Their dreams are burned away.
The former victims rise all for revenge.
This is their turn to hate, ,
For the past crimes of those long dead
Re-enacted, decades on, reversed.
This time it is they who burn.
The spiral descends,
Death creates more death,
And evil walks the land once more.
The children watch, as those around them die,
They learn new tales,
To keep the cycle whole,
And in their eyes, their pain waits its turn.
There's no reason,
Just lies excusing inhuman lives,
As each night innocence dies again.
Madness becomes normality,
And distrust is common sense,
The next generation bides its time,
Till it too can act, and kill for revenge.
As I sit here, in this torn country,
How can I write?
What can I say?
I can assure you, I can comfort,
Say I am fine, that all is well,
I can lie, to ease your fears.
The food's not too bad,
We're all getting a nice suntan,
Sunbathing's quite fun on the top of a Warrior.
The weather's been good,
People used to come here on holiday,
Used to come and have fun,
And you can understand why,
Well, at least so long as the wind doesn't change.
The air up here is so pure, so clean,
Such a beautiful country,
You'd love to come here for a walk in the woods,
And the mountains are just stunning!
All these picturesque villages,
Up here in the Balkans, they all look so serene,
Well, at least so long as the wind doesn't change.
The people are quite friendly,
They're always pleased to see us,
Well, most of them are anyway.
Then the wind changes.
The clear pure air is replaced in an instant,
By the smell of the rotting corpses in the minefield down the hill,
No one dares to bury them, for the snipers are out,
And they'll shoot those who bury their dead.
The people are friendly, well, the ones without guns,
For they know that if we're outside,
The bastard militia won't burn them to death
While their family is sleeping at night.
So what do I tell you?
That all is ok? I'll have to, the truth is too much.
So I'll write of the weather, the smiling children,
And hope that the wind doesn't change,
At least until I've finished my bluey.
(Based on experiences of the Gulf War 1990-91)
The sun is failing, failing to light the way.
The whole world looks to burn,
As the earth spits fire into the sky.
The invaders took what they could,
But as defeat loomed closer they acted,
Like common criminals they stole,
Then burned when they could take no more.
The oil wells burn on, through the days,
The sky sheds black tears and dust,
Through the darkness the fires rage,
As the earth bleeds flames and smoke.
Flames light our way now, the sun cannot get through,
As the fires burn on without respite.
Turning everything to black.
My skin is coated, an oily blackness,
My food and water taste of oil,
Desert sand turns black under the remorseless blaze,
As the oil continues to rain down.
This is war against the earth,
They poison the sky,
To the East, the sea is black.
They have stolen, robbed, and now burned,
At midday it's night-time, and the world is corrupted,
With oil, soot and flame.
We continue to push on,
Driving through the image of Mordor,
Of hell made real by man.
For information about DL please see the notes above the first poem.
Desert Skies under Blackout
We squat here in the dark,
A menace to life, to all that we oppose.
A mighty force of destruction,
We wait in silence for the time to fight,
Confident in our strength, in our power to un-create,
We wait, hiding our lights,
Better that the enemy can see nothing,
Better, to ease his impending destruction.
We wait, and night falls.
Then, we look up.
Our mighty army is rendered nothing,
Insignificant beneath the sky.
The desert sky, under blackout,
It is a pure glory, an infinite universe of stars,
Forced down onto our eyes,
We look into the beautiful endless expanse,
Stretching on into time before us,
Light older than humanity falls upon us,
And the pathetic force that we can offer.
All that we are is nothing before this,
The mighty army of our country,
Defeated by the sky.
We gaze, off into infinity,
Unblinking into the night's beauty,
Billions of stars, galaxies, planets, life immortal,
We are waiting to unleash horror,
In a place where all faith was born.
Beneath this sky, all faith is conceived,
Developed and dies, beneath the crushing splendour,
The impossible beauty,
The desert sky, under blackout.
Beauty in Fire
Through the clear sky it is coming,
High above the earth, it begins to fall,
Glowing light trails towards them,
They cannot run now, they can only hope,
As the lights fade out towards them.
Light, blinding light,
Pure and incandescent, white, orange, yellow, red,
Flowers of lethal beauty that bloom,
Bloom in violent glory, scattering over the ground,
High explosive falling as cherry blossom.
The earth shaking like the rage of an angry God,
The world transformed into power and light,
I watch awe-struck as the show continues,
Fire rising high into the night,
Blast-waves shaking the very air,
Man’s ability to create such beautiful toys,
Man’s ingenuity liberated from restraint,
To create such beauty, such violent glory,
An MLRS* bombardment.
Then I remember.
That beauty is lethal, and men have just died.
*Multiple Launch Rocket System. The launcher is carried on a huge lorry. It can fire 12 rockets in 40 seconds or 2 missiles in 10 seconds. Range: up to 190 miles.
(Written after the Anti-War demonstration against Iraq, 2003.)
When you wave your banners,
You protest and rant,
Your indignation worn like a medal,
Remember those who you condemn.
We are not mere automata,
We are not blind to injustice,
We made a decision, to try to serve,
Though whatever our reasons.
We did not ask for this.
We joined through pride, through loyalty,
Or boredom, and need for adventure,
But whatever our reasons, we all joined to do some good.
We don't blindly obey, and act without thought.
But neither are we perfect.
When you wave your banner screaming "Not in My Name",
Try to remember this.
We willingly offer to lay down our lives,
So you can keep the right to condemn us,
We offer to die so you are free to condemn us,
And we do so in your name.
We are all someone's son, someone's daughter,
Lover, Husband, Wife, Father, Mother,
We are all human beings too.
When you condemn the events that our country creates,
Remember that we didn't choose them.
We willingly give our lives to our country,
And we give them to defend it all,
The good, the bad, the immoral or righteous,
We cannot be selective in where we act.
So when you march and you chant,
In anger and frustration,
Remember those who are doing what you hate so much.
Remember that they decided to do something right,
But protest against those who used this for wrong.
Our soldiers are ordinary men and women,
Who all have lives, love and dreams,
They stand for the freedom you use to attack them,
So please try not to condemn,
We soldiers are human too.
Tatiana Retivov introduces her poems
I just saw you on CNN, and was prompted to send these off to you, two war poems. The first one has to do with Kosovo, and I meant to dedicate it to Charles Simic, but I don't know him. I think I tried to send it to him back in the 90's and never got a response, so I guess he didn't like it. Perhaps what prompted the poem was some essay he wrote about whether or not to return to Serbia.
The second poem was generally written about the war in Afghanistan, the old one, not the current one. Though I stuck the image of "Homeric" waves in it, not exactly appropriate in terms of terrain. In any case it goes way back to the early 80's.
I am a Russian and American poet, I write in both languages. Was born in New York, am currently living in Ukraine.
Entreated by Athena
Stealing his swift-footed way
among the rubble and desecration
unleashed by "the blood-dimmed tide,"
the Poet returns, at best
as unobserved as Telemachus,
well-hidden behind his own
ancestral maps of disenchantment:
A weary refusal to bear witness.
Hark, he says, this teller of tales
none too psychopompous, let the cuckoo
bewail her lament through the hazel wood,
I have no wind left for winged words.
For the falcon has flown already
numerous star-crossed messages
from one end of the bridge to the other,
until only a medieval spectre loomed
between time and space, a yawning gap
now festering like an abscessed tooth.
Meanwhile, the epic yarn of Serbia
drags like some broken record
sparks flying with mortar, the current
formulas of a third war.
(What's so third about it is
unutterable, with or without gusli.)
Which is why the Poet must always return
come winter, with anima in tow -
to be held voluntarily captive
by a southeast village that imbibes nightly
a mountain of hoarfrost, exhaling prophecies-
to rewrite its charmed future in song.
It is the hour of rest in the City of Ruin. Birdlike, the wary retinue
scans the wind-swept plain
until, ears cocked homeward,
their warrior profiles freeze:
Slavic coins minted
in their avengers' eyes.
And oh how the barley-bearing earth groans
under such arsenal of arms.
There, over yonder,
in the midday sun,
in mourning for their owners.
Such winged words have been hurled
though they cannot convey the silence
of landscape after battle.
For it is then that the mystery
of Homer's purple waves
is revealed as the color
of bleeding aquamarine.