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Lazy Sunday afternoon poem. My folks are coming over for a few days, which is a huge relief. Our kids will have a fun Spring Break and we won’t have to schlep their tiny hines to daycare.

All day long I’ve been thinking about protest songs. My sophomores just finished listening to some from the 60s-70s after reading The Things They Carried, and we are starting Kevin Power’s The Yellow Birds. I sent out a cry for the best contemporary protest songs, hoping to foster the idea that art should mean something. It can’t just be Miley twerking with her teddy bears all the time. Art has a job to do.

I got lots of suggestions, and I’m compiling a play list. So far, its

The Dropkick Murphys “The Last Letter Home”:

The Decembrists, “Sixteen Military Wives”:

NOFX, “The Decline”:

Steve Earle, “Rich Man’s War”:

Green Day, “American Idiot”:

Anti-Flag, “Protest Song”:

Silvio Rodriquez, “Ojala”:

None of these songs are particularly subtle. The Anti-Flag especially. Subtle was never punk’s style. What I hope my students will get out of listening is the idea that their music can be more than just ads for sneakers and the Beats Pill. It can, cheesy as it sounds, be the soundtrack of change. No doubt they will add to the list, too, because they are much, much hipper than I am. I’m hoping for a smooth segue into contemporary war poems, never getting too far from the idea that our voices matter, that our creation is our resistance, and that words matter. I came across this war poem today, and it is haunting.

It could have been

by Clare Shaw

Ali, son of Abdul. 16 months.
Rocket on house, Sadr City 16.5.2009.

Ali, but for some detail of history,
this day could have been yours.
It could have been you this morning,
stood at the end of your bed,
eyes still shut, arms held up for your mother,
who makes sun and all things possible,
who could, little Ali, be me.

Tony Edward Shiol, 5 years.
Kidnapped, found strangled, Shikan 12.05.2009.

If God had sneezed or been somehow distracted.
If that ray of light had shifted
and you had landed
with that small, metallic thrill of conception
as I walked down Euston Road,

then this could have been your morning.
It could have been me inhaling
your breath straight from sleep,
the smell of hot lake and woodsmoke, could
my tired arm under your neck.

Unnamed baby son of Haider Tariq Sain.
Car bomb, Nawab Street, Baghdad 7.04.2009.

It could have been you
shouting “carry”
at the far top stair of my stairs –

hello stairs
hello breakfast

– your feet in these shoes
which do not contain ants;

Unnamed daughter of Captain Saada Mohammed Ali.
Roadside bomb, Fallujah 20.4.2009.

biting soap
which smells good
but does not taste; watching
the unsteady wonder of bubbles;
throwing water up into the light.

Unnamed child of Haidar, male, aged 4.
Suicide bomber, Baghdad 4.1.2009.

then swimming:
your body held out in my hands;
the pear-shaped
weight of your head
safe away from the pool’s sharp side

Sa’adiya Saddam, aged 8, female.
Shot dead by USA forces. Afak, 7/8 Feb, 2009.

It could have been me on that street
with you in my hands
and my hands red and wet
and my face is a shriek
and my voice is a house all on fire

But for geography,
but for biology,
but for the way
things happen,
it could have been

Unnamed female baby of the Abdul-Monim family.
Shot dead, Balal Ruz 22.1.2009.

you falling,
you holding your hand up for kissing.


That last image. Shivers. Anyhow, I’m going to try to write a protest poem. I protest the last decade. I deeply and with everything I have protest the war machine and the rich men who grow richer from blood. There must be a poem in there somewhere.


The Last Skype Call

On the last Skype call a mother, or is it a wife, or a sister, or husband,

remembers so clearly at the moment of disconnect,

the feeling of taking away the remnants of a candy cane from grubby little palms,

and washing the dog hair away with a dishcloth.

Just before he signed off she saw an armored jeep in shades of far off brown,

and mistook it for a Piraeus lion.

Somewhere across the screen there is another who waits

with warm dishcloths, who also wipes sticky fingers,

never thinking they’d be used to detonate anything.

When the call ends, they are joined in their waiting,

frozen like the rabbit before the crouching hunter.


Hmm. This needs much work. Should a protest always involve a call to action? Or can the call to imagine be enough? Happy Sunday, poem people.