Can a poem be a war?

 

I used to be a soldier: a Marine, to be precise.

Now I am a greyed poet of anti-war words.  

I craft into bullets words of anti-war battle.

 

Call me crazy. I don’t care.

I will stop war with words, alone.

Non compos mentis.

 

It’s post-classical Latin. It means insanity. 

A person of unsound mind.

A person who believes the world can be changed for the good.

 

A person who wants humans to be wise enough to choose

the good over the easy; the best for all, not the best only for one.

A person who demands that words matter—deeply and humanely.

 

***

 

Can words stop cold, in frozen stride, a life—

as can and does, a bullet and a bomb?

Can a little humble poem suppress angriest aggression?

 

Can a stomach be churned in retching rancid reverse

by rhyming words?—abstracting with the very best intentions—

someone else’s stuttering loss?

 

Can sonnets shatter bowel control? 

Can ghazals snuff a life? 

                                    Can villanelles halt genocides? 

 

There’s Homer’s Iliad, certainly, with ancient spears piercing ancient eyes

and hearts and tendons but not even Shakespeare crafted odes of true

lethality, never drew cutting un-staged real red blood.

 

Yes, A Memory of Solferino, that birthed today’s Red Cross/Red Crescent,

was Henry Dunant’s in-prose tale of tens of thousands dead and dying

in 19th century Italy. Yes, E. D. Morel’s journalism helped end Congo slavery.

 

What of World War One’s Graves and Brooke, Sassoon and Owen?

What of Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse

Five, Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun, or Kovic’s Born on the Fourth of July?

 

Picasso’s great work, Guernica, has not—that’s known—

saved a life nor ever ended war alone.

 

Can a poem reliving Hiroshima dying/Nagasaki burning/My Lai crying

be an anti-war meme, blasting mass instruction

from a mushroom cloud of wanting, weeping, wailing words?

Copyright Tim Bagwell

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