Are we headed for war?

In this week's Poet's Notebook, Peter ponders whether or not another Vietnam is in the offing.

click to enlarge JEANNE MEINKE
Jeanne Meinke

A recent survey found that Americans, despite our strong economic statistics, are an unhappy and anxious population; and no wonder. When a recent New York Times headline said “President Insists He Doesn’t Want War With Iran,” what literate person reading didn’t feel a sense of doom? Trump, whom Politifact claims tells 30 verifiable lies a day, has chosen John Bolton as his National Security Adviser; and Bolton has wanted to bomb Iran for years. He fiercely supported the Vietnam and Iraq wars, both begun with false info (Tonkin Bay and “weapons of mass destruction”), and has cast his invasive eyes on Venezuela and Cuba as well. Bolton doesn’t believe in international treaties.  

An old definition of poetry is “news that stays news.” I wrote this poem protesting the Vietnam War, which accounts for its slight foreign accent. As our government tosses soldiers, ships and words around, trying to goad Iran into some fatal blunder, maybe it’s time to bring it out again.


Ode to Good Men Fallen Before Hero Come

In all story  before hero come

good men from all over set forth

to meet giant ogre dragon troll

and they are all killed every one

decapitated roasted cut in two

their maiden are carted away and gobbled like cupcake

until hero sail across white water

and run giant ogre dragon troll quite through


Land of course explode into rejoicing

and king’s daughter kisses horny knight

but who’s to kiss horny head of slaughtered

whose bony smile are for no one in particular

somewhere left out of story somebody’s daughter

remain behind general celebration

combing her hair without looking into mirror

rethinking life without Harry who liked his beer


I sing for them   son friend brother

all women-born men like one we know

ourselves   no hero they no Tristan

no St. George Gawain Galahad Sgt. York

they march again and again to be quartered and diced

and what hell for them never attempt to riddle

I’m talking about Harry Smith caught in middle

who fought pretty bravely for nothing and screamed twice


—by Peter Meinke, from The Night Train & the Golden Bird, U. of Pittsburgh Press, 1977