4.4.22, National Poetry Month

Contemporary war is a bureaucratic and capitalistic enterprise that requires its bored clerks, soulless administrators, ignorant taxpayers, contradictory priests, and encouraging families. If we understood that a war machine is a pervasive system of complicity that requires not only its front line troops but also its extensive network of logistical, emotional, and ideological support, then we would understand that all the politicians and civilians who cheer the war effort or simply go along with it are, one and all, rear echelon motherfuckers, including, perhaps, myself.
–Viet Thanh Nguyen

Denise Levertov
The Distance

While we lie in the road to block traffic from the air-force base,
Over there the dead are strewn in the roads.

While we are carried to the bus and off to jail to be ‘processed,’
Over there the torn-off legs and arms of the living
Hang in burnt trees and on broken walls.

While we wait and sing in ugly but not uninhabitable cells
Men and women contorted, blinded, in tiger cages, are biting their tongues
To stifle, for each other’s sake, their cries of agony.
And those cruel cages are built in America.

While we refuse the standard prison liverwurst sandwiches,
Knowing we’ll get decent food in a matter of hours,
Over there free fighters, young and old, guns never laid aside,
Eat a few grains of rice and remember
Uncle Ho, and the long years he ate no better, and smile.

And while we fear
For the end of earth-life, even though we sing
And rejoice in each other’s beauty and comradeship,

Over there they mourn 
The dead and mutilated each has seen.

They have seen and seen and heard and heard
All that we will ourselves with such effort to imagine,
To summon into understanding…
And they too sing.
They too rejoice In each other’s beauty and comradeship.

They sing and fight. I see their spirits
Visible, crowns of fire-thorn
Flicker over the heads.

Our steps toward struggle
Are like the first tottering of infant feet.
Could we,
If life lasts,
Find in ourselves
That steady courage, win
Such flame-crowns?


Dear Claudette, Queen of Creative Kicks,

Today is April 4, which makes me think of Dr King’s 1967 speech against the war in Vietnam on this date and his assassination exactly one year later in Memphis.

And so I will share the first version of something you’ve already read (you being the only person I know who has read all of  We Inter -Are) and which came after reading a lot of Levertov, whom I strongly recommend…

Your Dr. King, Our Dr. King

You remember your Dr. King
We remember ours

You believe that in these times
Dr. King would like diversity and inclusion

You cite his “content of their character”
“rather than the color of their skin”

Diversity is alive and well at Boeing
Everybody’s welcome to work there

On bombers and bunker busters
If you’ve got the skills

You can make the big bucks
At the company that thrives on war

That makes generous contributions
To the D.C. King memorial

But others around the world and in the U.S.
Remember a Dr. King you don’t know

Like survivors of the U.S. assault on Vietnam
The people Dr. King spoke out for in 1967-1968

“I knew that I could never again raise my voice 

against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos 

without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence
in the world today  – my own government”

“If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned
part of the autopsy must read: Vietnam”

“When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, 
are considered more important than people, 

the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, 
and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

Your Dr. King would applaud
The Boeing Company

Our Dr. King spoke out against
The U.S. destruction of Vietnamese human beings

And would have spoken out against
The U.S. destruction of Iraqi human beings

And would be disturbing the peace
Because of U.S. drone attacks on Afghan human beings

Your Dr. King would pat you on the back
Our Dr. King reminds us of “the fierce urgency of now

Your Dr. King would not raise his voice
Our Dr. King would be standing amidst the rubble of Gaza with Palestinian human beings

Your Dr. King would have nothing to say
About the ever-escalating war budget

Our Dr. King would have been on the boats bound for Gaza
With Alice Walker, Hedy Epstein and friends

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense 

than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

This is a familiar story
Honor the prophets when they are safely and long dead

Build them memorials
Praise them in national liturgies

While counting all those fantastic profits
From daily dealing in the machinery of death, dismemberment, and disintegration

Your Dr. King
At home in the military-industrial-corporate complex

Our Dr. King
At home with the sanitation workers, orphaned Vietnamese children, and Iraqi refugees

Your building on
Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech

Our building on
Dr. King’s words “Our only hope today lies in our ability 

To recapture the revolutionary spirit 
and go out into a sometimes hostile world 

declaring eternal hostility 
to poverty, racism, and militarism.”

Passages in italics from Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech, “Beyond Vietnam — A Time to Break Silence” (4.4.1967) 

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