POETRY: Poems Of Pain

poems of pain

To A Terrorist

For the historical ache, the ache passed down
which finds its circumstance and becomes
the present ache, I offer this poem

without hope, knowing there’s nothing,
not even revenge, which alleviates
a life like yours. I offer it as one

might offer his father’s ashes
to the wind, a gesture
when there’s nothing else to do.

Still, I must say to you:
I hate your good reasons.
I hate the hatefulness that makes you fall

in love with death, your own included.
Perhaps you’re hating me now,
I who own my own house

And live in a country so muscular,
so smug, it thinks its terror is meant
only to mean well, and to protect.

Christ turned his singular cheek,
one man’s holiness another’s absurdity.
Like you, the rest of us obey the sting,

the surge. I’m just speaking out loud
to cancel my silence. Consider it an old impulse,
doomed to become mere words.

The first poet probably spoke to thunder
and, for a while, believed
thunder had an ear and a choice.

(Stephen Dunn)

No Sorry

Do you have any scissors I could borrow? No, I’m sorry I don’t. What about a knife? You got any knives? A good paring knife would do or a simple butcher knife or maybe a cleaver? No, sorry all I have is this old bread knife my grandfather used to butter his bread with every morning. Well then, how about a hand drill or hammer, a bike chain, or some barbed wire? You got any rusty razor-edged barbed wife? You got a chain saw? No, sorry I don’t. Well then maybe you might have some sticks? I’m sorry I don’t have any sticks. How about some stones? No, I don’t have any sticks or stones. Well how about a stone tied to a stick? You mean a club? Yeah, a club. You got a club? No, sorry, I don’t have any clubs. What about some fighting picks, war axes, military forks, or tomahawks? No, sorry, I don’t have any kind of war fork, axe, or tomahawk. What about a morning star? A morning star? Yeah, you know, those spiked ball and chains they sell for riot control. No, nothing like that. Sorry. Now, I know you said you don’t have a knife except for that dull old thing your grandfather used to butter his bread with every morning and he passed down to you but I thought maybe you just might have an Australian dagger with a quartz blade and a wood handle, or a bone dagger, or a Bowie, you know it doesn’t hurt to ask? Or perhaps one of those lethal multipurpose stilettos? No, sorry. Or maybe you have a simple blow pipe? Or a complex airgun? No, I don’t have a simple blow pipe or a complex airgun. Well then maybe you have a jungle carbine, a Colt, a revolver, a Ruger, an axis bolt-action repeating rifle with telescopic sight for sniping, a sawed-off shotgun? Or better yet, a gas-operated self-loading fully automatic assault weapon? No, sorry I don’t. How about a hand grenade? No. How about a tank? No. Shrapnel? No. Napalm? No. Napalm 2. No, sorry I don’t. Let me ask you this. Do you have any intercontinental ballistic missiles? Or submarine-launched cruise missiles? Or multiple independently targeted reentry missiles? Or terminally guided anti-tank shells or projectiles? Let me ask you this. Do you have any fission bombs or hydrogen bombs? Do you have any thermonuclear warheads? Got any electronic measures or electronic counter-measures or electronic counter-counter-measures? Got any biological weapons or germ warfare, preferably in aerosol form? Got any enhanced tactical neutron lasers emitting massive doses of whole-body gamma radiation? Wait a minute. Got any plutonium? Got any chemical agents, nerve agents, blister agents, you know, like mustard gas, any choking agents or incapacitating agents or toxin agents? Well, I’m not sure. What do they look like? Liquid vapor powder colorless gas. Invisible. I’m not sure. What do they smell like? They smell like fruit, garlic, fish or soap, new-mown hay, apple blossoms, or like those little green peppers that your grandfather probably would tend to in his garden every morning after he buttered his bread with that old bread knife that he passed down to you.

(Catherine Bowman)


Let’s be the same wound if we must bleed.
Let’s fight side by side, even if the enemy
is ourselves: I am yours, you are mine.
Tommy Olofsson, Sweden

I’m not interested in
who suffered the most.
I’m interested in
people getting over it.

Once when my father was a boy
a stone hit him on the head.
Hair would never grow there.
Our fingers found the tender spot
and its riddle: the boy who has fallen
stands up. A bucket of pears
in his mother’s doorway welcomes him home.
The pears are not crying.
Later his friend who threw the stone
says he was aiming at a bird.
And my father starts growing wings.

Each carries a tender spot:
something our lives forgot to give us.
A man builds a house and says,
“I am native now.”
A woman speaks to a tree in place
of her son. And olives come.

A child’s poem says,
“I don’t like wars,
they end up with monuments.”
He’s painting a bird with wings
wide enough to cover two roofs at once.

Why are we so monumentally slow?
Soldiers stalk a pharmacy:
big guns, little pills.
If you tilt your head just slightly
it’s ridiculous.

There’s a place in my brain
where hate won’t grow.
I touch its riddle: wind, and seeds.
Something pokes us as we sleep.

It’s late but everything comes next.

(Naomi Shihab Nye)

Let There Be New Flowering

let there be new flowering
in the fields let the fields
turn mellow for the men
let the men keep tender
through the time let the time
be wrested from the war
let the war be won
let love be
at the end

(Lucille Clifton)

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