Easter 2003

A vaguely disappointing victory.
We'd roared across the desert in tracked chariots
where other armies foundered in the sands.
The enemy had fled or, buried in their bunkers,
saluted us with upthrust fists from under the rubble.

The town reduced to smoldering debris.
The presidential palace, fittingly,
the most majestic pile of all.
The chief enemy--was he here?
Or merely servants buried
in pharaonic obeisance,
caught off guard at mundane tasks
when sudden bombs and rockets
rained from the sky?

The ever present dust
is leavened with cement,
and clings to cracked lips.
Is this the taste of victory,
bitter and metallic? Oily fumes
and wisps of smoke torment the eyes;
a world all monochromes, done
in the palette of soot and grit.

Our armor rolled where Alexander marched,
along the road from Bosporus to Indus
where it crosses Tigris and Euphrates:
ancient site of victory,
mirages of grandeur, and defeat

The dusty earth is salted with the bones of lost armies,
blown by the barren wind among the howling rocks
The desert breeds delusion and defeats all comers.
Alexander, Lawrence & Rommel-
conquerors, colossi, titans all-
they left the desert broken souls,

We came without the burden of grand visions.
Maine Yankees, brown Texans and Nordic Minnesotan's,
we took the measure of this land,
counted up the cost, and said, "we'll take it."
No dreams of conquest clouded our purpose
and so we escaped the fate of would-be Alexanders.

Children and rats skitter through the streets.
Silently they seek for food, parents, their lost voices.
The vermin seem eager, the childrens' stare is vacant.
We share out scraps of chocolate on Easter morning,
waiting for a padre to celebrate the holy day.

The God of their fathers, like the ancient Israelites',
spoke in fire and called for swords and sacrifice,
kin to Abraham, to David, and to Jesus.
Oddly, the God of Peace protected us
and we smote them in their sleep.

Perhaps the holy joes who bless the burial pits
we hew in this hard earth are wrong.
Perhaps all of our fathers' gods have fled this land,
worn out beyond redemption or rebirth, unhallowed and forgotten.
I pass on Easter service, walk out past the ruins,
and stare into the barren land beyond.


My poem for Poets Against The War.

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