I wrote these two poems in response to events between 2003-2004, when I was living in Saudi Arabia. Really good poems probably don’t need explanatory notes, but just in case…
The first short poem “Talking Heads” was inspired by some art I saw in ancient cities I visited. I was struck by the similarity of faces I saw there to people I was seeing on TV every day. Mohenjo-Daro (in Modern Pakistan) is one of the most ancient cities in the world. Goebbels was Hitler’s famous henchmen (head of propaganda). The comment about him was made by someone at the Nuremberg Trials. Bush administration press briefings at the time were about as inspiring as Trump’s Covid-19 pandemic briefings are today.
The title of the Poem “Columbia Falling: To the Chicken-Hawks” refers to George Bush’s famously hawkish neo-con advisors who pressed him into the misguided and disastrous invasion of Iraq. Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton, Condoleezza Rice—none of them had ever served in the military. VP Dick Cheney probably spoke for them all when he said he had “different priorities” than serving his country.
I thought it was ominous when a month before the invasion started, the space shuttle “Columbia” disintegrated on re-entry to earth orbit. Most of the wreckage landed in the small town of Palestine, Texas. Later investigation showed the tragedy could have been averted if “warning signs” had been taken more seriously. In the aftermath Bush spoke eloquently about “pushing on into the darkness.” At that time, Palestine was again (and again with US backing) under siege by Israel. The line about “Solomon’s Choice” refers to the old story about how wise King Solomon offered to settle a custody argument over a child by simply cutting it in two.
The famous bust of a man
Was speaking today on my TV.
The lips of a girl
From a faded mural at Ephesus
Trembled on the face of an announcer…
“If you’d have seen him on the Clapham omnibus
You wouldn’t have taken a second look.”
So said a witness once of Goebbels
(Hitler’s master of the big lie.)
Shhh! The president of the United States is about to speak.!
Columbia Falling: To the “Chicken Hawks”
Portents, omens, warnings,
Wash them from your ears now
They were for a time
When there was still time
To turn the plow from its furrow:
To avoid Solomon’s choice.
They were for a future
When there still was a future…
What confronts you now
Are the fruits of your past actions
Piling into the wall of their own inertia,
Marking the end of the line,
Fog and fire,
The inelegant end of ill designs.
During training for the Spanish Civil War
A flight of Nazi Stukas,
Reveling in air superiority
Mistook ground fog for high cloud cover.
The flight leader peeled off
And struck boldly through…
So wars’ testing grounds reveal clues
To where bold but misled leaders leave one
And history shows too
Omens, portents, warnings,
Often come too late,
Are wasted on such ones as you.
You are busy now concocting lies
Pushing your agenda through,
Blind to the box you think inside,
Heedless of the underlying whys, and clues:
The tower struck by lightening from the sky
The fatal clatter of the die
Can you predict now what our fate is
By the banks of brown Euphrates?
Do you know just where Hell’s gate is
By the flowing brown Euphrates?
Did you miss the flaw in your designs?
Did you dismiss the warning signs?
Put history’s laws out of your mind?
Assured the world all would be fine?
In the clear skies over Palestine,
Americans and an Israeli fall:
A shooting star, some burning minds,
Our leaders press on into the darkness whistling,
Nothing to worry about at all.
A pelvis, a torso,
In a field,
Charred to bone.
A skull beside them
Burnt and peeled.
Nearby an empty helmet reels
Upside down, alone and empty,
On a lonely Texas highway
And spins slowly to a stop.
Take pause a moment and reflect
On those who leave their empty helmets.
Who allows us to hedge bets,
When we gamble with the lives of others:
When we miss the signs, dive through cloud cover?
And the shadows we are being now led through
Do we know what deeper darks they open to?
In the clear skies over Palestine
Smoke drifts from the warning signs.
On the banks of brown Euphrates
Do you know now what our fate is?
By the coiling septic Tigris
Have we learned yet what a lie is?
(Saudi Arabia, 2003