Poems Against War


A Journal of Poetry and Action



12 Poems

I Move Among the Dark Cubicles

Clean War


Baghdad Tattoo

You Have the Right to Make the World


While You’re Shopping, Bombs Are Dropping

Poem for the Living

The Old Warrior

A Dream of the Wind

Pretending to be Dead

What They Say




Why Twelve Anti-War Poems?: An Afterword

Biographies of Writers



I Move Among the Dark Cubicles

by Rosemary Klein


I move among the dark cubicles that barely divide person from person that barely shield

soul and heart as an unfurled umbrella from the press of rain.


Power is nothing and everything to those without power, to those who waste in guilt

and fear, who wander in routine.


Why would a man want to be ruled when everything on earth is capricious and free?


To such I say all that is forgotten is the same as all that is denied.


Those who gossip and drink at the water cooler, who imagine themselves going to battle

with lesser than they,


those whose eyes drink too long on forms and applications, whose eyes rarely stray

from the computer,


those with ear pressed to the cell phone or fingers pressed to the palm pilot,


those who stay too long at meetings, workshops, conferences;


to them I say the soul agitates for renewal, for its place among all living creatures.


I do not judge one man above another. One man’s shoulders are not higher than

another man’s measure.


Whether in lockstep or alone, I guarantee each a destiny.


Clean War

by Patricia Wellingham-Jones


They are calling this the cleanest war in all of military history.

                        --Tom Brokaw, April 2, 2003


Tell that to the ravens

plucking out eyes

on the blood-packed sand


To fathers cradling

the last of their hopes

in torn bodies


To young girls swelling

with the unwanted gifts

of swift strong soldiers


To mothers and wives

pulling on veils of grief

as they wash their dead


Inform the children

who wander dazed with thirst, alone

among ruins



by Auset



They made weapons of mass destruction

and tucked their children in,

careful kisses for tender dreams.


They made weapons of mass destruction

and went about the daily tumble of life,

looking for love and ducking danger,

making rules for strangers.


They made weapons of mass destruction

and found enemies hidden in their fears,

pretending that children were safe

from evil living without borders.


When life is so big that it swallows us whole,

the earth remains beneath our feet

and there is no stranger that we meet whose

step is unfamiliar.


We make weapons of mass destruction

and cut up life into pieces that look foreign,

but at night

we tuck out children tight

as though evil had a map.



Baghdad Tattoo

by Janet Parkinson


Baghdad’s morgues are full. With no space to store bodies, some victims of the sectarian slaughter are not being kept for relatives to claim, but photographed, numbered, and quickly interred in government cemeteries. Men fearful of an anonymous burial are tattooing their thighs with names and phone numbers.

–Associated Press, November 13, 2006


Jalal Ahmed 07901 295135

Ali Abbas 07901 567256

Atheer Mohammad 07901 469798

are incised on my thigh. 


My wife sees them when we make love.

I see them when I bathe, change clothes.

They are high enough to be covered

at the beach. I do not want

the world to know my fear.


I do not want the world to know

I have reason to fear. 

There is thinking that neutrals

are not attacked. But there are only two sides,

and they change with each conversation.


My wife is afraid these men will die first,

and there will be no one to tell her

about me. She wants her name,

our phone number on my thigh.


But you are engraved on my heart, I tell her.

I will not have you exposed.



You Have the Right to Make the World Beautiful!

by Alan Barysh



You have the right to make the world beautiful!

It's your right by birth!

You have the right to make the world hospitable to all forms of life!

You have the right to be creative and build a planet

            that corresponds with your highest and boldest aspirations!

You have the right to make the world beautiful

and the right to create this beauty by any means necessary!




While You’re Shopping, Bombs Are Dropping

by Gregg Mosson


Saturday sun

details the faces

of the marchers and the watchers.

We are shouting “no” to normalcy.


                                    While I’m speaking,

                                    bombs are nearing.


And meeting friends for dinner tonight,

I’ll still have my life to solve:

Whom do I love, who loves me?


                                                While we’re breathing,

                                                bombs are cleaving.


Solidarity with

fathers, sisters, neighbors, strangers

is how I live,

is what I can give.







People Must Raise Their Voices to Inspire Change


Washington D.C., January 2007



Poem for the Living

by Gregg Mosson



Vows slip from stacked newspapers

like subscription mailers no one wants: They swirl under cars,

wrap around posts, flutter down

       mucked with dirt and exhaust;

pile on sidewalks, a sea of stained papers.  At dusk,

I scramble over garbage to get back home.




                         Orderly squads of soldiers

                         pass crowds in business casual

                         to invade overseas for oil.


                         Under a Saturday March sun

                         parading draws shoppers and children

                         as dogs lope through nubile buds.


                         Dark sedans of decision-makers

                         blow red lights to reach meetings

                         while reporters tail celebrities.


                         Photojournalists frame icons

                         for people sleeping in neon

                         dreaming of sexy stardom.


                         The workweek rehauls itself

                         onto buses, subways, into cars,

                         as elsewhere populations snapshot to dust.



III:  March 20, 2003

When bombs dropped far away, rain came the next day

             to the U.S. Capital, a gray drain

seeming to say the whole world would pay.


In a small room I woke beside my lover,

             but my bones

hijacked my mouth and said, “Mass Murder.”


We refused to work that day Iraq was attacked.

             We cooked, kept home.

Outside, justice crept into underground bulbs.


Birds on the street

             argued with song

as if they didn’t belong.


Human screams, attached to dust, began traversing the earth.




I vigil by the White House to answer with stillness,

 “No Civilian Bombing” stenciled on a sign, squared in my lap . . .

until lullabies of evening strollers eddy past

through the layered glow and breezy leaves

of this ceremonial place.  Nearing the placard

passers’ chittar-chatter

collapses like bridges

imploded to air

as life drifts off

beyond the blackness

like cool winds touching down here, hinting

of the cold singleness of stars

and weaving off

into the vast elsewhere.  Night is more spacious

than all our hearts;

in this space hearts can listen.

Human-perfected bombs

fall on praying families

in my person.


Evening tunnels to a dark of plums.




Norma O’Malley waddles to the door;

two o’clock light sleeps on Iowa June wheat.

She’s sixty-two, a rooted widow, and her son

Bill, whom she loves more than the sun,

plans to greet more than the dawn,

for whom she knits socks though he’s forty-two—


Ms. O’Malley soon may shake

like a tree branch torn by an overfull river

and wedged taut across two rocks.

The news ricochets from field

command to base, and then from desk to desk.

It nears her door. . . .  It shatters now.



VI: Diana

"Dear diary, this dorm room

is what I control:  Four square walls

with Sara-Beth, who comes and goes blithely,

sequined and sequenced.  But I can’t rush out

today, have skipped my classes—the whole reason I moved

here to New York City.  I need to be

indoors, dressed in sweats, stripped

of architectural prettiness, how my mother raised me,

and write of what I’ve only heard.  But how?

I’ll meditate upon a star, a zone where anyone can hide.

Stars soon to come out, do they tinsel a bombed-out building

in Fallujah?  Is it night there now

and do I rotate under the same light

to where a chair

blasted into the street

invites me to sit?


Did they live there, like me—

in some Apartment 4B—smally?"



VII:  Cape Cod

Flags flap from houses.

Tuesday’s concert includes a patriotic song.

The gray newspaper armors its tones.

August rolls on.


Ocean rumbles through slicing mist.

Faintest clouds touch green dunes.

Birds chime from slightly tossed pines.

This is my home.


Opinions are honed like thin knives.

Puddles of silence coalesce in gutters;

on clear days they catch the sun’s multicolors.

Watch the changes.




Blood, seep into the fruit tree

alone in the desert of neon, desert of sirocco wind,

desert of televisions, desert of farmers’ almanacs,

fallow of public speaking, reservoir of private censure,

and circulate the harvest, share this strange fruit.


A few have joined us, pass around the circle.

Wind, whirl incense of this wild wholeness

over oceans, needle through blocked mountains,

rush silent deserts, infuse tents and houses,

and widen the circle, coax more to sit among us

to share the suffusion, sumptuous with nutrients:                    

this vision of the fruit tree, fruit tree’s vision,                      

vision of the apple seed, the whole apple.                                  





Washington D.C January 2007




New York City, March 2004



The Old Warrior

by Marcus Colasurdo

for Philip Berrigan


When he emerged from captivity            

            the people crowded around him.

They flung their questions

like spears over heads of wheat.

The old warrior listened,

   the lines of his face in raw books

   of history.

            On the gray steps,

            the voices grew louder:

            they wanted to know

what the battle was like

how many were killed

how the blood tasted.

The old warrior stood unmoving;

   not even whispering

though something tectonic

   jumped in his eyes.

He may have offered a flower

     but I didn't see it.

He may have folded his arms in prayer

     but I couldn't tell.

From his tongue

     only the ocean rose

And when the questions brought down


     he smiled at a child

and climbed the grey stairs again.

A Dream of the Wind

by Marcus Colasurdo



When the red dawn finally explodes

   upon our land

and the earth covering the hundred million


A new people will appear

   wearing symbols on their cloaks.

They will speak a language

   from the lips of the caves

 of copper

 and they will carry their shelter on their backs.

They will travel by foot

    and worship

 the horses that still run free.

At night

   they will gather near fires

   preparing the food;

etching blankets and belts

   from what is left.


 The women will measure great distances

   by charting the cross-eyed stars:

for these will be a people

   who have known imperfection.

The men will stretch tents into drums,

   thinking of new melodies:

for these will be a people

   who have known great silence.

The children will pantomime

   the sway of the trees:

for these will be a people 

   of whom nothing is known.                                                    





Pretending to be Dead

by Antler


How many boys who loved playing army,

Who loved pretending to be shot

tumbling down summer hills,

Who loved pretending to be dead

            as their bestfriend checked to make sure,

Or who loved pretending to deliver

their last-words soliloquy

            wincing in imagined pain

            or lost and dreamy,

Find themselves years later

trapped on the battlefield

Hearing the voices of enemy soldiers

Searching for corpses to mutilate

or wounded to torture to death?


What man remembers those idyllic

            boyhood days then

As he lies still as possible

Trying not even to breathe,

            hoping beyond hope

            the enemy will pass him by,

Knowing if he's discovered

            they'll cut off his cock and balls

            and stuff them in his screaming mouth

And then, before cutting off his head,

            disembowl him before his eyes?


Ah, thousands of boys and men

have met this end,

Millions perhaps by now,

so many people

            so many wars.


Do they go to a special heaven

set aside for

all who die like this?

Restored to the bodies they had,

The memory erased of that insane end

to the story of their lives?

Do they still get a chance

            to play army with joy

And pretend to be shot

and pretend to die?


After they meet this end?

Do they still get to thrill

in pretending to be dead

after they die?

After this hideous inhuman end

   will they laugh and wrestle

   their bestfriend again?




What They Say

by Barbara Simon


So much to be thankful for

in America--Good folks                          

folded like handkerchiefs                                       

into the pocket of our national

pride. How well our great country

churns through the vast swell           


of world opinion. Dominance swells

our chest. So responsible, we are for                                  

helping the little guy. Beleaguered countries

beg us to help their folk

learn how to grow a real nation,

one where the chief


executive would never lie. Chief

among the virtues of this swell

American ideal, we know we are a moral nation,

filled with people thankful for

liberty, freedomdemocratic folk         

willing to stand up for this great country.


To honor our country,                             

we let slide pomposity, pretension, and chief                     

among our cardinal sins, the folk

wisdom that we are right: the swell                      

of public debate always for

flag waving. Our national


patriotism, the refuge of a nation

that smiles after bombing a country

into submission for       

weapons it didn't have, chiefly

to get the oil, the swell

reserves to feed the fine folk


at Halliburton or Bechtel, corporate folk                     

whose only interest is our national

debt they allow to grow to swell

their coffers, raping us, the country

going down as our chief

executive cowboy struts for


an image of victory, our country welcome

only to the Fortune 500 folk, their chief                             

goal to make the nation safe, or so they say.     






by Auset


In trying times to walk

On the heels of the ancestors


Always giving thanks

Giving thanks always


Tread lightly

They will hear your step


Do not awaken the thunder

Sleeping in their hearts


It will rain soon enough




Why Twelve Anti-War Poems?

An Afterword by Gregg Mosson



The poems here are culled from the first seven issues of Poems Against War, a journal that began publishing in May 2003 in a limited edition at first biannually and then annually.  The small-press journal is archived at the University of Wisconsin, Madison library—special collections department.  In 2007, Poems Against War Vol. 6: Music & Heroes become available internationally through Wasteland Press, followed by Poems Against War Vol. 7: Ars Poetica.  The magazine won a Puffin Foundation Grant in 2008. 


Poems Against War says artists must raise their voices to inspire change.  In mainstream American literary magazines still, scant literature dares to speak about war and other pressing social issues facing people in the 21st century.  In this way, publications create a fiction that most people can live their personal lives outside of cultural, social and political changes. In addition, such silence endorses the status quo.  Yet if the status quo is not tending toward peace and justice, it is not good enough.


In February 2003, U.S. First Lady Laura Bush invited a number of writers to a White House conference on the topic of Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and Langston Hughes.  Neither Hughes nor Whitman would have come to that symposium on the eve of a war and remained silent.  When it became rumored that invited West Coast poet Sam Hamill might mention his opposition to the then-brewing 2003 Iraq invasion, Mrs. Bush cancelled the symposium.  The U.S. went to war with Iraq on March 19, 2003.


    Hamill gave birth to a ‘Poets Against the War’ movement.  He created a Web site allowing over 11,000 poets in a matter of months to contribute their poems from the U.S. and around the world.  This movement exposed a swell of U.S. sentiment against the war. This journal takes its cue from Hamill and Langston Hughes and Walt Whitman—and especially from Whitman’s “Song of Myself”—in providing space for voices of witness, peace, anger, vision, and joy.






Antler is author of Selected Poems (Soft Skull Press, 2000) and Last Words (Ballantine Books, 1986).  He has been the poet laureate of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and writes poetry of vision.  His long poem “Factory” is a must read.  The poem here “Pretending to be Dead” can be found in his Selected Poems.


Auset is a name derived from an ancient Egyptian god, and is the stage name for an African-American woman who lives in Baltimore, Maryland.  This poem comes from her chapbook, Thunder.  Auset and poet Marcus Colasurdo perform a traveling poetic 2-person show, Thunder and Lightning.


Alan Barysh is a Baltimore poet, activist, and jazz enthusiast, whose dedication and work dates back to the 1960s.  His work can be found in the anthology Octopus Dreams (Abecedarian Books, 2006), and on the CDs Art Between Deliveries (ABCD, 2007) and Alan Barysh with the Buzzard Luck Ensemble (ABCD, 1995—ABCD; PO Box 33127; Baltimore Maryland 21218).


Marcus Colasurdo is a poet and teacher whose performance company Gimmie Shelter Productions in Maryland has put on fundraising benefits using poetry for 15 years.  He has inked Bending Zen Wavelengths, a book of poems, and Angel City Taxi, an unpublished novel based on his days as Los Angeles taxi cab driver.


Rosemary Klein is executive director of the Maryland State Poetry & Literary Society, and founding editor and director of Three Conditions Press.  Her poems have appeared widely.


Gregg Mosson is the publisher and main editor of Poems Against War: A Journal of Poetry and Action.  He has written a book of nature poetry, Season of Flowers and Dust (Goose River Press).  His reporting, reviews, and poetry have appeared in The Cincinnati Review, The Baltimore Sun, Poet’s Ink, and other places.  If you dare, seek more at www.greggmosson.com


Janet Parkinson is a poet, editor and writer in Rhode Island.  Her work has appeared in Sow's Ear Poetry Review, Arsenic Lobster, and Abyss & Apex.


Barbara Simon’s first full-length book of poetry is The Woman From Away (Three Conditions Press).  She taught at the University of Maryland--Baltimore County.  She died from cancer in 2007 and shall be missed.


Patricia Wellingham-Jones has written Voices on the Land (Rattlesnake Press) and Don't Turn Away: Poems About Breast Cancer (PWJ Publishing).  Her work has appeared widely.  She is a former psychology researcher, and her Web site is www.wellinghamjones.com.