How to Talk to Adults about War

Approach the mic with gravitas.

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Make the words seem profound, even
if you have nothing to say. Mention
something azure and something cerulean —
these are the colours of poetry.

Assume a passion if you have none.
Wear profundity as a cloak for insipid ideas.

Don’t mention war, unless it is the battle
between your soul and your flesh.
No one wants to hear of naked aggression
at the border. They will grow bored
hearing of children under accelerating bombs.

You must ignore the hunger of the victims,
and the wandering of the dispossessed.
You didn’t actually see the blood, after all,
and your nostrils never knew the smell
of sizzling flesh in a hospital that is now a target.

You aren’t self-important enough to assume
you have anything to impart to your audience
regarding either sudden violence or slow starvation
in a conflict concocted by megalomaniacs who regard
human lives as poker chips in an evening show of bravado.

Money is on the table, and your listeners will know,
by God, that you have had a sleepless night.

Epistemic Certainty in Times of War

In the age of the hyperreal, it is impossible to distinguish something from its copies, until

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shrapnel rips your material flesh and your own tears salt the wounds. As hunger rises and terror builds, suffering is epistemic certainty. Disinformation is in the air; but immutable conviction lives on the ground. Movie stars line up to join an imaginary battle for justice only to die or flee the bullets of confirmation.

This information has been verified by the independent flesh and bone of children dying in the rubble of hospitals and schools. Sometimes there’s a moment when you realise, when the judgment hits you like a ton of bricks, that all flags are false.

Surviving February

Surviving the shortest month should be a piece of cake.
The light begins to filter back in February,
and family falls away to a comfortable farness.
Snowdrops remind us of colour to come,
and the nights are nearly negotiable now.

Mid-February brings chocolate hearts, flowers
and artificial expressions of love,
disappointing and hollow (to be sure)
but reminders of the humanity we pretend to crave.
Connections can be ours, if we really try.

I don’t know how you managed to pull me through
January’s dark, but I’m grateful to see the smile
arriving earlier every day in morning light.
And you don’t have to hold on so long or so tight.
The terror of night is briefer, more tractable now.

A Weak Man

I don’t think he was a weak man, really. I mean, yeah, he was sensitive sometimes, but he was also into extreme sports: motocross, skateboarding, anything with wheels, you know. Maybe he was a little depressed from time to time, but that’s pretty normal, isn’t it? I think it was a little harsh of her to say he was wallowing in it. I personally, would never say depression was a “luxury,” but I guess that’s just how she saw things. Like everybody else, she had her own ideas. Maybe that’s a woman’s prerogative.

But I still thought she crossed a line sometimes. I’m just saying it seemed pretty mean to me, and you’re entitled to your own opinion, but I thought it was cruel to say she was disgusted when he broke down. I mean, they were children for God’s sake. He comforted the mother, he comforted the father, and he did his best to look after the family. He gave the eulogy—imagine giving a eulogy for children!—and everyone said it was really nice and how he was a good writer and everything, and that takes a toll, doesn’t it, and maybe everyone should get a moment to sort of lose it?

But I guess some people don’t think so. Some people think it’s different for men. This therapist told me it’s harder for men to access their tears, right? They grieve differently. I guess in order to not disgust anyone, they grieve differently. They grieve alone. And that’s what he did. He just cried his eyes out with no arms around his shoulders. No one handed him a tissue. He cried in the car in the driveway late at night. He cried in the shower. He would drive to the middle of nowhere and cry through the blackest nights. No one saw him access his tears. The counsellor never saw him access his tears and went on believing that men can’t access their feelings.

So again, I wouldn’t call that weakness, but I guess a lot of people do. And I guess he sort of believed it, too, and he changed little by little. He just got used to being alone, you know. He enjoyed the outdoors and spent many hours camping. Everyone was excited when he finally showed an interest in something. They were happy when he started talking about hunting and bought a gun.

Insomnia

I will die awake.
Decades of insomnia foretell
my ultimate sleepless fate.
Wide-eyed and anxious,
I will finally realise my doom,
the culmination of decades of fear
of dying alone, untouched and
staring only into indifference.

I will die awake,
but no one will know.
Someone will find me later
in a position of apparent repose.
And they will reassure those who love me
(if any are left),

“He died peacefully in his sleep.”

Poem: The Band Plays On

Following a crescendo of violence,
an allegro jubilee of relief and release
brings us all a moment of respite
before resuming the rhythm of the rigour
and ardor of unflinching struggle.

And a young woman tells us we can
be the light if we dare, and her innocence
gives us new hope and a new cadence
for resolute strides to an unknown
future of heat, yes, but also illumination.

Still, this isn’t a cadenza, but a restrictive
repair, a scaffolding of democratic skills,
a dampening of fear and a regrouping
of willing collaborators marching forward
on the promise of hope and camaraderie.

And the band plays on, because the music
of justice has no coda, only refrains.

A Moment of Sunlight

Everywhere he went,
he confronted peace and
rumours of peace.

Each dawn, he would follow
the light on rising roads
and find fellowship with companion
travellers and comfort with locals
sharing a spirit of cooperation.

As the sun passed over,
he and new neighbours he met
would break bread, drink
and laugh with abandon.

With evil vanquished and animosity
dimmed, the world awaited eternity
with clear eyes, dry cheeks
and a pacific breast.

Finally actualised, he sees a reality no
longer tenuous, but one girded on the
impervious foundation of
enlightened belief.