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United for Peace of Pierce County - POEMS: Three new poems by R.P. Ericksen on the Iraq war

Robert P. Ericksen has given permission to the Tacoma group People for Peace, Justice, and Healing to post three new poems relating to the Iraq war:  "Phony Cowboys and Their Consequences,"[1] "Losses,"[2] and "Seeing Is Believing, or Is It Vice Versa?"[3]  --  Ericksen, a professor of history at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, is the author Theologians under Hitler: Gerhard Kittel, Paul Althaus, and Emanuel Hirsch (Yale University Press, 1985) and is the co-editor of the collection Betrayal: German Churches and the Holocaust (Augsburg Fortress, 1999).  --  Several other poems by Ericksen on the Iraq war are available on the PPJH web site.  --  In May 2004, Ericksen gave a lecture setting the Iraq war in historical context; he titled his talk "The Illusion of Overwhelming Force." ...


By R.P. Ericksen

October 8, 2005

Many, including that pair of boots
in the White House, seem not to know
the phony origins of the cowboy,
the straight-shooter, the man with the gun,

from James Fenimore Cooper
and his mythology of a West
he'd never known,
his cartoon concoction
of Leatherstocking and Chingachkook,

to the dime novel tall tales,
tarted up to sell books,
tales of sartorial splendor,
unerring accuracy and daring-do,

to the Hollywood of Tom Mix,
Roy Rogers, and John Wayne,
six shooters that never missed,
never ran out of bullets,
varying versions of the one principle
known to moguls, put butts in the seats,

and this extraordinary mythology,
built entirely upon mammon,
still puts Americans into cowboy hats
with some notion that they thereby partake

of a brave and honorable past --
rather than the commonplace,
plus occasional pillage, a rapacious landgrab
sometimes seeming to necessitate
the cutting of body parts off of dead Indians --

always firm in the faith,
a bullet can solve any problem,
bullet as scalpel, performing
some magical surgery,
setting the world straight,

and now putting us all
into a crooked cul-de-sac.


By R.P. Ericksen

October 1, 2005

Numbering the losses for this leader
is not easy, this man who, for starters,
lost the first of two elections
which put him into office,
then misplaced the two hundred billion
given to him, as a present, by his predecessor,
and since has lost us
five hundred billion a year --
hand him a hundred billion or so
and he'll forget which pocket held it
or which pair of pants he was wearing at the time.

This is just money,
though it adds up, as they say,
but he has also driven away
almost all our friends
and even more thoroughly our admirers,
for some friends will hang around
out of loyalty, or fear, or with an eye
on this or that hundred billion poorly attended,
but admirers must see something to admire,
some wisdom, some ideal, some program,
and our boy is short on the first,
out of step on the second,
ideologically rigid on the third,
so that admiration has suffered
a major falling off,

and we must also undertake
the sad task of counting up the dead,
lost lives thrown to the dogs of war,
a lost war where there need only have been
some clever police work,
the lost chance to drink the milk of human kindness
immediately on offer, but he made it curdle,

this man who lost us two tall buildings
and four planes, the only losses on his ledger
not entirely his fault,
though he disregarded warnings,

and lately an entire city lost, for which
some would also deny his responsibility,
the storm was real, an act of nature,
but he aided and abetted in the loss
of sweet and sweaty New Orleans,
for he fumbled FEMA to an uninspired friend,
he stirred up high winds and waters
with his witch's stick of global warming,
and, if there is a God in heaven
occasionally turning a weary eye our way,
this God may have thought
a little slap at George
for all the trouble he has caused
would be very well-earned
and just possibly the sort of sign
some seer or other would notice.


By R.P. Ericksen

September 19, 2005

"I'm seeing the ball really well this week,"
announces the star player,
finally connecting a bit
after a season mired at two-fifty,
and you as a fan, your team mired
below five hundred,
you mired in despair,
imagine telling your eye doctor,
"I'm seeing the chart really well this week."

Seeing? Seeing? Don't the lenses
of the eyes work the same,
yesterday and today? And you want to tell
that star player that maybe it is focus,
that maybe he should have tried
looking at the ball, and not at
the bleachers in right field
where he hoped to send it,

and you think once again
that baseball is a head case,
for player and fan alike,
but you and the player
have this moment of renewed hope,
he is seeing the ball again,
and you are imagining a surge
out of last place
and hope for next year,

and in this euphoria of renewed hope,
you imagine that other baseball fan
might decide to focus
and start seeing Iraq really well,
and the rest of the Middle East,
instead of keeping his eyes on
the bleachers in right field,
that "seeing" once again
will be a physical act of detection,
not mental self-deception.