Split This Rock, the national organization of socially engaged poets and presenters of the biannual Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness (March 10-13, 2010, Washington, DC), offers the following poems for your vigils, demonstrations, and actions. Feel free to read one or many during your event, but please always remember to say the poet’s name when you read his or her poem. For more information and more poems of provocation and witness: info [at] splitthisrock [dot] org.

First Poem

The first poem at a reading
Should always shock and awe

It should be a love poem
Of overwhelming force

Maybe the mother
Of all poems

War reduces everything
To silence

Every soldier’s grave a place
Too loud for sleep

E. Ethelbert Miller
From D.C. Poets Against the War (Argonne House Press, 2004). Used with permission.

The War Works Hard

How magnificent the war is!
How eager
and efficient!
Early in the morning,
it wakes up the sirens
and dispatches ambulances
to various places,
swings corpses through the air,
rolls stretchers to the wounded,
summons rain
from the eyes of mothers,
digs into the earth
dislodging many things
from under the ruins…
some are lifeless and glistening,
others are pale and still throbbing…
it produces the most questions
in the minds of children,
entertains the gods
by shooting fireworks and missiles
into the sky,
sows mines in the fields
and reaps punctures and blisters,
urges families to emigrate,
stands beside the clergymen
as they curse the devil
(poor devil, he remains
with one hand in the searing fire)…
The war continues working, day and night.
It inspires tyrants
to deliver long speeches,
awards medals to generals
and themes to poets.
it contributes to the industry
of artificial limbs,
provides food for flies,
adds pages to the history books,
achieves equality
between killer and killed,
teaches lovers to write letters,
accustoms young women to waiting,
fills the newspapers
with articles and pictures,
builds new houses
for the orphans,
invigorates the coffin makers
and gives grave diggers
a pat on the back
and paints a smile on the leader’s face.
It works with unparalleled diligence!
Yet no one gives it
a word of praise.

By Dunya Mikhail
Translated by Elizabeth Winslow and Saadi A. Simawe
From The War Works Hard (New Directions, 2005). Used with permission.

Greetings from the War

I will greet you with flowers
no matter how many
bullets you bring.

I will greet you with bullets
because the flowers you greet me with
are from my garden.

I will greet you with song
though you curse me
and raise arms against me.

I will greet you with curses
because the wounded child at your feet
is my only son.

I will greet you with embraces
though the knife you carry
cuts away at my arms.

I will greet you with knives
they are made from the shrapnel
I pulled from my leg.

By Samuel Miranda
From D.C. Poets Against the War (Argonne House Press, 2004). Used with permission.

During a War

Best wishes to you & yours,
he closes the letter.

For a moment I can’t
fold it up again—
where does “yours” end?
Dark eyes pleading
what could we have done
Your family,
your community,
circle of earth, we did not want,
we tried to stop,
we were not heard
by dark eyes who are dying
now. How easily they
would have welcomed us in
for coffee, serving it
in a simple room
with a radiant rug.
Your friends & mine.

By Naomi Shihab Nye
From You & Yours (BOA Editions Ltd., 2005). Used with permission.

Dictionary in the Dark

A retired general said
“the beautiful thing about it”
discussing war.
We were making “progress”
in our war effort.
“The appropriate time to launch the bombers”
pierced the A section with artillery and arrows as
“awe” huddled in a corner
clutching its small chest.
Someone else repeated, “in harm’s way,”
strangely popular lately,
and “weapons of mass destruction”
felt gravely confused about their identity.
“Friendly” gasped. Fierce and terminal.
It had never agreed to sit beside fire, never.

By Naomi Shihab Nye
From You & Yours (BOA Editions Ltd., 2005). Used with permission.

the most important word

in these days
the most important word
is a small one

likely it is not
flowery, like roses
or strong, like brilliant
or even delicate, like petal

likely it is not
unique, like emerging
or careful, like nuance
or frightening, like attack

in these days
the most important word
is a small one

but like a stone in the shoe
that grinds and grates
it makes us
finally leap into living

it is:

By Joseph Ross
From D.C. Poets Against the War (Argonne House Press, 2004). Used with permission.

Tres variaciones sobre el tema de la paz y la paloma

Es tanta la paz de una paloma
que dicen los expertos en la paz
que sólo bastaría una paloma
para traer sobre la tierra toda la paz
que buscan los humanos sin saberlo.

Son tantas las palomas de la paz
que dicen los expertos en palomas
que sólo una paz sería necesaria
para atraer a todas las palomas
que buscan al humano sin remedio.

Si la paz se vistiera de paloma
dicen los expertos en humanos
con una sola paz nos bastaría
para darle sus alas a la tierra
haciendo del humano una paloma.

No es mucho pedirle
a la paz o a la paloma.

Three Variations on the Theme of Peace and the Dove

So great is the peace of one dove
that the experts on peace say
one dove alone would be enough
to spread over the earth all the peace
that humans search for without knowing.

So many are the doves of peace
that the experts on doves say
one peace alone would be needed
to attract all the doves
that hopelessly search for the human.

If peace clothed itself as a dove
say the experts on humans
one peace alone would be sufficient
to give its wings to the earth
making the human a dove.

It is not much to ask
of peace or the dove.

By Rei Berroa; translated by Ana Alonso & Rei Berroa.
From D.C. Poets Against the War (Argonne House Press, 2004). Used with permission.

This Moment

Read in front of the White House on February 12, 2003.

We meet in this wind-harsh square
with some expectation,
some hope our presence will count,
our voices be heard.

We speak from what we know
and we know no poem
stirs from a closed mind.
Has the mailed fist
so closed on its own purpose
we speak to stone?

Pay attention, our words matter,
these bare trees matter,
the Potomac flowing black
under white ice matters,
kids, woods, a leashed dog,
poems matter.

All our lives converge
on this moment
and what follows tonight,
tomorrow, next week
will change our whole
desperate earth.

By Ann B. Knox.
From D.C. Poets Against the War (Argonne House Press, 2004). Used with permission.

Foreign Policy In Focus partner Split This Rock believes that as citizens and artists, our obligation has never been greater. Its intent is twofold: To call poets to a greater role in public life and to bring the vital, important, challenging poetry of witness that is being written by American poets today to a larger and more diverse audience. You can learn more about the upcoming poetry festival here. .

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