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Kim Stafford: Four poems about the current war

Catechism for the Conqueror

What will you do when we command: 
“Put down your weapons”?
    We will pick up our children.
And when we take your freedom?
     We will gather in protest.
And when we outlaw protest?
     We will stand in silence.
And when we imprison silence?
     We will dream.
And when we ban dreamers?
     We will breathe.
And when we…?
     You will lose.


War Clips on YouTube

Did you see the one with people in the conquered city
singing while soldiers shot at the sky? Or the soldier 
and his bride, both holding guns, exchanging rings 
on the battlefield? Did you see students practicing 
Molotov cocktails shattered in fire against a wall? 
The dog sniffing a tank twisted into a heap? I had to 
stop the one that was just a blur and screaming. And 
all the crying children. The old man in the subway
whose son went up to find food, never came back.
I can’t stop seeing the one with kids knocked flat
by shelling, their backpacks pink and blue…picking
up a hand after the shelling…grandmother on her back
beside the path, unable to flee…the man on fire….
Can someone please post one of a silent field, 
no one shooting, no one dressed in green, 
maybe just a crow, and a tree?



What is Buddha’s Middle Way in War?

I don’t want my death
on any man’s conscience.

       	       —pacifist in WWII

Harder than killing, requiring more skill 
than surrender, find the middle way in war.
Somewhere between the endless pride of men 
and a child’s tender need, find right action, 
elusive but essential: I will do this, but I won’t
do that…I must do this, but I can’t do that. 

Somewhere between ideals and hunger, between 
difficult love and heartless anger, between a proud 
flag and an empty bowl, I must find my hardest 
thing to do, my only thing to do this side of killing. 
I must be a fish where waves dash, a bird where 
bullets fly, an old one sitting silent under a tree.


Mother Russia, Wounded by the Modern Tsar

Why are boys dressed in drab and given guns?
Sparrows peck spilled grain.

Why is steel the color of choice?
Crows haunt smoky fields.

Why does grandfather let his tea grow cold?
Frost struck sprouting wheat.

How much rain to fill the Volga?
Not soon, the end of weeping.

Which ravine will hold the bones?
Late snow at Zima Junction.

Poems copyright © 2022 Kim Stafford

These poems have appeared at www.instagram.com/kimstaffordpoetry

Other poems, films, songs, and resources for writers can be found at www.kimstaffordpoet.com

Kim Stafford writes, teaches, and travels to restore the human spirit. He is the author of a dozen books, including Singer Come from Afar (Red Hen Press, 2021). He has taught writing in Scotland, Italy, Mexico, and Bhutan. In May 2018 he was named Oregon Poet Laureate for a two-year term.
Kim Stafford

10 comments on “Kim Stafford: Four poems about the current war

  1. Vox Populi
    March 17, 2022

    Thank you, readers, for your responses to these poems that sorrow tugged forth from my heart. May peace come. — Kim Stafford


  2. Lisa Zimmerman
    March 17, 2022

    It is so hard to bear the footage–
    “Can someone please post one of a silent field,
    no one shooting, no one dressed in green,
    maybe just a crow, and a tree?” ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      March 17, 2022

      Lisa, what you posted is the beginning of a great poem. I want to see the rest of it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Marina Richie
    March 13, 2022

    Kim-I come from a pacifist background of Quakers–and your poems speak to this–to what is the right action? Your words: “I must be a fish where waves dash, a bird where
    bullets fly, an old one sitting silent under a tree.”

    Liked by 2 people

  4. allisonfine
    March 13, 2022

    Thank you so much.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Barbara Huntington
    March 13, 2022

    So beautiful, so ugly, so sad, so hopeful, so human, so human

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Sean Sexton
    March 13, 2022

    Excruciatingly superb!
    Difficult always to mix praise and intense sadness.

    Liked by 2 people

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