Polemical Poetry V: America the Dutiful


America the Dutiful

By Michael Murry

In the Land of the Fleeced and the Home of the Slave
Where the cowed and the buffaloed moan
Where seldom we find an inquisitive mind
And the people pay up with a groan

While at home on the range when the firing begins
Not a word of encouragement sounds
The temp workers leave for their other day jobs
And the cops and the guards make their rounds

When the rich ones start wars that the poor have to fight
And the chickenhawks glare as they cluck
The recruiters hold raffles and promise the moon
In the neighborhoods down on their luck

Where the clouds hang around for the length of the day
Casting shadows and fear all around
A lost mother grieves and starts haunting the land
Having just laid her son in the ground

As the war against someone somewhere at some time
Never quite seems to end or conclude
War itself becomes reason for having this war
Leaving no room for thought to intrude

Unreported out west by vacationing scribes
Seeking rest from Access Mentalpause
The tombstones in Aspen turn up all at once
Having roots that connect with their cause*

Now the Fig Leaf Contingent has answered the call
From a time long ago it’s returned
Once again to buy time for the guilty to mime
More excuses for lives that they’ve burned

So the dead really died so that more dead can die
Goes the “logic” that once more holds sway
Understanding, the Fig Leaf Contingent steps up,
Packs its gear and then marches away

Late at night out on runway strips hidden and dark
Where the citizens can’t see what shocks
The Contingent comes “home” one-by-one, all alone,
In a wheelchair or flag-covered box

So the long-promised “victory” ever recedes
As the Fig Leaf Contingent fights on
Keeping faith with the faithless who’ve ordered its doom
Like a poorly schooled chess player’s pawn

In the dutiful land of the fruitcakes and nuts
Where the sun shines between the two seas
The hills in their lavender majesty stand
Unaffected by men’s howling pleas

For to go with no reason where no purpose calls
Leads to nothing but more of the same
Till the Fig Leaf Contingent’s utility fails
To deflect any more of the blame

And since something was lost surely someone has failed
Only whom could those proud persons be?
Not the chickenhawks glaring and clucking for war!
Not the neo-new, know-nothing “we”!

As the first mate harpooner admonished his crew
In the mad Captain Ahab’s vast tale
He would not have along for a ride in his boat
Any man not afraid of a whale

For the ocean is great and my ship is so small
And the winds blow beyond all command
Only fools and the drowned ever this truth forget
Which is why they should stay on dry land

But the day-trippers out for a float on the pond
Seldom think of the perilous shoals
So they send off the Fig Leaf Contingent to fight
Absent only some well-defined goals

Thus they played on TV what in real life demands
More than Hobbits, and Wizards, and Elves
And they taught us our duty much better by far
Than they put into practice themselves

So we’ve come back again from our exile abroad
With our tattered ranks bitter and sore
Having done what our Maximum Leader would not
All of that and a hundred times more

We are here `cause we’re here `cause we’re here `cause we’re here
And for no other reason on earth
But for us in the Fig Leaf Contingent, we know
What our duty and honor are worth

So we will not abandon to memory’s hole
Those we loved and who loved us in turn
Still we go to our graveyards secure in our trust
That America never will learn

Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2005.  A Vietnam Veteran, gargoyle sculptor and poet, Murry occupies the Asian Desk for The Contrary Perspective.

*The allusion to vacationing scribes and aspens out west derives from the investigation by Federal Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald into the leaking of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity to New York Times sycophant Judith Miller — Dick Cheney’s favorite propaganda conduit — as punishment for Plame’s husband’s debunking of the Bush/Cheney lies about Uranium “Yellocake” sales to Iraq in the run-up to America’s criminal assault upon that country.  See the 2007 Salon article, Scooter Libby, Judy Miller and those turning aspens, by Tim Grieve.

4 thoughts on “Polemical Poetry V: America the Dutiful

  1. Wow. I’m sure Kipling would like that, even though it’s not quite in his usual gung-ho spirit (but then there’s always “Tommy”…) Deceptively simple, but there’s not a poor rhyme or an awkward metre in the whole poem. Wonderful! I shall be sure to keep a copy of this at hand.

    • Thanks for the kind comments and for mentioning Kipling’s “Tommy,” one of my favorites. It does a good job of contrasting the lot of the common soldier in time of peace — when the home folks have little use for him, his poverty, and his coarse mannerisms — versus the phony hero’s send-off he gets on his way to the foreign battlefields in time of war. In particular, I think Kipling gets to the heart of the matter with:

      “We aren’t no thin red ‘eroes, nor we aren’t no blackguards, too,
      But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
      An’ if sometimes our conduck isn’t all your fancy paints,
      Why single men in barricks don’t grow into plaster saints.”

      That phrase, “single men in barricks” explains many things — at least to single men who have had to live together in barracks.

      Of course, the influx and concentration of impoverished single men in any “military” town brings with it the usual dreary assortment of run-down bars, strip joints, and payday loan-shark establishments, which do not exactly add to the local property values. But the good citizens who depend on all that military spending do not necessarily respond by welcoming the indigent, brainwashed, and horny young men into their homes. When I told my mom about the lousy treatment we sailors used to get from the people of San Diego, she would tell me about meeting my dad in Norfolk, Virginia during WWII. “The people there had signs in front of their houses saying: ‘Dogs and Sailors Keep Off the Grass!’ she said. But mom and dad slipped across the border to North Carolina, lied about their ages, and got married anyway.

      On the other hand, I have to say in all fairness that when our ship journeyed up the Columbia River to Portland, Oregon (my birthplace) to take part in the Rose Festival, the good townspeople acted like they had never seen sailors, before, having no Navy bases anywhere around. Normally, I wouldn’t ever wear my uniform ashore if I could help it, but some of my shipmates with more experience convinced me that Portland did not fit the usual pattern. “Just head on down to the square in the middle of town, stand by the side of the road in your uniform and wait,” they told me. “The girls will come along in their cars and pick you up in no time at all.” This actually happened. Go figure.

      Mostly, though, like when I did six months in Idaho Falls, Idaho, undergoing Nuclear Power Operations Qualification, the townsfolk reverted to type. For our own safety, we could only patronize two bars in town: the local VFW and a dance bar called “The Hawaiian.” If a sailor wandered into any other bar in town, he could expect a severe beating from the local potato-farmer Mormons. By the time I finished my qualifications and got orders to Defense Language School and Vietnam, I could only feel a sense of relief at the prospect of getting the hell out of Idaho Falls, Idaho.

      Kipling certainly knew his subject matter when in comes to the “single men in barracks.” For me, that experience, at home and overseas, motivates many of the poems I’ve written, which I hope to explore more thoroughly in the future here at The Contrary Perspective.

  2. Pingback: More Boots on the Ground, They Say – As Long as They Are Not Wearing Them | The Contrary Perspective

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