Dear Inlander: I feel as though I should begin with an apology. I mean, I don't do this. "This" being the sending of poems to publications that don't usually publish poems. I can publish them elsewhere. That's not the problem. The problem is November 2, 2004 -- four weeks off. Anywhere else I might publish poems like these would take months to get them into print.
My father and mother left Idaho not long ago, after a week-long visit. They made it back to Illinois in five days. Not bad, given their ages, 82 and 77, respectively. It is, of course, their age in part that made me worry about them going back home. Though there is also the habit they have of toasting at every meal -- breakfast, lunch, dinner, with coffee, water, or wine -- the same way. "To the defeat of George W. Bush!" they exclaim, this man who is indeed a decorated World War II navy veteran, and this woman who was indeed a "Rosie-the-Riveter" in the shipyards at Bremerton -- these good and patriotic American citizens whom conservative Republican pundit Ann Coulter insists are traitors. They are also liberals and proud of it. On the other hand, they were going to be driving through Wyoming, home state of Dick Cheney. They're hard of hearing; when they toast, everyone listens.
On the other hand, they understand, as I do, that the election this coming November is the most important in my lifetime at least, and maybe in theirs too. It is, as my mother says, about the very soul of the republic, whether we are a nation that not only talks freedom but embodies it too.
These poems, therefore, are for my parents, who still believe the nation should do the right thing, always. The poems are topical, even occasional. I will almost certainly never include them in a book, but at the moment they seem necessary. As a poet and a patriotic citizen, I want to say the things that need saying. -- Robert Wrigley
to the author of Treason
Although the alloy apparatus used
to fix his broken hip makes it harder,
my father, at eighty-two, manages
nevertheless to kneel within inches
of the TV, the better to brandish
his patriotic American fist
in the face of the talking woman there--
a blonde, he says, he didn't catch the name
--who, because of his beliefs, has called him
a traitor, this decorated second
World War veteran of the navy.
Therefore my mother, who riveted ships
at Bremerton, has to help him back up
and urge him through two additional reps
of his evening exercises, so that
the pain might not make him suffer so much
later on, meaning bedtime, when he still
cannot let it go, this aged man
she has loved for going on sixty years --
he's still quivering, indignant -- until she,
a mild, practical woman who will feel
some guilt for it later on, sweetly damns
the blonde straight to hell, so that he can sleep.
THE WAR PRESIDENT
Lord, not that he should be required to read
poetry, but that if called upon he could,
and thus would see fit to admire the shapes
of assertions, not only their political use.
Not that he must know how it feels to die,
but that he might recognize what it means
to ask others to do so in his stead,
and thus to say in the plainest of terms
there is nothing I will not do to not do that
which should have been the last thing I did.
Not that we'd expect such a promise in blood
or flesh, though both would be appropriate
from any decent man who asks to lead
and leads with neither shape or recognition
into that place he himself would not go,
neither in the flesh nor the mind. Amen.
First, there were women who ended
pregnancies, which explained the airplanes
crashing into buildings, though these
were also assisted by the thought of women marrying
women, or men marrying men. The need
to invade a country not at all involved
was obvious, even if the reason was not.
Then later, no one in authority knew anything about it,
but anyone could see the naked prisoners were arranged
so as to duplicate American pornography,
even if they suffered no more than in a harmless fraternity
hazing. All of this was made clear on a drive over the mountains,
a Thursday night, only one
unnaturally powerful radio station coming in,
as I drove through small towns in continual decline
despite their fealty
to the dominant political party,
and through a forest, some of which would soon be gone,
to keep it from burning.
Robert Wrigley is the director of the MFA program in Creative Writing at the University of Idaho. He is also the author of six volumes of poetry, including Reign of Snakes, In the Bank of Beautiful Sins and Lives of the Animals, and is a recent winner of the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. He lives with his wife (the writer Kim Barnes) and their two children near Moscow, Idaho.
Publication date: 10/07/04