Spring 2006

Guest Editor: Sarah Browning

As I write this introduction, we are marking the third anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Three years ago, the war seemed to many of us not just illegal and immoral, but colossally bad policy, one that would increase the animosity toward our country around the world, while breeding hatred and violence and despair – in Iraq and here at home.

There is no comfort in having been right.

Over 2,000 U.S. families have lost their beloved daughters and sons. Tens of thousands of U.S. service members have been maimed and damaged in ways that will affect us all for years to come. Even more appallingly, our government's actions have torn apart the country of Iraq, killing countless Iraqis, destroying whole cities, pitting neighbor against neighbor.

Cindy Sheehan, who has lost her only son to this madness, eloquently asks our president why. What is the noble cause that killed her son? How can we keep on feeding our daughters and sons into the flames? Who benefits?

The most obvious answer to that question is the war profiteers, the Halliburtons, the oil companies. But it seems to me that the Bush administration's primary goal is to create a state of perpetual war, and that by doing so they hope to silence the opposition, to keep the American people in a state of constant fear and anxiety, so we will continue to elect "strong leaders," so we will acquiesce to the gradual loss of our liberties, to the erosion of our common wealth as a people, so that we will give up our dreams and our ideals, so that we will come to wonder how we could have been so na´ve as to believe that we could someday live in a true democracy, with real equality, a society built on compassion and—yes—love.

Thankfully, the poets refuse to acquiesce. When the politicians are compliant and the press is distracted by the next sparkly thing, the poets continue to believe, to speak out and to say no to fear. They are na´ve and hopeful and true. Even in their despair and their outrage, they call us, as Melissa Tuckey does in her poem, "Forsythia Winter," to "go ahead, open your hand."

The poems here tell stories –"of loss and of connection despite the anguish. "A part of us vanishes each day," writes Adam Chiles in "Tucson Elegy." "We suffer another missed touch," Venus Thrash tells us in her poem, "Ritual." The poems won't let us forget.

When the war is, as Reginald Dwayne Betts's "A Conversation" says, "tucked into the back pages of the paper," the poems remind us of the atrocities our own sisters and brothers are committing in our name. Linda Pastan asks what we are capable of. The poems answer, in sorrow: almost anything.

I received over 350 poems for this issue and I am deeply grateful to all the poets who sent work, who keep writing and witnessing and testifying, despite the odds, despite the despair. Their words challenged me and comforted me. Making choices was brutally hard, but I was so glad that I had to, that large numbers of poets have refused compliance and silence.

I am deeply grateful to the incomparable Kim Roberts for inviting me to be the guest editor for this special issue of Beltway. Kim held my hand and supported and encouraged me throughout this process. I thank you, Kim. Special thanks also to E. Ethelbert Miller, my personal cheering section; to the extraordinary poet-activists in D.C. Poets Against the War, too numerous to name here, without whom I would still be scribbling in solitude; to Andy Shallal and Busboys & Poets, for believing in the importance of our work and providing such a spectacular venue for our words; to Martha Richards and The Fund for Women Artists; and to my patient and supportive family, Tom and Ben. They are the light that keeps me burning.

So go ahead, open your hand. May the poems, as Yael Flusberg writes of the boulders outside the new Museum of the American Indian, "help us survive this season/of short sight."

To read more by this author:
Sarah Browning
Sarah Browning: The Whitman Issue
Browning's Intro to The Wartime Issue: Vol. 7, No. 2, Spring 2006
Sarah Browning: DC Places Issue
Sarah Browning: Split This Rock Issue
Sarah Browning: Museum Issue

Sarah Browning: 10th Anniversary Issue

Sarah Browning on DC Poets Against the War: Literary Organizations Issue
Sarah Browning: Langston Hughes Tribute Issue
Sarah Browning: Floricanto Issue
Sarah Browning on Lucille Clifton: Poetic Ancestors Issue



I. A Part of Us Vanishes Each Day

Linda Blaskey: "A Marine Comes to Tell Her What She Already Knows"
Bill Vander Clute: "Less Than a Moment"              
Ann Ryan: "Angry Mother’s Son"
Reuben Jackson: "Keith"
Parris Garnier: "Delegation"
Adam Chiles: "Tucson Elegy"
Venus Thrash: "Ritual"
Grace Cavalieri: "Dying Is Different Than I Thought It Would Be"
Melanie Henderson: "Military Portraits"

II. What We Are Capable Of

Linda Pastan: "What We Are Capable Of"
Zein El-Amine: "My Jesus" and "Haiku for the Head Locked"
Rose Marie Berger: "For Botero, Who Looked at What I Could Not"
Joanne Rocky Delaplane: "I Confess"
Christi Kramer: "What do the dancing white birds say looking down upon burnt .meadows?"
Luis Alberto Ambroggio: "El peso de los cuerpos" and "The Weight of the Bodies"
W. Luther Jett: "Recessional"
Johnna Schmidt: "To the Captors of Tom Fox on December 13, 2005"

III. I'll Fight My Heart

Ernie Wormwood: "Mea Culpa"
Rosemary Winslow: "Morning Routine"
E. Ethelbert Miller: "These Seinfeld days when nothing happens except I love you"
Jody Bolz: "Mid-Winter, Mid-War"
Virginia Bell: "No Pope"
Marie Pavlicek-Wehrli: "In These Times"
Leah Harris: "Uncertain Promises"

IV. Through the Looking Glass

Ellen Wise: "Of Gods and Clowns"
M.A. Schaffner: "Field of Operations"
Kyle Dargan: "Still Life w/President, Wreath, and Unknown Soldier"
William F. Rutkowski: "Metal"
Kyndall Brown: "When is War Going to Stop?"
Mike Maggio: "Collateral Damage"
Lori Tsang: "making a killing"
Sunil Freeman: "When the Terrorists Get Creative"
Jeneva Stone: "Through the Looking Glass in Iraq"
Piotr Gwiazda: "The Flag"
Jennifer Steele: "Turtle"
Reginald Dwayne Betts: "a conversation"

V. Go Ahead, Open Your Hand

Melissa Tuckey: "Forsythia Winter"
Yael Flusberg: "Relocated Boulders Bless the Grounds of the National Museum of the American
..........Indian, Autumn Equinox, 2004 "
Joe Lapp: "The War From This Side of the Anacostia River"
Marcella Wolfe: "For the Monument Custodian"
Judith McCombs: "Walking with William Blake Near Capitol Hill, D.C."
Fred Joiner: "home is where the war is"                                                                  
Suzanna Banwell: "War Immemorial"
Esther Iverem: "Be All That You Can Be Haiku" and "Mom Haiku"
Carlos Parada: "Fading Memories"
David Gewanter: "War Bird: A Journal"