Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Sam Hamill


Sam Hamill initiated 'Poets against war' after the Bush administration in the United States decided to invade Iraq in March 2003. He may have well said that the ethics of poetry is to speak out loud and clear. For poetry shows what would have been missed, if no one had spoken these words at the right time. Poetry is a response to what is going on, and indicates what human responsibility really means.

Note of editor: HF

On the trail of your wish
For Sam Hamill
I see many stories unravel from the house where you live
somewhere located in-between oceans and continents gone wild
over your poetry, for you make them dance to tunes
not heard before, different from those frolicking, equally treacherous ones
which entice men and nowadays also women to head into war
without using their heads to figure out from where rumours
come from to stay till they become a nail polish difficult to take off
walls and doors all forbidding you to look beyond the same opinion poll
as if to say there is no alternative to war - a marginal business, mind you,
when you consider the changes in newspaper stands shouting out today
that you should occupy your mind with other businesses than the
usual ones for they are a hindrance to thinking otherwise
for you have to conceive of yourself to be a disturbance to peace
if you prevent the going once again into another endless war.
That paradox has always encircled your house now standing alone
in a landscape enriched by the words which bring your language
into such a flow as if a river of change forever close to the Asian monk
now sitting on a tree stump and waiting for you to come by
for a chat or a talk which can last till night time, assured
that you will find your way back home with that latern in your hand:
a simple poem.
Hatto Fischer
Athens 20.9.2014


Body Count


“Extreme rendition,” the Bush administration calls it—

no body count in

the shipping of warm live bodies

to icy foreign prisons in who-knows where

for who-knows-what kinds of torture.


Rendition? That’s a word I learned

as a boy when my mother asked me to play

my rendition of Chopin on our baby grand,

my botched rendition of Raphael Mendez’

Flight of the Bumblebee as I struggled to master

triple-tongue technique on my trumpet.


Is extreme rendition what

they’re doing these days in Darfur

where there is no body count,

where doctors are gang-raped, nails ripped out,

bodies cast into burning huts—

like that of the six-year-old boy

burned beyond recognition?


The body begs, the body embodies

the long gray cries of grief, the little white cries

of love and ecstasy, the pleas and groans

of ensuing death that lie at the extreme end

of extreme rendition.


Body count, Iraq:

certified civilian deaths by violence, Sept 1, 2008:

ninety-four thousand, six hundred twenty-two;

most recently identified:

Mohammad Khalil Hansch, male,

tribal leader, Sunni;

and the body count of those who remain unidentifiable:

unknown, even gender sometimes unknown, bodies

burnt to cinders or blown apart,

family unknown, religion unknown,

children and parents unknown.


Tomorrow: another count, another body carted off.


Saturday, August 30, 2008:

the latest “incident” records

“Five dead; two bodies found in Baghdad;

gunman kills policeman; one body found;

Ninewa Mosul, bodyguard’s body found

following abduction…”


In America, there are no body bags, no dead bodies

but those mourned and buried in secret, those buried

in moldy V.A. hospitals reeking of death.

This is the business of death, the unseen tides of death

that wash across our shores,

the homeless veterans whose bodies house

lice and strange bacteria, paranoia, post-traumatic stress,

hopelessness, the savagery of business



And in Colombia, the “drug war” capital of death?

Six decades of mindless slaughter.

More bodies found, more bodies


more hostages, more torture.

More American business in arms and death.


All body counts are false.


In Vietnam today, a million are dying

of cancers from a war that ended

three decades back,

watershed poisoned, gene pool poisoned

as we poison the very earth that is

one body

too large to comprehend.


We are Darfur. We are Medellín.

We are Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad,

once bookselling capital of the world, cradle

of our civilization where bodies

have been splattered across crumbling buildings…


We are the Palestinian child

who packs his body with explosives

and walks into a marketplace.

We are his teacher, his elder brother, his mother

blown to bits by Israeli bombs.


We can’t escape our bodies and the knowledge

of our bodies’ suffering and glory

even as the heart’s mind revolts, shuts down

in tears or tries to hide. We are the body

of our ally and our enemy, we

are the body politic and this unholy hymn

our universal anthem.


Praise the body in all its glory,

this body some say is made

in God’s own image.

This is the body of knowledge

we must carry into life, into Heaven or Nirvana,

into hope, despair,

and into the marked or unmarked grave.


True Peace


Half broken on that smoky night,

hunched over sake in a serviceman’s dive

somewhere in Naha, Okinawa,

nearly fifty years ago,


I read of the Saigon Buddhist monks

who stopped the traffic on a downtown thoroughfare

so their master, Thich Quang Dúc, could take up

the lotus posture in the middle of the street.

And they baptized him there with gas

and kerosene, and he struck a match

and burst into flame.


That was June, nineteen-sixty-three,

and I was twenty, a U.S. Marine.


The master did not move, did not squirm,

he did not scream

in pain as his body was consumed.


Neither child nor yet a man,

I wondered to my Okinawan friend,

what can it possibly mean

to make such a sacrifice, to give one’s life

with such horror, but with dignity and conviction.

How can any man endure such pain

and never cry and never blink.


And my friend said simply, “Thich Quang Dúc

had achieved true peace.”


And I knew that night true peace

for me would never come.

Not for me, Nirvana. This suffering world

is mine, mine to suffer in its grief.


Half a century later, I think

of Bô Tát Thich Quang Dúc,

revered as a bodhisattva now— his lifetime

building temples, teaching peace,

and of his death and the statement that it made.


Like Shelley’s, his heart refused to burn,

even when they burned his ashes once again

in the crematorium— his generous heart

turned magically to stone.


What is true peace, I cannot know.

A hundred wars have come and gone

as I’ve grown old. I bear their burdens in my bones.

Mine’s the heart that burns

today, mine the thirst, the hunger in the soul.


Old master, old teacher,

what is it that I’ve learned?


[Come Together: Imagine Peace Bottom Dog Press ‘09]

Audio/video at Portland State Univeristy 9name?) 2008]



The Road to Rama


Where is the road to Rama

and how far can I go alone?


Here is the road to Rama, friend,

here in the dust of our bones.


And here is the house of an Arab

with its sleepy summer garden,

its olive tree and its shade.


You count the bullet holes, my friend,

and fill its empty craters,

but you cannot number the dead.


And here is the house of a Jew—

and the strangest thing—

it looks exactly the same:


the same garden, same olive tree,

same craters in the garden,

same bloodstains in the sand.


Here on the road to Rama

I hope to find my brother,

the poet Samih Al-Qasim,


before it is too late.

I have wandered far in the desert,

thirsting for his words.


Have you heard my brother, the poet?

He will break your heart and mend it

with the sadness of his song.


Have you seen my brother, the poet?

I am weary of smoke and dust,

and the road is long, and I am growing old.


I will die on the road to Rama,

my heart cradled by his song.


[Come Together: Imagine Peace Bottom Dog Press ‘09]


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