American Charm

Whitman, tell us if today you would sit in a café
and applaud as Allied troops race north.
Crane, lend a myth for the Towers’ destruction.

Walt, sing the use of nuclear weapons.
Speak of Truman as you did of Lincoln.
Dear Hart, show us the roadmap to peace

in the Middle East. Ms. Dickinson,
can you locate the Axis of Evil? Whitman,
give us a report from your embedded position

with the 3rd Division before the assault.
Emily — show irony —
for daughters killed in combat.

Crane, in adamantine lines, tell
of meeting death on the Euphrates.
Use oil as a symbol to inflame

words into ecstasies of Manifest Destiny.
Poe, with agate eyes, don’t spare us
your macabre mask — anodyne to poisonous war.

Walt, Emily, Hart, Edgar lean toward
the glowing screen, your hands in ours,
unleashing drone and Hellfire.

Mark McKain


Author: Mark McKain

Mark McKain teaches screenwriting at Full Sail University in Florida. His work has appeared in such journals as The New Republic, Agni, and American Letters & Commentary.

1 thought on “American Charm”

  1. [Author’s note] When trying to write a poem about the overwhelming public and media support for the Iraq War, I came up against the limits of language and form. Surprisingly, for me, a three line stanza gave me the structure I needed to shape inchoate thoughts and feelings and voice something in me that wanted to counter the deafening drum beat for war. And then the problem with a political poem is how, as Emily Dickinson says, to tell it slant. How to make it more than just a slogan or propaganda? I looked to Whitman, Poe, and Crane and wondered how they would react to the realities of modern war. How would Dickinson talk about drone strikes? Would she use her short lines and as many dashes as words to give a myriad of ways to decode the message? Would Whitman use his long lines to talk about collateral damage? What myth would would Crane create? How would you say it?

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