Dedicated to Abolishing War, Establishing Justice, and Fighting Climate Disaster

Dedicated to Abolishing War, Establishing Justice, and Fighting Climate Disaster

by Paul Zarzyski

In D.C. to Recite Cowboy Poems for a Show Titled Poets, Politicians, & Other Storytellers, I Visit the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial and the Smithsonian Aerospace Museum, Back to Back:

From a distance, solid black,
a Rorschach test figure
flashed fast, the winged and ghostly
silhouette of a stealth bomber,
not one rivet glimmering—nothing human,
nothing errored—no single components, no flaw,
not one weak link. It’s another story up close.
After walking for hours the five-hundred-foot-long Wall
jeweled with youthful names
of fifty-eight thousand one hundred and eighty-three,
so far, I look up from the butt-end
of a Minuteman missile, blank
save for the big white good-guy letters
U.S. and Utah manufacturer’s made-by label,
as if we were talking Monkey Ward’s slacks,
a placard of ballistics
like a tag telling us the size
is 70 feet by 39 ton. It’s even harder
to fathom the 8,000-mile range
than it is to believe Mitsubishi,
maker of my VCR, built the Zero
from scrap we sold the Japanese cheap, or
to buy the Warren Commission’s fiction
that reads Lee Harvey was a lone
assassin, just like Jack
slew the giant and got the goose
because his mom threw his magic-bullet
beans out the window—all akin
to the tall tall tale that out in the cosmos long long ago
carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen

in a chain collision locked bumpers,
Alakazam, Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum, and BINGO!
heeere’s Johnny!” Not “Johnny came marching
home again, hurrah, hurrah,”
but Johnny who watched his TV
heroes pack pearl-handled .45’s,
Johnny who loved
seeing action a mere decade before
he was drafted to kill V.C. in The Nam,
before his name here in D.C. became
a still-shot on the big black screen,
no picture moving, nothing silver
as the Lone Ranger’s bullet coming
guaranteed-to-wing-but-never-kill,
a far cry from this
ballistic missile living—like the Wall,
underground—a rifle-shot away
from the back door of my home
in Montana. How many silos,
how many Walls can a honeycombed planet hold
before it collapses and implodes? And what if
one warhead struck close enough
to blow this memorial to bits? Who would
find Johnny Thorn, a name in jagged stone,
floating weightlessly in some black hole
and how would they know
he wasn’t really Johnny Thorn berg? Or maybe
you’d believe the zillion pieces
would jigsaw together, Alakazam
again in outer space? If so,
let me tell you my cowboy rhymer
about the time I rode the great bronc
Widow-Maker to his knees
while I wolfed a sackful of popcorn,
never spilling one kernel
out into the wild blue yonder.

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