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July 05, 2011

Poem Mysteriously Disappears, Then Reappears, at Waitsfield War Memorial

War Poem Here's a weird little tale for Independence Day week, courtesy of a Seven Days reader, about a poem left at an Afghanistan war memorial in Waitsfield that went missing numerous times only to reappear days or weeks later.

Martin McGowan says he wrote a poem and left it by the memorial in September 2010, near the sign that lists the number of American military killed in Afghanistan (1544 as of yesterday). Behind that sign, along Route 100, is a field full of little white flags — one for each military member killed in combat. There's an identical memorial to the Iraq war adjacent to it.

The poem, "george's little solar army," is a riff on the Vietnam-era protest song "Ohio" by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. It was inspired, McGowan says, by an ongoing local dust-up over the solar trackers installed at American Flatbread in Waitsfield by owner George Schenk. But like all good protest/beatnik/stick-it-to-the-man poetry, that's just a launching off point. McGowan's poem covers a lot of ground — Lehman Brothers, Enron, Kissinger, the Gulf of Tonkin incident. (Full poem text below).

Shortly after he left it there, McGowan, 50, says the poem disappeared. Then just as mysteriously, the poem reappeared by the sign post. In fact, that disappearing/reappearing routine has repeated itself four or five times in the year since McGowan left the poem there, he says. This spring it went missing for a week before someone placed it back under a rock at the sign post.

"It's got this secret life of its own," McGowan says of the poem.

War Memorial 2 At first, McGowan — the author of two books, including a collection of poems entitled Shattered — figured someone snatched the poem because he or she found it offensive. But each time it returned, he says he wondered if the opposite was true: were they taking it to photocopy the poem because they liked it?

McGowan says he believes the war in Afghanistan is "unjustified" but adds that he placed the poem there to provoke thought about our national priorities and not purely to make an anti-war statement.

Asked by email about the meandering poem, the memorial's creator, Russ Bennett, writes that people leave things there and occasionally they are removed. On the memorial generally, Bennett says it's meant to be a "non editorialized graphic memorial reminder of the sacrifices of life made by our American military engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The memorial does not take a stand about the pros and cons of war any more than Arlington National Cemetery does about all of those sacrifices," Bennett says, before adding, "Proud and unbelievably fortunate to be an American."

Here's the poem. (Note: Misspelled words came that way in the poem).

george's little solar army

a dozen tin soldiers
and Nixon coming
bow their heads
            in unison
to the sun
            not daffodils
to remind every-anybody
            of war.

though down the road,
            a piece
            along scenic route 100
            4,679 white flags
            wave for soldiers today NOW

dead in combat: iraq,
            (forget your casualty insurance, man—
            a girl from our town had her legs blown off)
            protecting freedom.

some say it's ugly
to see these twelve tin soldiers
            bow their heads to the
            Goddess of light, sun---

and you know, there are
            several more army sentinals
            down the road
            a piece, near Yestermorrow
            (and the field of dreams,
            with the little white flags of death)
            whose silicon breast feeds the grid-iron

oil. oh-ee-oh, o-hi-oh, o-ee-el.

'tin soldiers
and Nixon coming
finally, we are on our own
this summer
i hear the drumming'
fo-u-r dead in....
            o-hi-oh. o-ee-o. o-ee-el.

all those dead americansoldiers
            our freedom
            to consume oil
            at any cost to date
            180 billion dollars
            and not counting, anymore

later, AEG, Lehman, Enron
(just to name a few names)
of my money, yeah
its pretty ugly
electronic voting man rove gore
            pigs fuckin' pork barrel

            i saw a photo
            of an iraqui child
            with their legs
            blown off
            i heard
            scream with delight
            during the bay of tonkin,


yeah, baby dead baby
it's gettin' ugly.

Nice! It is good to know that freedom of speech is still respected in this country, and Martin Magoun's (another way of spelling his last name -- yes -- I am a friend) poem speaks to so many people who visit the memorial. The placement of the words reminds me of The Vietnam Memorial, and objects, poetry, stories, and so on left behind, that are archived by The Smithsonian. As Mr. Bennett so clearly states, it is not about taking sides, but paying tribute to the fallen, and celebrating the freedom of words. I would add Magoun's poem asks tough questions. This is also part of our heritage.

". . . it is not about taking sides, but paying tribute to the fallen, and celebrating the freedom of words."

. . . which freedom the fallen have died to preserve.

Let's not turn their deaths into cheap politics. By either Left or Right. Please.

Yes, they died for our right to write. And I thank them and honor them for that. So would Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine "Common Sense," and so many more, who wrote passionately about politics -- which our country paid dearly for. Bless them all.

I have a dear friend who served in The Vietnam War, The Iraqi War, The Afghanistan War, and he lost too many of his close friends to count. To speak up -- either way - is our patriotic duty.

Thanks for reading.

And thanks for writing, Grateful. At least you are speaking up. Why is everyone so quiet these days? Is it fear?

I was thinking of your comment "left or right." Abe Lincoln was a Republican. He wrote passionately, as we all know. Martin Luther King? And which side helped bring down the Berlin Wall? If my memory serves, again, "the right" in US politics. I am in hopes we all start talking again: WE, the people.

"A proud man was the Roman,
His speech a single one,
But his eyes were like an eagle’s eyes
That is staring at the sun.

“Dig for me where I die,” he said,
“If first or last I fall—
Dead on the fell at the first charge,
Or dead by Wantage wall;

“Lift not my head from bloody ground,
Bear not my body home,
For all the earth is Roman earth
And I shall die in Rome.”

From "The Ballad of the White Horse" by G.K. Chesterton

"The memorial does not take a stand about the pros and cons of war any more than Arlington National Cemetery does about all of those sacrifices," Bennett says, before adding, "Proud and unbelievably fortunate to be an American."

D(#*$& F$(*#&$ RIGHT. People like this are why I love Vermont. Put something together to reflect how you believe and then express complete willingness to allow other people to view it in their own way without forcing your interpretation or belief on them. Proud to be an American and proud to be a Vermonter.

"which freedom the fallen have died to preserve...Let's not turn their deaths into cheap politics."

Sorry "Grateful", but not once in American history, with the possible exception of the Revolutionary War, have our soldiers fought for anyone's "freedom" except the freedom of the rich to make a killing (literally). Read Maj.Gen. Smedley Butler's reminiscence of his 33 years in the Marine Corps, "War is a Racket". At the time, he was the most decorated soldier in US history.

"I helped make Mexico, and especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenue in. I helped in the raping of half-a-dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers and Co. in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras 'right' for American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested."

"I believe in adequate defense at the coastline and nothing else. If a nation comes over here to fight, then we'll fight. The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6 percent over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag." - Gen. Butler

What you call "cheap politics" is the necessary critique of our government that Jefferson demanded of us as citizens. It's by exercising our freedoms that we defend and retain them, not by killing innocents in foreign lands.

Way to go Martin. It's great to see that a single man's actions and creations can still be felt. I just ordered your book.

I am not so proud to be a human generally these days.I find fault primarily with the Abrahamic belief systems for their exclusive interests. Christians, Jews, and Muslims will be warring for the foreseeable future; all splinters of the same exclusive belief system, excluding each other whether in their supposed after-life or in this life. Still, how humans come to such belief systems must be a more fundamental concern.

To see archaic systems as these driving world politics still is a cause for pause, o-hi-oh. o-ee-o. o-ee-el, oh oi el. Natural resources are totally relevant to the current situation, but the religious awareness is a dead ringer.

- Tim

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