War Voyeurs

By Juan Felipe Herrera Juan Felipe Herrera

for Clara Fraser

I do not understand why men make war.

Is it because artillery is the most stoic example
of what flesh can become?
Is it because the military plan is the final map
drawn by the wisest hunter?
Is it because the neutron ray is the invincible finger
no one will disobey?

or

Is it because the flood of blood is the proper penance
workers must pay for failing tribute at the prescribed
hour?

I do not understand why men make war.

Is it because when death is multiple and expanding, there
among the odd assemblages, arbitrary and unnamed, there
among the shrivelled mountains, distorted and hollow, there
among the liquid farms and cities, cold and sallow, there
among the splintered bones of children, women, men and cattle
there and only there, the eerie head of power is being born?

Is it because submission is the only gesture to be rehearsed,
to be dressed, to be modeled, to be cast, to be chosen
in the one and only one drama to be staged in the theater of   
this world, where everyone must act with the backbone humbled
with the mascara of bondage, with the lipstick of slaves under
the light of gentle assassination with applause piercing the ground
forever?

or

Is it because war is the secret room of all things to be kept   
sealed and contained, to be conquered and renamed woman
enclosed by an empire of walls, vaults, hinges and locks with
the hot key that men and only men must possess for an eternal
evening to visit and contemplate, to snap open a favorite window
and gaze at the calibrated murder as lovers of beauty?

“War Voyeurs” from Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems by Juan Felipe Herrera. Copyright © 2008 Juan Felipe Herrera. Reprinted by permission of the University of Arizona Press. This material is protected from unauthorized downloading and distribution.

Source: Half of the World in Light (The University of Arizona Press, 2008)

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Poet Juan Felipe Herrera

POET’S REGION U.S., Western

Subjects War & Conflict, Gender & Sexuality, Social Commentaries

 Juan  Felipe Herrera

Biography

The son of migrant farm workers, Herrera was educated at UCLA and Stanford University, and received his MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His numerous poetry collections include 187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross the Border: Undocuments 1971-2007, Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems (2008), and Border-Crosser with a Lamborghini Dream (1999). In addition to publishing more than a dozen collections . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT War & Conflict, Gender & Sexuality, Social Commentaries

POET’S REGION U.S., Western

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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