Gary Erb • Boulder,
About the Writer
Gary Erb served in the air force from 1972 to 1976 and has been a peace activist
since 1979. In 1998, the Colorado Council on the Arts honored him with a grant.
Gary has self-published 22 collections of poetry; the following poems are taken
from his latest, entitled Confessions.
"To confess is to reveal that you are what no one is supposed to be or that you did what no one is supposed to do. People confess when their silence hurts them more than censure can. These poems are based on the words of survivors of wars past and present."
"This was Falluja before the offensive," says the young physician. "Only one bomb in 10 hits the target. The rest hit where people are living.
"I'd heard of people shot while waving white flags. This old lady was one of them. See her hand?
"This boy was another."
"Two year old male with leukemia. In 1991, 300 Americans died in the war. A third of the vets have died since. Why? Depleted uranium."
"The boy on the left has lost an eye. They're covered with puncture wounds from a cluster bomb. They weren't too near it. Cluster bombs are what they use instead of napalm. But 20% don't explode when they hit. They become land mines."
"This little boy lost his family. That pile of rubble was their house. He hates Americans, and so will his children. 90% of the victims of war are people just trying to live their lives, most of them children."
"American soldiers raiding a home. The kneeling women have their hands tied behind their backs with plastic straps. The troops burst in through the door in the middle of the night, tie everyone up, ransack the house and leave with the men. They do this to protect themselves. And the longer they stay, the more fuel is poured on the fire."
"You see this graffiti in English everywhere. Something else the in-bed-with media doesn't show you."
"That's it. I'm for bringing back the draft. Yeah, the rich will get out of it, but this time they won't exempt women and college students. It'll give most Americans a stake."
The neurosurgeon back from Germany comments after she sits down beside him. "They're already seeing vets from this war in the homeless shelters. One third will have PTSD to some degree when they come back. Then there's the concussion weapons that cause brain trauma that they don't acknowledge. Ten mutilated for every man killed.
"But when I got back, the news was full of Janet Jackson's breast. Bring back the draft. Wake them up!"
The marine returned from Baghdad responds to the man at the door. "Since America was founded, freedom has been on the march in the world.
"Get off my porch!"
Says the young stud to the pretty barista, "I don't believe in that noble savage shit. What we did to the Indians they would have done to us if they had invented the wheel first." He pauses.
Then he says, "That's how man is," smiling as if he was announcing his promotion.
A Mendicant's Confession
I was the crew chief on a helicopter.
Means I was responsible for its maintenance and flew on it as a door gunner.
After we dropped the grunts at the LZ, we'd land somewhere to stand down until we picked them up.
A mob of little kids would run up when we landed. Sell us things—prostitute their sisters. But a kid can pitch in a grenade. We'd fire a burst over their heads to disperse them.
But this one time, I fired and they dispersed—and there's this little baby on the ground crying.
So we four are walking over to it and I hold up. I think, "Wait a minute. Something's not right." I'm about to get it out of my mouth. And the baby blew up!
And I'm on my back covered with blood and body parts. And I didn't remember it.
Years later I went crazy and had to leave the house when my son cried. No idea why. My son was three when I left them. First child, second wife, umpteenth lover. I married and divorced my old girlfriend, then loved them and left them for years because she wasn't the right one who'd make me OK again. Then I married the girl I got pregnant.
My father fought World War II in the infantry. First thing he did when he came home was fill a 16 oz tumbler with gin and top it off with Sprite. He downed 2 of those in 30 minutes. He never knew me. His father fought World War 1 in the trenches.
We used to take Viet Cong suspects up in the air blindfolded and hog-tied. Know what hog-tied is?
We'd fly around a little, then come to a hover three feet off the ground and start kicking them out. You can break a man's neck that way.
One time we were at one thousand five hundred feet and the intelligence officer starts kicking them out. After three, I drew my pistol on him.
There's no honorable service in war. That's how war is. Honor goes out the window. If you serve in war, you're involved in things that are dishonorable. Question of how direct your involvement is.
But if you never talk about it—never again have an intimate relationship—you're a real man. "You have been baptized in fire, and you have come out steel."
Talk about it and, "It's past! Forget it! Shut up!" So you drink, shoot and shut up.
And when a guy flips you off, you punch him out without a thought. You don't decide. It comes up and you act. You hit. You run from crying babies. It rules you.
That's why you have to talk and talk and talk about it.
That's why you need a disciplined spiritual practice. If you bring it out, face it, know it, and you know what it's doing when it's doing it. And you decide! You get back your life, but you never get over it.
I asked a nun at the temple what I could do. She said, "If you burnt a bridge, build a bridge. If you burnt a house, build a house."
I said, "What I did was kill people. Hundreds of people." She had no answer.
When I was ordained, I vowed not to possess money, take gainful employment, accumulate possessions or settle anyplace.
I'm a bald guy in a dress who lives homeless, eats when given food, rests when given shelter and wanders on foot.
I give the gift of giving to those who give. And 4 out of 5 times, the gift of loving kindness to those who curse me. They act out the pain that's inside them as I did.
When I saw the twin towers fall, I knew there would be war and more war. And more terrorism.
I gave a talk once, and a man asked, "What do you do if you're aggressed upon?"
I asked him, "Have you been aggressed upon?"
"What did you do?"
"I found a way to walk away from it."
"Did it work?"
"Yes, but it was unsatisfactory."
"That's why I knew this war was coming. 'No war' would have been unsatisfactory."
But I break the cycle of violence with each person who aggresses on me. This is what I can do. I leave the rest to the order of the universe.
A Breath of Spring
For Rachel Corrie
A night of Santa Ana winds
And the hills have forgotten snow
As the sky has forgotten gloom.
The young girls do not seem to note
The blossoming crabs, tulips in beds,
The tiny flowers filling the lawns,
But they pull their sweaters off their shoulders.
The poet, seeing the hills
Remembers how he wanted his words
To be thawing winds of new life.
A hemisphere away from him
A teenager drives to his destiny,
Salvaged explosive in the trunk
With a howitzer shell for a detonator.
The driver cannot imagine newness,
Other than death.
The poet studies the prairie flowers
In grass that will be mowed,
And composes his lay to a pretty, blond lass
Crushed, then backed over again by a bulldozer.
The minutes she stared down her killer
Let a family escape from the house.
Their 5 children are growing up with hope.
Begins the poem:
Reality is what goes on existing
Although you have stopped believing...