David Krieger’s Haunting Poetry: A Wake-Up Call

David Krieger's WAKE UP!(Image: Nuclear Age Peace Foundation)Astonishingly, WAKE UP!, David Krieger’s most recent book of poetry, is fully alive to the beauty and promise of our precious world – despite the quotidian violence of those who continuously incite us to war.

As the co-founder and long-time president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, David Krieger has been preaching peace to deafened warmongers for so long one would think he’d have grown faint with exhaustion by now. Or raised his voice. Or pounded his fist. Or hardened his heart. What is astonishing to me in WAKE UP!, his most recent book of poetry, is how deeply Krieger remains alive to the beauty and promise of our precious world – despite the quotidian violence of those who continuously incite us to war.

For example, in his “The Mystery of Fog” he calls us to remember that:

Our minds hold a place for what is missing,
no matter how thick or dark the fog,

Behind the veil, I am certain of this:
there never was, nor will be, a country, a flag,
worth a single human life.

Nevertheless, perpetual warfare is deadening – to the soul as well as the body, as well as the earth. As Krieger writes in “Archeology of War”:

The years of war numb us, grind us
down as they pile up one upon the other
forming a burial mound not only
for the fallen soldiers and innocents
who were killed, but for the parts of us,
once decent and bright with hope,
now deflated by the steady fall of death
and sting of empty promises.

Many of this book’s haunting poems remind us of the senseless tragedy and sorrow of war. “Among the Ashes,” for example reads:

Among the ashes
of Hiroshima
were crisply charred bodies.

In one of the charred bodies
a daughter recognized
the gold tooth of her mother.

As the girl reached out
to touch the burnt body
her mother crumbled to ashes.

Her mother, so vivid
in the girl’s memory, sifted
through her hands, floated away.

Despite the lyrical beauty of many of Krieger’s poems, he doesn’t mince words when holding the guilty accountable. He devotes an entire section of the book to the crimes of George W. Bush. But Bush and Dick Cheney aren’t the only ones whose crimes are catalogued. In “The Torturers,” he writes:

The torturers will gather in Hades.

There will be no pleasantries.

They will be stripped of all honors.

They will be awakened
to the baseness of their crimes.

They will be purged of all justifications.

Their smiles will be banished.

They will see their true faces.

They will be surrounded by the screams
of their victims.

They will understand who they are.

Nor does Krieger let us pretend we are not complicit in the crimes of our leaders. In “Rules of Engagement,” he writes:

“Golden like a shower.” – U.S. Marine

Three Afghan men lay dead on their backs in the dirt.
Above them, four U.S. Marines in battle gear celebrate
by urinating on them. These young Marines
with their golden showers are holding up a mirror
to America. It reminds us: this is who we are.

When we teach our children to kill we turn them
into something we don’t understand: ourselves.
Their lack of humanity is not different from ours.
We have not taught these young men to value life,
but they are teaching us how little we do.

Why should they hold back when we have
taught them and sent them to kill other men –
men whose names they will never know?
If we are shocked by their disrespect for the dead,
we should consider our own for the living.

People say that we save what we love. Surely, we love our planet and our children. But apparently we love our complacency more. That’s why I’m grateful that people like Krieger continue to shake us, crying “WAKE UP!”