John Woods

1926 - 1995

You Can't Eat Poetry

This poem will cost you.
It will not register Black voters in Georgia.
It will not wash oil from ducks.
This poem will starve the big-bellied babies
in Angola, if they send it.
It . . will . . not . . get . . off . . the . . page
to convince the President
that loaded guns are dangerous
and should be kept out of the hands
of infants and senile demagogues.
This poem will not feel around under your dress
down by the lake. It will not be generous
with its time, nor forgive. It can't be
warmed up at midnight after the skating
nor charm the miser out of his hole
nor proclaim amnesty. It's words,
God damn it, it's words.


Surely the day will come
when they will bring in the guns to the armory
and be given an acre and seeds
by the old sergeant with frank tears.
in Quincy they will burn them in the vacant lot,
where the feed store failed, Von remember,
and the bulldozers coming in the morning.
Children in arms, and the drunks let out
among the parishioners.
And out near the ore fills, where the freshets ran brown,
Billy Joe Smith, the harelip cousin,
will tamp down the sour dirt over his squirrel rifle.
What will grow there' A cordite daisy,
a squirrel arching his leg over it.
All the animals back, like cats,
to be shooed out of the privies.

Remember, then, in your canines, in your
trigger fingers, in the blood of your temples,
the belts of blue cartridges, Bofors pocking
the Stuka sky, John Wayne searching for something
in his chaps, sorry, it's gone. His grandchildren
will have to look it up in Webster's.
It starts with G, like God.

from Striking the Earth (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1976).

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