From a Safe Distance
Kathryn Stripling Byer

“War is hell,” Sherman said,
torching his way from Atlanta 
to the port of Savannah,
with God knows how many
small towns left burning between.
But tonight who’d believe him?
This new war’s a video game.
Push a button.  
Just look, we are winning,
the missiles on target,
 the clean zap of
bombs hitting bulls-eye! 
A child’s game
for overgrown children. 
A genius,  that Sherman,
he knew, once a war has been turned loose, 
it goes where it bloody well pleases.

Growing up, I found war
in the pages of Civil War volumes  
my father collected.  Photos of Stonewall
and Lee, the lost faces of 15 year olds
and the corpses at Shiloh seemed more real 
than counterparts snapped during D-Day
or, later, the peasants  
littering a road outside My Lai.  
Back then war was a book 
I could open or close when I wanted
and draw from a safe distance
its inevitable conclusions. 

No photos tonight of the slain
on my television screen,
no houses scattered like book pages
ripped from their spines,
but soon we’ll see leakage of bodies
blown into a digitized rubble by pilots
who speak with an accent I understand,
down-home and commonsense.
Do what you have to do.  
Lock on those suckers
and bring them down.  Sherman
would be pleased, the streets burning,
nothing much left of another small town. 

Originally appeared in Pembroke Magazine

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