"All that's necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing "
- Benjamin Franklin
Robert Jackson has written and published two books of poetry, GIFTS and POEMS OF THE MOTHERLAND. A second edition of GIFTS was a compilation of the two previous books. The themes addressed within these poems concern history, culture, family, nature and basic human emotions. Environmental issues are addressed with great concern without involving the almost "psycho" politically correct belief in a major human contribution to negative climate change. Nonetheless, care and concern for the natural world and a healthy environment is one of his themes.
NOTES: Some poems have notes beside them and some have notes at the bottom of the page.
NOTES: Some poems have notes beside them and some have notes at the bottom of the page.
How do I tell you that we have lied?
There is no one who cares to act
like you were taught,
How do we explain that there is no script?
The play just stumbles on,
Who'll stride in to save the day?
And who's going to say that
to children on the verge
of their time upon the stage?
That all the rules we taught
of how to work, and help
and count some how
just don't apply,
That when you take your turn
and until you take your final bow
there is no goal
except the roaring applause of success
no theme save greed
no plot to speak of
and no direction
except from your own selfish soul.
Tuh All Thuh Boys
Tuh all thuh boys at Shiloh
tuh fergit ud be a shame
Though tears is worshed thuh blud away
hits blud jist thuh same,
For all thuh boys at Guadalcanal
I feel just thuh same
Though years uv dried the tears away
they wunce come down like rain,
And all the ones that went to Nam
can't forgit um too
Nobody gave damn
but they died for me and you,
Now, we don't put much store in fightin'
and some causes are wrong
But some things are just worth dyin' for
and you can never remember too long.
An American Epitaph
When thy dear soul from earth has flown
Your corpse 'neath the churchyard soil
Besides some words upon a stone
What stories will they tell?
Of hearth and home and muddy fields
And touchdowns in the rain
And dribbling, forcing men to yield
While driving the hardwood lane
Or will they speak of a scholar's goals
Some met, perhaps some not
And labor pushed that took its toll
And times you missed your shot
But through it all, and after all
You kept your loved ones free
While you watched the darkness fall
". . . stood for Christ and Liberty."
I never knew the man of course
and the writers don't agree
They never do.
But if only half of what they say is true
Well, I guess he was quite a man
From the East a light burned so pure
They couldn't let the beauty last
They never do
For they preferred the dark or raging fires
to one brave candle glowing
They always do.
Waving fringed and ragged like tattered laundry forgotten
banners of a world forgotten
from tough, unbreakable poles
perennial stalks bending upward a mere dozen feet
Broad green field flapping in oceanic breezes
like an ensign slapping a metal pole
Royal, rich, golden-green of the rain forest drooping sadly
Wind-split and rattling in the gusts
like the cluttered native city
everyday old banana leaf:
wrapping meat and fish for the fire
umbrella for the golden fruit
or fanning flies
Waving for the land and people
flag and wrapper, cover and fan
With the fringe of their gloried history
The ragged beauty of their storied land
that needs no flag of dead plant fiber,
security blanket for childish despots,
God gave this living one to them.
This is simply about the signature plant of the tropics & the people of my beloved Philippines and other tropic lands. It's about their culture and their struggles, especially for freedom, the freedom that we Americans are in the process of giving away in our own land.
From here above, the surf defines
below the line is water's edge and sand
sometimes a wall
Above we cross the zone others waded
when by banca and vinta borne
or men down from steel-gray ships
to the blood-dyed surf
in the hellish dawn
We make our crossing now
as others have
from Buddah to God or Allah
potatoes to rice
pine to palm
See there the wall
behind which the men crouched wet
over which dragging their courage they crawled
The sea upon which cultures float
meets the land a goal
at this sprawling barrier shore
when rough with men and stones and storms
or calm with breezes, soft sand
and arms embracing warm.
Sangre de Cristo
He wasn't the first to die or go willingly to death
and many have since
Saint Joan, John Brown, Rizal on the grass at Luneta
nor the only to suffer, linger, agonized to death
the Holocaust to that can attest
and it but a mere whisper in the total history of death
The screams of man's victims are still echoing through time
But perhaps he was the first to go
knowing so the tortures ahead
and with a plan
perhaps the first to know all along what lay ahead
and with such purpose
tortured for the torturer's sake
murdered for all the murderers of all time
Could anyone else have?
And for that, do any comparisons really matter?
The reference here is to the night
mentioned in the title of the poem
in which Germans who were in general
agreement with the Nazis in power
proceeded (with clandestine Nazi
encouragement) to vandalize homes and
businesses of German Jews.
The event was characterized in
particular by broken window glass on
the cobblestone streets, one of the dominate
memories of those who were there. From
this came the name the Crystal Night.
One can only hope that history will not
repeat itself here in our fair land; however,
there are those in the secular left camp
of the liberal movement who have already
questioned the waste of buildings being
used as churches.
One of the greatest horrors to come out
of the German Nazi experience is not the
abuses of minorities (as bad as that is)
but the herd mentality; the mass politically
correct group-think; the majority uncritically
following the propaganda of the popular,
the in vogue views of the day.
[Complete notes on Kristallnacht, Nov. 9-10, 1938
(Crystal Night) CLICK HERE ]
Kristallnacht, Nov. 9-10, 1938
Why sometimes does evil
express itself like this
in beautiful names and sounds and songs
or the treachery of a kiss?
So little children's voices once
heralded a Reich, an age,
dressed in symphonies and glory
its soul steeped in rage.
The tinkling glass upon the stones
announced the long, dark night
through which the Jew was herded, shuffling
from which he crawled into the light.
Through all the mud, dust and snow
of frozen camps and hearts
he's come, crying, can still cry at least
and walks erect, apart.
And only a remnant Nazi
from place to hiding place creeps
pursued around the world
as the former slave now sleeps
sleeps free, alive tonight
and every night and day
a living marker for the ones
who died and have no graves.
Their ashes were scattered
across the forgotten Reich.
For them and him and hope and struggle
all nights are crystal nights.
by Robert Jackson
copyright © 1991
The best gift a parent can give is a hug, and after that the parenting that so many never receive. Specific references here are to historical phenomenon such as the killing fields of Cambodia and the early World War II grave fields before the ovens were adopted.
The latter are described in Herman Wouk's iconic novel's: WINDS OF WAR and WAR & REMEMBRANCE. We actually have a female friend who has been on a recent trip to Cambodia searching for relatives who are alive or records of the deaths of others.
This poem, published here for the first time (though written years ago) is dedicated to Somaly Mam, her foundation, and the other charitable organizations both Christian and otherwise that work for children.
A Parent's Embrace
(. . . and unsaid thoughts)
When I hold you
I hold them all
because I cannot hold each one
I hold you close because of love
but also because of love undone
for those so young
who faced their trials
and even death so all alone
embracing you with the love
their tiny hearts have never known
for the children found
among the dead
multiplied on the frozen ground
and tiny bones
in a jungle ditch
a field of skulls scattered all around
and those whose soft hair none caressed
whose tears no one kissed away
those who died
too hard, too young
and those who will today
those sweet children
no one loved
and no one ever cared to hold
when their short years
that life was hard and love was cold
no one ever shared
longing at night to be held somehow
in a world gone wrong
in the pitch of night
for all of them
I hold you now.
Steaming, breezy, sweet Visayas
Mountains rising bare and dry
From wood and nipa slums
palms so freely brush the sky,
Leather brown- armed fishermen
carry cyanide in plastic bags
as history rides in two-wheeled carts
drawn by spirit-broken nags,
And Beauty walks on small, brown feet
bearing high, exotic cheeks
looking through herself to find
the beauty that she seeks,
Once she bared her small, brown breasts
laced in ashy-black tattoos
by the Spaniard craved, yet covered
freely left by the bold datus,
Beauty raised those tawny glands
Culture drew the tawdry lines
And on these shores the two
wrestle in the sands of time.
Islas de los Pintados
[The Islands of the Painted People, Spanish name given the Visayas]
Although the poem at right is about the clash of cultures in the Visayas of the central Philippine Archipelago, as with many poems, it can have other meaning. It can even relate to our own present troubles as the clash is between man and the cultural mores placed upon him or her, as well as his or her reaction to them. We of course are in a struggle between libertarian freedom and a controlling government.
But the poem is also about the negatives of modernity, the downside of development. Thus we struggle a bit with, or more than a bit, with Nature and our use of it. The mountains on the island of Cebu were harvested so much for timber that by the mid 1970s the watertable could not be replenished due to runoff. The table lacked fresh water and began soaking up the sea. More and more businesses in Cebu City began getting salt water from their faucets and had to haul fresh water. For a time, there was fear Cebu would become a "dead island," unable to sustain life.
"This poem was written in the Vietnam War days as an anti war poem but . . .
not an anti-American or anti-patriotism poem. . . .
After all, the brave heroes of Vietnam had their anti war views themselves. It was also an attempt at historical musing in general. It was partly inspired by the same true scene in an article that inspired Medivac Vietnam. The first stanza does not refer to the evolution of man but of his culture, as does the poem. A central theme is the cultural and technical evolution of warfare as the struggle stays pretty much the same for the warrior."
"The painting is being reworked as certain parts never satisfied me; I love the overall look. and can't wait to get it done, again."
Bent apelike and wandering
he stalks the fields of grass
stone in hand clinched in sweat
Laced in leather and bronze
over the stony hills of Crete
the plains of France
Riding god-like on the backs of beasts
glinting in the sun
British steel in hand
Living beside death
artfully swinging sword and mace
like the scythe of death itself
Riding across Arab deserts
tan and roaring in clouds of dust
Wading Asian swamps
engulfed in mud
green and lugging his life and death
Streaking white and silent high
bringing new powers to old barrios
Living, more or less artfully?
among the patriotic gore of war
giving up his soul from
the splintered bone and stone and steel
upon the red-soaked forest floor.
"The enduring mental image during the inspiration of this poem was that of dead soldiers on a dark forest floor. . . don't know why other than the Southeast Asian jungles. They had been used in an earlier verse, and the snow works better for the culminating scene of angels defending brave warriors in the Ardennes Forest from demons who want to drag them down to Hell. The angel in the center in the snow was inspired by Roberta Flack's beautiful song "Angelitos Negros" in which she implores painters to paint more black angels. So I did. Roberta Flack's "Ballad of the Sad Young Men" is mentioned in: Graduation at Mr. Jefferson's University, Circa 1970
I'd like to pour a cauldron full
upon this page for you
For I know something of life then
and can feel they're yearnings too.
But it was not my place in time
perhaps my cup is too small
Then to know the flavor of war
you needn't taste it all.
Instead take just enough
sipping slowly to be sure
like those (who being there)
gulped it scalding hot and pure.
Those who were there of course
have served it up to me
long and lonely hours
on cold and stormy seas
cool or luke warm beer
in steamy island shacks
bitter, lonely, vigil prayers
so that lovers might comeback.
or a hard and frigid foxhole
in a still, white Belgian wood
awaiting German panzers
right where grenadiers once stood.
[ Notes for History Soup, CLICK HERE ]
How it Was Meant to BeMrs. Naadáá Natty Jones
The Double H Ranch, on the Brazos, December, 1900
As I look around and see the junk
pollutants of all types
of body, heart and soul
As I watch and the Earth turns
I fear for life and safety
grope for security
Then I close my eyes and see upon a plain
by a stream
far back in the mists of ages
but up close
each minute detail focused in the mind
crowded around a cozy cottage of leather over bent wood
against the wind
Fire at the door flap
robes place for the frigid night of the steppes
Cooking, cleaning, preparing
living as now
A man stacks dried manure for the fire
A woman of stringy-haired beauty stirs a pot of clay
They boy makes arrows
chips stone as his father taught
A small girl walks past
frozen for an instant against the fire
And there another tent or two
Over there an elderly couple
from whom the whole clan sprang
The life that was meant to be
in the beginning
Then off in the haze of the horizon
across the chilling steppes
that grows with he sounds of hooves
and the clank of metal in leather straps
And I wonder
how it was ever meant to be.
The editorial cartoon above was published with this poem and an accompanying essay. The poem however, had been previously published on the is website and in Robert Jackson's two poetry books.
Literary use by the poet/novelist:
The poem is attributed to Mrs. Naadáá Natty Jones in the novel
THE MOUNTAINS, THE RIVERS, AND THE PLAINS (a novel with a
modern setting) and said to be written by her at the Double H Ranch,
on the Brazos River in December of 1900.
God I love the stars at night
Peter Pan sky with diamonds
a marbled blue above Cebu
God shinning through the moon
back-lighting the clouds
And I love brown
warm brown rising with breath
tapping beneath brown breasts
and the smell of garlic and soy
not from the chicken
Her perfume is soy
Or it could be coffee over a fire
or eyes full of parents' pride
The sky spreads blue-black
and bitter sweet
like the soy, the tobacco, the coffee
or sweet brown love
And how I love the marbled night
with stars so faint
and yet so bright.
The poem below concerns itself with stewardship of the earth and its wild places and
does not refer to such unfounded theories as global climate change caused by man.
This Child, Earth
The Earth is a child they cannot see
They look at the soil and see the ages
They look at the ages and see strength
the stability of time
They watch the turmoil that is man
but the Earth is always there
the rocks and caves
But the Earth is a child
And even out of the confusion that is man
they see direction
to go with the slow turn of the Earth
But the Earth is a child
The Earth is an old woman
and in the dusty, mud-cracked skin
they see the ages
It's always been there
the fields and forests
its bloodstream rivers
No matter what transpired with man
through the ages
the soil and rocks, woods and streams
have been there and seen
Look at your feet
It seems so normal
since you were a child Mother Earth was there
with lap to bounce and play on
But the Earth is a child
to hold in cupped hands
to groom the long tresses of grain and grass
a child to feed and clean
and with love possess
with sensitive blood flowing
through valleys and plains
playing with the creatures in its midst
like any child
They look at the patch of dust and grass at their feet
that they played marbles and soldiers in
and see the ages
and perhaps they're nostalgically sad
But the Earth is a child they cannot see
by uncaring guardians
And they are sad for the wrong reasons.
Influence here from many including Walt Whitman and perhaps a bit of Wallace Stevens. The reference is to legal immigration though of course down through our history many a stowaway found there way here before modern jet travel made it very difficult. Shipboard illegals still arrive today. I am a supporter of legal immigration; however, in more recent times we have done a poor job of integrating newcomers into our national, constitutional philosophy. As we try to stop the illegal entry (and we should) you might stop and wonder if any of your own ancestors just might have been a stowaway on a clipper or galleon, or even a fishing boat. Ages back, just after the time of discovery, European fishing fleets would fish off the Grand Banks. Twas kinda funny, the great explorers struggled across the Atlantic while these ordinary fishermen routinely sailed across and back without landing in America. They dropped their nets in the sea a hop skip and a jump from New England shores, how easy to just sail over and ...
On Looking at the Blueridge
Many of us have moved to or been assigned in one beloved place or another, some more beloved than others. Both places in the poem below are beloved and have good memories, but there is always the homesickness for the old place when recently arrived in the new port o' call. Having lived in each long enough, I always missed the one I was not currently in . . . here the Blue Ridge of Virginia and the volcanic-formed mountains of Cebu in the Philippines
Inspired by years of historical study, the real life experience of often looking out the plane window at the lacy surf followed by the band of sand and occasional seawall is the other spark for this poem. So much comes together, clashes together, at the shore. Depending upon the historical circumstances its a clash of loving embrace or the resistance of a fortress door. What stands out visually at 15,000 feet or so, descending, is the white lacy surf.
Heart of Darkness
This is my strongest poem as far as imagery and language. Inspired by the horrible evil of the sex slave trade which victimizes women as well as children of both sexes. Is is also sort of a companion poem to a somewhat better poem, A Parent's Embrace [click for Poetry page & scroll down]. Heart of Darkness is about both the horrible crime of sex trafficking and child sex abuse and the source of this evil, the overall brutality that, given the chance, mankind can reach. The title is from Joseph Conrad's short novel of the same name, as is the phrase, "the horror," in the 8th. verse. The Viking reference is to a Viking chief's traditional funeral which was a sex orgy that basically victimized one particular slave girl who was then sacrificed by being burned on the burial ship with the dead warrior. There is the reference also to Aztec sacrificial ceremonies, which are graphically portrayed in Mel Gibson's movie, Apocalypto (with Mayans rather than Aztec, the inferrence being that the Mayas adopted the practice too in later years). We romanticize many cultural and ethnic groups while not mentioning often enough their negative characteristics. I laughed at the indignant comments of those who were attacking this particular movie for negative portrayal of the some ancient American cultures. For me, I can only ask: what's the difference between the mass sacrifices of the Aztecs and the Nazi Holocaust? The same question can be applied to many ancient sacrificial cultures. So, the Aztecs created many intellectual and scientific things. So did the Germans between '36 and '44. In fact, until the rise of technocratic Japan (another historically brutal culture) Germany had been the modern world's benchmark for technology. If I can accept the negatives of the Vikings and other Caucasian barbarians, Native Americans can admit the evil of the Aztec religion. Most ancient societies (irregardless of race) included brutal practices, as they lived in brutal times. The interesting and in many ways accomplished Vikings are such a group from the white race. Despite their positives they were very brutal before they became Christians. Pirates are another example, with the exception that they don't really have any positives except in romance novels and adventure movies. Of course historically there were a few somewhat good apples in that barrel, such as Jean Lafitte. The scene of scavenging World War II graves for valuables is from Herman Wouk's iconic Winds of War and War & Remeberance in which one of the characters, a Jewish slave laborer is forced by the Nazis to search old mass graves (from before the ovens of Auschwitz, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, and elsewhere) to recover valuables for the Nazis. You need to read those two books and see the 36 hour double miniseries produced from them. Whenever possible, support the Somaly Mam Foundation.
All My Dreams
Mrs. Naadáá ‘Natty’ Jones *
Austin, Texas, May 1876
(to her former cavalry officer husband)
All my dreams are just of you, all across the days and miles
I never thought I could look at you and ever cast a smile
Whence came you to my land ?
In the night when brave men sleep, only then to rise and die
In the glow of the Comanche moon, women lay and cry
Whence came this terror nigh ?
Families weep for broken homes all along these border lines
Native against native and yours against us all
In darkness lonely mothers cry
Whence came you . . . and why ?
In my red desert, on their high plains,
and all across this frontier sky
Even in your hogans large, peace is just a fleeting sigh
None is forever safe out here
Least of all you and I
A hundred thousand men heading West
with traditions and sisters
mothers and grandmothers
dream-laden and in groups
grandfathers with bushy mustaches
and heavy curved pipes
women wrapped in cloth so that
only eyes and cheeks show
with babes and toddlers
and strapping young boys
and blossoming young girls
supple youth hidden also under cloth
whites off galleons, those that made it
blacks off slavers, those who survived it
small brown people counter flowing East
those willing, those not
And down from steamers after cold
wet nights on hard iron decks
Jews, Poles, Irishmen
to endure those names
to work up to respect someday
and flowing down gangways from
throbbing, buzzing silver birds
children of the Holocaust
children of all ages
all of them old
slim youths with almond eyes once again
from their rag tag fleet bobbing in the China Sea
after their hell and ours
to silver birds that roar across the sky
and then those tortured little islands
and lands South
just off our shore
from in fact a tortured world . . .
Heart of Darkness*
Out of the heart of darkness
into the morning light
wretched souls crawl shamelessly
tired from their sordid night
Unable to stand the beauty
unable to stand up straight
they return to their glittery caverns
to teach for love such hate
How can man so gentle
create smooth marble surrounding
or chorus chants of glory
or symphonies resounding
and tender words from poets lips
solemn notes from quill pen tips
this feeding on little children
the hope of all mankind
such tender young fodder
for wretched feeble minds
But, hell! they did kill Christ
and have butchered their way through time
across all Eurasia
into Africa's sweltering clime
On stone Aztec altars
raised pulsating hearts up high
over doorways, Viking slave girls
who on funeral pyres would die
And I can see their twisted tradition
wading ditches of Jews
scavenging the bones for jewels
while we ignored the news
Raping and murdering Cambodia
unconcerned they were and bold
"mankind" so gentle sounding
devouring itself for gold
and nauseating pleasures
darkness of the soul
Their gods are the almighty dollar
pesos, lust, and power bold
and while we sleep so sweet tonight
in dark rooms young flesh is sold.
Down on the Brazos
Mrs. Naadáá ‘Natty’ Jones*
Austin, Texas, December 1877
(the speaker in this poem is Jóhonaá 'Sunny' Jefferson, after
she and her husband Aaron find themselves finally safe in Texas.)
Down on the banks of the Brazos
Wading in the shallows alone
Remembering the trials of the traveler
And the pain that has brought us both home
Walking on the shore of the Brazos
Waiting in the canebrake alone
Remembering the sorrow and troubles
And all the reasons we roamed
Wrapped in the arms of the Brazos
And the arms of the friends we have known
We asked for His care by this river
And found we were never alone.
Holding your hand by the Brazos
Soaked in the flood of your charms
Wrapped in your love by these waters
And safely in God’s loving arms.