December 2008


We bring the day’s dead children home at night,
stealthily carried in their flag-draped coffins,
carefully hidden from the public’s eyes.
It seems that those who sent them out to fight
are ashamed of them for having died in war.

But we have all been shamed.  The zealots who
sent other people’s children out to war,
but dared not go themselves when it was time,
have carefully destroyed our consciousness.
Our nation’s heart is full of open sores.

And for the truly wounded who return,
no more visible than the coffined dead,
no hospital or medicine can cure
their broken souls, or mend the shattered hopes
they carried when we sent them off to fight.

The shame should not be theirs, but on us all.
Shame that we let ourselves be falsely led,
shame that we did not even think to think,
shame that we listened to the empty cries
of those false prophets, liars, hypocrites.

The people swallowed their fantasies whole.
Now our children, our beloved sons and daughters,
our parents, brothers, sisters, and our friends,
doing their best to live another day,
cry out for mercy, and we do not hear.

© 2007 Dorothy Miller Gutenkauf

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In Spain, the new “Law of Historical Memory”
mandates the location and exhumation
of the mass graves holding half a million victims
of the Spanish Civil War’s political genocide.
The bodies of the dead, buried in trenches,
have lain there for at least seventy years.
Their families have searched for them in vain.
Thirty years ago, with the end of Fascist rule,
Spain decided to leave the past unknown,
to forget the war that tore Spain apart
and foreshadowed the larger war to come.
Now Spain acknowledges its bloody past.

In Russia, seventy years after the Great Terror,
the names of thousands of victims of the purges
are read aloud in Moscow in a public ceremony,
as descendants and survivors remember their dead.
More than twelve million Russians were slaughtered
to consolidate the power of the Soviet state.
Those not executed outright in prison corridors,
or tortured until they confessed to imaginary crimes,
were sent to concentration camps to die in secret.
Hidden archives, smuggled out of the camps,
and memories published by those who survived
have revealed the depths of degradation to the world.

A French priest is interviewing witnesses
to Nazi genocide in Ukrainian villages.
More than six decades ago, starving children
were forced to dig mass graves to hold
the bodies of unnumbered murdered Jews.
Europe’s Holocaust survivors tell their stories
and memorials have been dedicated to the dead
as memories are being shared with the living.
Guilt, buried with the bodies, returns to life
as nations start to overcome their shadowed past.
How many decades will our country need
to confront the truth of all that we have done?

Copyright 2008 Dorothy Miller Gutenkauf

One by one, the dogs of the neighborhood
alert us as the paperboy makes his rounds.
His journey down the sidewalk can be closely measured
by the chorus of the guardians’ distinctive sounds.

Fifi the poodle is a coloratura;
Max the Weimaraner has a thundering bass;
Oliver the setter croons a mellow baritone—
a credit, so he thinks, to the canine race.

Our own mutt, Suba, has a rich contralto
which she adds to the proceedings with savage glee.
What she lacks in diction she makes up in volume,
contributing her talents to the symphony.

Descended from the wolf or descended from the jackal,
the animals we harbor to defend our homes
warn us of invaders with fierce determination,
making sure we know where the paperboy roams.

The rhythm of the dogs weaves a complex counterpoint,
the theme and variations echo down the block.
It’s really very clever–you’d think they’d rehearsed it:
a fugue in the manner of J. S. Barch.

©1991 Dorothy Miller Gutenkauf