Robert Cooperman

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The 50,000

At one peace march, organizers handed out
black arm bands with white lettering: “50,000.” 
Immediately, a reporter blocked my path,
his microphone a drawn sword,

“What does that number stand for?”

This was years before Fox News decided
“Fair and Balanced” meant telling lies
to save their democracy.  But even in 1971,
a chunk of the media sold the mendacities
that the War defended our sacred way of life.

“The number of GI’s killed in combat,” I spat.
He stabbed at me again with his microphone:

“Why are you not helping the War effort?”
And maybe because I’d tried, and failed,
for Conscientious Objector status
and had to settle for being crazy; or maybe
because, like Phil Ochs, I feared
the war might never end, I shot back,

“Why aren’t you in Vietnam?”
too polite to add,
“You bag-of-fascist-wind-prick,”

peace marches more and more
like two enemies preparing for war.

Demolition Expert, II

I met him on line to collect
unemployment benefits;
he was just back from Vietnam,  Artwork by Gene McCormick
and wore his “flag” in a bandana. 
After we soul-brother shook,
he confided,

“I need a good six months rest
after the combat zone.”

“You know,” I warned him,
“ they’ll make you go out
on job interviews.”

“Bro,” he snickered,
“I was an explosives expert
in-country.  How many jobs
you think there are for guys
like me in New York?
I’ll sleep and smoke righteous weed
with these government checks,
which I figure is fair, after
what I went through to be standing
here, on my only two legs.”

When I told him I’d gotten out
with a shrink’s bogus letter,
we slapped skin.

“I don’t regret Indian Territory,”
he whispered, “but if you can get out
of going—just like with jury duty,
only more intense—do it, Bro.”

True words of wisdom.


Robert Cooperman drove a cab in New York in the 1970s. His latest collections are Little Timothy in Heaven (March Street Press) and The Lily of the West (Wind Publications).