You Cannot Know - Poem by Robert Eckstein
Don't write me fatuous and silly verse
About the 'evil, evil, bad, bad war'
Until a loved one has come home to you;
Father, brother, lover, husband, son,
Missing his eyes, a limb, his manhood'
Or in a flag-draped metal box
They tell you not to look inside.
You just don't know. And you will never know.
Don't babble about how bad it is
Unless you have taken the fearsome Oath yourself
And put your life at risk
To help the helpless,
And later helped a buddy search the mud
For a blown-off hand
That you will never find.
You simply do not know.
Don't natter on until
You know the taste of blood,
The taste of someone else's flesh;
Until you've seen white feather plumes of Willy Pete,
And smoky orange napalm billowing,
Or seen 'Spooky' turn a hillside
Into a cloud of dust.
You simply cannot know.
Don't scribble sentimental trash
Unless you know Bergen-Belsen and Treblinka;
Unless you've had a tearful man
Give you thanks for helping set his people free,
Until a young girl says she now can go to school
Not fearing she will be raped and killed
Or sold to some barbarian,
Or had a saffron-robed old monk tell you
That now he can rebuild his shrine.
You cannot know. You simply cannot know.
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