This is a long poem and I couldn't find it on-line, so that meant typing it in, and I may not type the whole thing, but I will begin, since it brings up so much of the childhood of those of us who were raised in the 50's and matured in the 60's. When I lived in Florida, there was a sign, "You are only 90 miles from Communism." The threat seems silly in retrospect but we were raised to fear. This poem shows how ludicrous it all was, and maybe provides some sanity, or perhaps after the last posting, I should say insanity, with which to view the day.
Even the title of this poem is long. : )
The poem is by DAVID CLEWELL.
How the Visiting Poet Ended Up in the
Abandoned Nike Missile Silo in Pacific,
Missouri, After Surviving a Morning of
Grade-School Classroom Appearances on
Behalf of One of the Better Impulses in the
History of Human Behavior
Because it was lunchtime, and I wasn't hungry. Because I asked
the man with the keys. And because most people had stopped
years ago, he gladly walked me down the road, through acres of
under the no-longer-electrifying fence to an overgrown mound of
where a pair of doors, ridiculously thick, angled into the ground.
He sprang the padlocks, and then with his crowbar we pried and
until those doors finally gave. He showed me down a long
by flashlight, until we hit bottom, standing suddenly in the middle of
another one of those it-seemed-like-a-pretty-good-idea-at-the-t
cockeyed Cold War motifs: a cavernous bunker out of nowhere,
one of four whose aim was protecting St. Louis in the tenuous
50's and 60's.
Most U.S. cities of consequence were ringed by these underground
where Nike Hercules missiles with nuclear warheads could be
then guided to vaporize enemy bombers - a desperate last line of
to prevent the Russians from dropping their blood-Red nuclear
And never mind the ensuing blast, the politics and bombast,
the unavoidable fallout. Maybe, just maybe, what might be a
would be visited on the boondocks alone, while the cities
theoretically were saved for a more consequential future.
And I was thinking surely this was some overblown, cartoonish
opposite of the do-it-yourself backyard shelter
that Benny the Ball's father never did quite finish building in 1962.
The Ball and I would take refuge there anyway, smoking Kool
after pilfered Kool - no end of the fourth grade, not to mention
the world, that we could see. We were veterans of the weekly air-
drills at Hamilton School, where every kid was issued actual dog
so we could be identified in case of the unthinkable, according to
the lovely Miss Jago, our first real bombshell teacher. In case
to worse. Since she'd put it that way, Miss Jago was almost all
we ever thought about. Back upstairs, bent over our desks
in the middle of New Jersey, halfway between Philadelphia and
we couldn't help ourselves: yes, we were small, but we kept busy
doing the bigger arithmetic - what we most needed was more
time, and then
one day our indefinite lives would finally add up to something.
The poem goes on, questioning how anyone thought these missiles could work as "salvation", and how cities were allotted "protection." St. Louis had four, Chicago had eleven, and Kansas City had five. The base was officially dismantled in 1967.
Seeing the home of the missile also changes the poet's afternoon lesson plan on poetry and metaphor. He realizes these kids also face tough news: "suicide bombings, anthrax, sleeper cells ..."
The poem ends with these lines.
I promised them
there's never any great excuse for poems. But even at their worst,
they're not exactly weapons of mass destruction. And we can always
find them if we need to. They keep appearing, inexplicably, all
over the place.
There's no telling why that is - not even here, a moment before
grows so unnaturally quiet, in what could have been one more
misguided attempt at a last line in their defense.
I'm sorry to tease you with only a part. Look for the whole poem, and build your own defense.