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Ribbons: The Gulf War - A Poem

by William Heyen

Night Vision

To fill you of the future in —
all’s fair in war & prediction —
on Operation Desert Storm:
we bombed the Iraqis, & bombed them,
& bombed them to little opposition,
& were going to keep bombing them
into shocked & dazed submission,
2000 bombing runs a day, & cells
of B-52s (three in triangular pattern),
each bomb blasting a hole 25' deep
by 40' in diameter, & we were grinding
Iraqi bones into powder, were cratering
paths a mile and a half by a mile,
& were flying & bombing by night vision
& were flying noon to noon
& were going to keep bombing when
the Arabs began to call us cowards.
Cowards for not fighting in the sand
where they were dug in like scorpions.
Cowards. & this complex appellation
began to stick: cowards of bombardment
who recoiled from blood unless
it was one general’s definition
of the death of thousands of civilians:
"collateral damage in a war." Cowards.
So we began to "engage" them on the ground
& Desert Storm began arriving home, bravely,
as gassed remains in sealed coffins.



These dark and brilliant "Ribbons" are, taken whole, the most self-demanding war poem of our century’s death-throes.
— Philip Booth, author of Selves, Relations: Poems 1950–1985

Mr. Heyen deconstructs Operation Desert Storm to expose the perverse irony of terms like "smart weapons" and "surgically clean" air strikes. . . . It is difficult to swim against a rush of sentimental patriotism and harder still to write convincing poems about such matters. Mr. Heyen accomplishes both, often with compelling insight.
New York Times Book Review

Ribbons . . . is an ambitious, bitter, damning take on the senseless brutality of "this war-to-continue-wars," this "hundred-day slaughter." It is also a wake-up call to the poetry establishment: "The crisis of poetry reoccurs with each newscast, how it can’t hide forever in impenetrable shelters under a camouflage of soil and trees."
The Progressive