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Shadow War: A Poetic Chronicle of September 11 and Beyond, Volume Two

(Revised, second edition)

by Louis Daniel Brodsky


State of Grace

As a beneficiary of the immense affluence
That washes our bountiful shores
Like ocean waves ebbing, flowing
Second to second, perpetually,
I almost never meditate on my state of grace,
The treasures that are mine for the taking
Just by being an American citizen.

None of us in the United States
Has been asked to surrender papers to FBI agents,
At theaters, banks, grocery stores, malls,
Nor have we been forced to salute tyrants,
Authorities for repressive bureaucracies,
Threatened with deportation, torture, or death
For failure to do so.

In this country, for the most part,
We haven't questioned our civil liberties, rights,
Because their absence has rarely existed.
We've been a conscientious democracy,
Sympathetic to protections, checks and balances,
Separations of church and state,
Legislative, judicial, and executive powers.

So with these safeguards in place,
Why, on this warm December morning,
Do I sense something coming my way —
Demons who would enchain me in my own freedom,
Make me pray five times a day,
Brainwash me into becoming a suicide bomber
For the despotic gods of apocalyptic jihad?


Use the player below to listen to Louis Daniel Brodsky read this poem.



Beginning less than two months after the attacks of 9/11, the forty-seven poems of Louis Daniel Brodsky's Shadow War, Volume Two depict the United States in crisis. There's a general suspicion that al-Qa'eda is behind the crash of an American Airlines flight in Queens and the attempt, by Richard Reed (a.k.a. the "Shoe Bomber" ), to blow up another, from Paris to Miami, and the fact that Osama bin Laden still can't be found makes this paranoia all the more credible.

Despite the public's fear, coalition troops and the Northern Alliance have prevailed and virtually liberated Afghanistan from the clutches of the Taliban; Hamid Karzai has been appointed leader of the interim government. But these successes are marred by the increasing violence between Palestinians and Israelis, and America's alignment with Israel makes it a more provocative object of hatred in the Muslim world.

Poems range from the case of traitor John Walker Lindh, an American Taliban fighter, to President Bush's choking on a pretzel, underscoring the nationwide feeling of precariousness. The volume ends ominously, with the discovery of a computer in Kabul, containing names of previously unknown al-Qa'eda operatives, suggesting that bin Laden isn't to be feared as much as is "An international network of independent cells . . . with the capacity to ravage our body politic."


Shadow War is full of powerful, clear-eyed, honest reactions to what has become of our country and its place in the world . . . I like the way Brodsky negotiates the uncertainty, the lack of real answers, in these poems, and the ways (as in the poem "'I Love Pakistan'" — a fine one) politicians use rhetoric to blind and confuse. "Where is America?" is a terrific response, by the way; the tone is just right.
— Jay Parini, author of The Art of Subtraction: New and Selected Poems


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