Spoonful: A Gathering of Stone Soup Poets

An extension of Cambridge's Stone Soup Poetry Venue.

Poem by Gary Hicks

Photo by Chad Parenteau

in dubious battle: notes on my
twentieth birthday in new hampshire

the war is growing
bigger and the silence
about it ever more
deafening. but in the
end, no situation is
eternal. even the
vacuum silence of
creation has produced
its big bang opposite.
the galaxies of suns
and stars still burn
brightly millions of
years later, to
brighten our pitchest
nights, to inspire
song that makes us
less afraid of
the dark. in heat
and light there is hope.

we are marching out
of the exeter, new
hampshire town square
some twenty of us.
the boys of the academy
whose draft deferments
are there for the asking
thanks to daddy, hoot
at us in derisio
from the rise overlooking
the square.

hoo-hah, hoo- hah
commies go home!

we begin a walk
that will take us
through newmarket
and into durham
and the university
of new hampshire.
already we have
been promised
a welcoming committee
of new hampshire's
finest young patriots.
but first we pass
down newmarket's
main street to the
taunts of mobilized
high schoolers.

retarded social rejects!
hoo-hah! hoo-hah!

half-time cadences
transferred from
the field and
given new words.

retarded social rejects!
hoo-hah! hoo-hah!

the young egged on
by their elders. the
young throwing eggs.
how many of these
will train to throw
grenades? travel to
lands they cannot even
locate on a map? how
many will die? how
many will return
alive? and what
tales will be told
of their lives? but
now they are children
egged on by their elders
throwing eggs at those

retarded social rejects!
hoo-hah, hoo-hah!

questions, like answers
blow in the winds and
are washed by the april
rains which presently
descend upon us. gale
forces drive the youthful
crowds into their shelters.
we continue down the road.

at the outskirts
of durham, a young
boy of about eight
rides up to us on
a bicycle. my mom
told me to wish
you all good luck
he says to jim
at the head of
our single column.
thanks, replies jim
who then asks:
what's up ahead?
couple of thousand
students, replies the boy.

today is my twentieth
birthday. it's been
a short, rough, brutish
life. and were i to die
today- and i could- these
past three months of
leafletting in the snow
leading to this
springtime of resistance
these three months of
work for something
other than this world
has made it all worthwhile.

but i don't die.
none of us die.
we march single file
up the sidewalk aside
main street. on main
street, and marching
in the opposite direction
at least hundreds of
students, stars and
stripes at their head.
they are so high
on their adrenelin
fueled patriotism. they
are so oblivious to
all around them. they
are looking for devils
with horns. they do
not see us pass them
walking single file
on the sidewalk, in
full view of them.
we are almost past them.
and then a singular cry:

there they are!

we are surrounded.
and now begins
the combat of well
and reasoned arguments
against brawn- edged
diatribe. the spiritual
versus the muscular
in a land where
no problem exists
that can't be solved
by ignorance and
the fist. the polemics
go around in circles.
this is good. i have
long learned from
the street that
the time to worry
is when the talking stops.

an ex- marine holds
up on his shoulders
his three- year-old
daughter. he proclaims
that she is what
is being protected
from communism and
therefore the likes
of us. the old
would you want
your daughter to
marry one of them
rant live and

from an unexpected
corner, the voice of
another ex- marine
telling the first one:
you're full of shit.


i've been in
the corps too.
i was in santo domingo
last year. and let
me tell you
i am ashamed
of what i saw and did.

the argument has
broadened out. from us
versus them, it's now
fact versus fiction
truth versus lies and
who's been lied to.
one can build upon
these differences
based upon reasoning.
the clenched fist
has yet to prove that
it can grasp anything.

but clenched fists
often have to be pried open.

it isn't three
hours later. some
of us are sitting
in a sandwich shop
over supper. outside
peering in the window
a mob of the hard core
faithful, stars and stripes
in their midst. live
free or die. an
excellent slogan
i think. but too good
to be wasted on patriotism.

we act quickly.
we pretend we are
exiting the back way.
we stand behind a
back wall, out of sight.
i peek around the wall.
no one at the
front window. they
think we've escaped
out the back. we all
march back through
the restaurant and
out the front door.
i slap a twenty into
the hand of the manager
in payment for the food.
and keep the change.

everyone else gets
across the street
and are en route
to dormitories where
they will be staying
with friends we
have made. the mob
comes back around
the corner and see
me alone. i make my
way back through
the restaurant, out
the back door, down
a path, across a small
footbridge. i hear the
patter of footsteps
but in the dark
i see no one. i reach
the dormitory up ahead
of me and sit on the
stone bench in front.
and i wait. and i wait.

five of them come
into sight. they see me.
they are approaching
me carefully. outnumbered
five to one, but god
only knows what runs
through the brains
of young white men
about the mythical
physical abilities
of the black man. and
i have decided to let
the aura of pacifism
about me disappear. i
plan to come out of
this alive. i will try
and be diplomatic. but
i do plan to come
out of this alive.

good evening, i say.
coldly. calmly. have
you come to talk
or fight?

they freeze.
talk or fight!
they have come
only to chase
and beat up. this
is not in their plan.
i continue: if you
want to talk, we
can probably find
someplace to talk
in this building.

a lounge, maybe?

and we talk through
the night. figuring
out that those who
disagree don't have
horns. assured that
the reds will not
parachute onto the
town squares of new
england. that there
are no commisars
walking the streets
of durham, new hampshire
counting the television
sets to be confiscated
for the red hordes
of chairman mao. most
important, that we
should be able to
discuss things out
from under the microscope
of the manchester union leader.
we can address the
issues of right and wrong.
we can agree. we can disagree.
we can struggle for
clarity where and when
we are confused.

at the end of
the night now become
four in the morning
the last holdout
for live free or die
challenges me to read
steinbeck's in dubious battle.
i've never heard of
steinbeck, i reply.
well, you should read him.
it's about what happens
to a guy who can't
think for himself
suggesting that i'm
being remote controlled.

i tell him i'll read
the book and bid
him goodnight.

in dubious battle. the
title alone is inviting.