Tell the Men, by Dean Metcalf

Sam Hamill, Writing for Peace AdviserCommemorating Ten Years of Poetic Resistance, PAW Post No. 19

During the month of February, Writing for Peace  commemorates the Tenth Anniversary of Poets Against the War with Daily PAW Posts from a host of contributors.

*Parental Guidance Warning –The poets featured during our February Daily PAW Posts write of war and its effect on the human heart. Writing for Peace has not censored these poems, and we encourage parents to review the content before sharing them with children.

To purchase a copy of POETS AGAINST THE WAR from Powell’s independent bookstore, click here.

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I had a dream when I got home. I dreamed I was in command of a military detail. We were attacked from the air, and machine gun bullets were punching holes in the corrugated steel walls of the Quonset hut near my head.

This poem grew out of that dream, and out of experiences in Vietnam, Laos, Nicaragua…

~ Dean Metcalf

Tell the Men

by Dean Metcalf

 I. I am the dream commander.

       All around me
       along the smoky runway
       men fall, strafed
       I scream, but
       they will not believe:
       our own
             top secret
             quiet rotor
             radar guided
             night vision
             heat seeking
       dream metal dragonflies
       have returned
       to kill us.

 II.   "But they're ours!" men scream
       as they stand, are hit, and fall

       Running, my body floats above the runway
       among thumb size neon red tracers
       borne upon their own wind: puffs of it
       pass between my ribs.

III.   In this dream, only I know:
       are weapons.

       All around me, men see,
       trying not to see.

       Men fail to aim their words
       at the real enemy.

       Men drop their books
       or read absently

       standing in the open
       as if life were not dangerous.

 IV. Sergeant!

       Work your way along the line.

       Tell the men:

              Fill sandbags with words.
              Build a parapet to fight behind.
              If they are the right words
              you live.

       Tell every man:

              Dip each fifth word
              in your own blood,
              so your shots will glow red:
              tracers to locate your targets
                     in the dark.

       Tell every man to sharpen one word.

              Say, You must choose:
              "yes" or "no."
              Snap it onto your rifle,
              for when this gets down to bayonets.

       Tell all the men:

              It's not the men of darker skin
              who broadcast our blood upon the land
              as a poor shopkeeper tosses water
              from a red plastic pail
              to settle dust on an unpaved street.

       Tell the men:

              We toss our own blood in the dust
              where crimson arterial spurts of it
              roll into powdery skins
              like water in flour
              no longer recognizable as blood
              it could be any dark liquid:
              it could be used crankcase oil.

       Tell them:

              We live and die
                     by what we think
                     by what we write
                     by what we say
                     by what we do.

        Tell the men:

              Get your words.
              Get in the trenches.
              Here they come.

About Writing for Peace Adviser, Dean Metcalf

Dean MetcalfDean Metcalf is the author of RATTLESNAKE DREAMS: An American Warrior’s Story, and a world-traveling journalist whose articles were distributed by Pacific News Service, San Francisco.  His work  has appeared in publications such as Denver Post, Cleveland Plain Dealer, San Jose (CA) Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, Village Voice, South Africa Weekly Mail, Oakland (CA) Tribune, Sacramento Bee, and San Francisco Review of Books. Read more about Dean here.

Purchase RATTLESNAKE DREAMS: An American Warrior’s Story here.

February Writing for Peace News:

All during the month of February, Writing for Peace is commemorating the Tenth Anniversary of Poets Against the War with a Daily PAW Post. If you are interested in arranging a reading this month in honor of Poets Against the War, please contact us with the details at, and we will be happy to share your information on our site.

2013 Young Writers Contest

Contest Deadline is March 1st! The Writing for Peace Young Writers Contest is in full swing, with entries coming in from all over the globe.  The contest is open to writers of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, for ages 13 to 19. Spread the word to young writers everywhere! You’ll find contest guidelines here.

DoveTales,  An International Journal of the Arts

The first issue of DoveTales will be released this month, featuring poets, writers, artists and photographers from all over the world.  We are also looking forward to seeing the winners of our 2012 Young Writers Contest in print. Watch our posts for news of the journal’s release. The new submission guidelines will go up on March 1st. Thank you for your support!


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1 thought on “Tell the Men, by Dean Metcalf

  1. Willean

    This poem is as close to war as I ever hope to come. How sad that we don’t find an effective way to solve problems, keep the peace, and survive.


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