The Problem With Words by Elizabeth Robin

stiff, red-splotched men straight from three-martini
lunches speak eloquently in metaphor
their urgency underscored by using ridicule–
negotiation, compromise become weakness–
as they call for boots, boots, boots on the ground

when a poet comes to despise synecdoche
that shapes the horror we accept, are there words
to squelch canned movie lines, rolled out like a game
little boys extend from their cowboy-and-indian days?

who wears these boots, sent to some extreme
and alien climate, brought to harsh tests packed
with rules unwritten, or in some alien tongue?

ask for boots, boots, boots on the ground
criticize this, and betray those thousands we bury
or ignore in VA hospitals and mental wards
while hungry tongues lap up war and swallow

drones, snipers, bombers-most-Christian,
market collateral damage in flippant phrases
tossed out like candy to greedy warmongers

call them boots
but don’t pretend
what we risk
is just a little leather
and some laces

end these little euphemisms and stomach the truth:
we memorialize dead boots but rarely support the living
ask them to kill and destroy, send our children
our brothers and sisters, our husbands and wives
to witness atrocity that ruins their psyches
leaves them homeless, in despair, suicidal
in an endless loop of paperwork and pain
recruiting boots, boots, boots and more boots

while those rigid old hawks
in polished wing-tipped oxfords
rake in their cut of the profits
by spreading their oily words


Elizabeth Robin retired from teaching to write. A poet of witness and discovery, she relates both true and fictional stories about her Lowcountry present and world-traveling past. Writing offers her a lens to view the world, and a strategy to thrive within its madness. See more at

3 thoughts on “The Problem With Words by Elizabeth Robin

  1. Pingback: November’s turning into a big month! | Elizabeth Robin

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