7. To Robert McNamara in Heaven



There was a time I hated you.

I was 19, I was ready to fight.  I was a waterbug up against the heavyweight champ.

I took you on and thought you were a worthy foe—

the smartest man in America so they said, god of war, powerful, white.

I risked my future, my youth, years in prison, who knows where life would have taken me,

but I was spoiling to fight.


25 years later you admitted

what you and your homeboys knew:

the war was unwinnable short of nuking the rice paddies to powder.  You knew


and still you sent our men

to kill their men and women and children.  How many lives

hung in that balance?

It disgusted me that your reason for continuing the fight—

a fight unworthy in the first place, Americans standing in the shoes of the French,

since when do Americans need to finish a fight for the French?  Let them

finish their own damn fight, it wasn’t our country,

it wasn’t even their country really,

it was not a worthy fight—

not like killing Indians or subduing Negroes….


But I digress.  It disgusted me,

your reason for pushing the fight:

it wasn’t politically feasible to stop,

in other words it would have been embarrassing.



You were an opponent lacking honor,

not worthy of the blood of your men, or the blood of your enemies.

I was ready to risk everything I had to fight you,

you and your suits, but you were punks, not even street punks

but body count punks

using up good men to kill other good men and women and children.


So disgusting an opponent you were I felt no victory over you.

Yeah you felt bad about it after 25 years.

It ate at you a little, the knowledge it was all for nothing but vanity.

You shed light on the ugliness before you died.

In a book, not a face to face apology to anyone or all of us.

I allowed you were in some kind of heaven only

because I didn’t believe in hell.


Now I realize we’re the same, you and me.

Now I realize we’re just human beings.

I don’t think I would have done what you did, but I’ve done things.

Now I realize I’m headed to the same heaven as you.

Now I realize there is hell and we’re all in it.

Because we haven’t learned that making sense, like bombing a whole country

while trying to kill a few terrorists,

is just another way of preening in the mirror.






All those waking moments

did not liberate me.

All that smoking did not liberate me.

The gallons of beer, wine, booze

that washed down the cornucopia

that could have fed a dozen,

all those dreams, lovely and unlovely,

all those many yards of penis moving

piston-like in cylinders lubed

by all that desire,

all that hunger –

did not liberate me.

All the money that came and went,

all the blues and reds,

all the games I won and ones I lost –

did not liberate me.

All those books I read, the nights of anguish,

the days of joy, the gut-wrenching tears,

the anger spent –

they did not liberate me.

Always there were intimations in the love

that swirled around me

like a breeze that slips through the prayer flags

and breathes, “Wake up,” but I wasn’t listening.

I didn’t look at the simple mirror

of my own palm facing toward me.

I was busy writing a story,

the daily habit of existence recast

as powerful melodrama

full of heroism and woe, true pain and individuality,

victory and defeat.

The lines tire me.

Perhaps I am exhausted from the answers.

The questions run through me still.

I abide.

The questions remain.

I abide.

Perhaps my story will finally die.

I abide.






As if being is bliss.

In order to get to that state you need

to act as if life is a dream,

as if the dream is suffused with light,

as if you are made of that light

and there is no distinction between you

and the light.

Do this.  Practice it.  The rest will take care of itself.

The light will suffuse the heart.

The heart will lighten

and be grateful for its next beat.


You say that’s fine for poets, mystics, madmen—

but you’re a scientist.  You do not act as if you know the nature

of matter and energy and time, no, you know it, you can verify it.

You know the nature of nature.

Another man says Nature, that’s fine for scientists—

but this one’s a fundamentalist.  He does not act

as if God exists, no.

He is sure he knows the nature of the one and only God.


In my dream of life I see scientists and fundamentalists worshipping a mirror.

Those who have entered the experiment and fucked with the mice.

Those who have seen themselves and called it God.


In my dream of life I leave a note to existentialists and depressives:

Why get up in the morning?

Not because we know it matters.

Nothing matters.

Who cares about mice or God.

We don’t even know that nothing matters.

We don’t know anything really, except emptiness of heart.


In my dream you get up as if it matters.  Yeah, go through the motions!

And if that’s too much don’t think you’re off the hook, it’s still there,

the ol’ death hook, shoulda thought of that before your birth.

I dreamt we all agreed to be born at some level.

We don’t have to do anything in life, but for sure we’ll be reeled in

flopping or limp, after a good fight or no fight at all,

somehow to be released

to the unknown stream.

In the meantime

let’s act as if we’re alive.






No sweet chariots swinging low

for you or your loved ones or theirs.

No Beatrice for Dante.

No angels on their bellies.

No Handel, no Bach.

No telling on the mountain.

No people getting ready.

No train coming.

(No train coming.)

No getting down on your bended knees

and begging for a witness when it really hurts.

No redemption at all, no need for it.

No saying, “Sweet Jesus!” when you come.

No grace so amazing it changes your life.

Less music of glory, less dancing in spirit.

All in all less life.  No less ego.

I don’t know.


Consider the vision:

It starts softly at first but then life is hard.

I’ve seen the jagged Jesuses on the streets

and fancy subdivisions of no refuge.

If you don’t seek refuge,

you become your own illusion.


Consider the vision:

that in our world without Jesus

a native of the land feels the earth, the sky, the water,

inside her body.  It’s her Jesus.  She worships,

she offers fruit and flowers, she prostrates herself.

She’s a child of the mother and has no trouble crying.


Consider the vision:

that a scientist loves what he thinks is reality.

He loves an illusion of reality, can’t see

it’s his own face in the mirror.

There are no children, no fathers, no mothers, only him.


Jesus is love of something other than your own pain and importance,

doesn’t matter the name, call her Susie if that works.


One thought on “7. To Robert McNamara in Heaven

  1. well, Ken, I read robert mcnamara again today, and my admiration for it only grows at every new reading.

    i hope you see the crying need the world has for such poems.

    you of all people understand the inevitability of anger. it needs to be expressed honorably. some anger is the bullshit of an insecure and defensive ego; other anger comes from great compassion for those who are hurt needlessly by others.

    in mcnamara you have found the second way of this anger. plus, you gave compssion to that “rational” monster (as pathetic as all of us on this difficult planet!). you pulled it off! you could tip your hat to the god/ess for making you the vehicle of this complicated truth.

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