A Pastor Explains the Cold War to a Child, R. Joseph Capet

Urban-5-Salt-Lake-Oasis-22x30-WatercolorSalt Lake Oasis, 22X30, watercolor, Gary Buhler


A Pastor Explains the Cold War to a Child

Jesus told us to be as little children
so, like the littlest of children,
we let ourselves be surprised
by the movement of our own arms.

Surprised and afraid, like children,
we mined our mouths,
set listening posts in our elbows with scalpels,
begged our hands to inform on each other,
fought proxy wars between our toes
too distant to even comprehend.

And while, like children, we thought nothing of life—
while we murdered like children
and snatched bread and sweets from the hungriest mouths—
the first snowfall on the square lay undisturbed
and the cherry blossoms, never seen, sailed off the tidal pool
bearing the wonder of childhood with them
like elves into the west.


R. Joseph Capet


Review by Ed Wickliffe

The metaphor of this poem is engaging—a child and its infantile behavior illustrate mankind and its history. Unlike most poetic metaphors this one develops through multiple instances into what becomes an extended metaphor for national behaviors. Well done, and a good example of extended metaphor. The “Cold War” of the poem’s title is only an example of its meaning. The poem applies equally well to feudal England or Bronze Age kingdoms as it does to the 20th c. rivalry between America and the Soviet Union.

Perhaps the most satisfying part of the metaphor is the phrase: “fought proxy wars between our toes / too distant to even comprehend.” What historically-aware person could not recall the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, opposed by American proxies of that time? And vice versa in the Middle East today—where multiple proxies oppose American or western interests. There are indeed proxy wars between our metaphorical toes, too distant to know—or at least too distant to know through cable news. A Pastor Explains the Cold War… is ultimately an insightful work.

If there is a crack in the shell of this poem, it is in its shift away from its central metaphor at the end.   We can overlook the fact, early in the poem, that the “surprise” of an infant can as easily be pleasurable as fearful, depending on context. There is no context at that point to explain why the infant is “afraid”. More noticeable is how the central metaphor of the infant dissolves into unrelated metaphors and symbols in the final lines. Nevertheless, like a few rough brushstrokes in a fine painting, the overall idea is clear and its effect is very engaging. Good poem!—driven by an interesting metaphor for the subject. 


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