JC’s Addendum to ‘Liz’s Weekly Poetry Series’: Charlotte E. Keyes, “In the Museum”


In the never-ending, and escalating drumbeat for war that has possessed our nation for generations, I thought this might be a good time for an anti-war lament. Charlotte E. Keyes is the poet who popularized the phrase “Suppose they gave a war and no one came?” in a 1966 McCall’s article.

While there is much debate and discussion about the origins of that phrase and its variations — and any who want to explore the googlizer can learn far more about the works of Sandburg, Bertold Brecht, and Ginsburg  — it is the sentiment that needs to be revisited.

I came of age in that era of senseless war, with brooding pacifism busting it’s head against a corrupt system, coming to the same conclusion as the boy in this poem: “Then governments I don’t like either.” And I’m still coming to grips with how it was to grow up in a cold warrior’s family.

Needless to say, I was one who burned his draft card and planned an escape to Canada should the lottery have claimed my soul before the Vietnam war ended.

Food for thought in an era devoid of any meaningful anti-war movement in America. Find the poem after the jump.

In the Museum
Charlotte E. Keyes
(originally published in the pacifist “Fellowship” magazine, July 1952, p. 14)

Can it be in the chromosomes?
I’ve never shared with him the tomes
I’ve read or thoughts on war or death.
Yet gazing long with quiet breath
At the soldier dolls in museum case,
My five year old lifts tortured face—
“They all have guns!” “Of course they do.”
“But why?” “They have to shoot.” “At who?”
“Oh . . . other men.” I stammer here.
“And will they die?” “Some will” I steer
Him to another nook, of ships
And sailors gathering way. His lips
Still brood upon the ones behind—
“I don’t like soldiers.”Now his mind
Takes in the new display. “Are those
Men shooting people too?” He knows,
And without waiting for my “Yes,”
Has judged them all. He’s pitiless.
“I don’t like sailors.” “Dear . . . ” what will
I tell him? “They don’t like to kill.
They’re made to by the government.”
The case is little different.
“Then governments I don’t like either.”
Our thoughts are brooding, child and mother.

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