Eric Howard







Below are three poems on theme of war. The first, “Hieroglyphics,” is based on the book by the ancient scholar Horapollo. The second, “Aerospace Tarot,” addresses three famous American warplanes. The third, “Intelligence Update,” is based on eight memos of the same title presented to President George W. Bush. The headlines of the memos were the Bible verses that are quoted in the poem.











When they draw a man with a rifle

they show the destruction of a city.


To show the destruction of a nation,

they draw a hooded man holding out his arms.


When they draw a burning book,

they mean a scholar tortured until conversion.


What of an old lady feeding pigeons?

The defeated hunger for redemption.


By the disc of the sun they mean

the wheel that can’t be seen turning.


By sacred words written in a spiral?

A calligrapher shot dead in the street.


What do they mean by crickets?

They mean the disappeared.


What do they mean by a wasp?

War’s jaw and sting.


When they draw a watch being hammered

they mean the anger that breaks what’s made.


What do they mean by a star?

The god of darkness, staring into fire.


By one who shouts from a tower they mean

one made to watch his wife


and family killed one by one.

They hang his portrait in the classroom


where by x they mean y.

The heart is too empty or too full,


so how do they show the scales that will not settle?

By Libra, dangling as it flies.




Aerospace Tarot



P-38, Burbank’s five-sworded,

counter-rotating, fork-tailed

child of Operation Vengeance,

Rosie the Riveter’s mower

of columns, in thousands

you stormed the nightmares

of the survivors of your whisper

as Californian as surf guitar.


B-58 of arrowhead wings,

master of time to climb to alabaster

atmosphere, your strength roared

to silent desert parking lot and cost

10 cups of gold. Knight of swords

with a coke bottle body, nuclear club,

you almost waged the micrometer’s war

against the flesh falling from a tower.


F-22, the zero at the game’s end,

grounded angel that may yet be

the chariot that kills every enemy

for all our money, two of pentacles

dancing in a dumb show that ends

when you strangle your pilot,

your kill ratio unblemished,

you crown our supersonic frailty.




Intelligence Update



Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Here I am Lord, Send Me.


Dearest burning coal touch my lips and free me

Dear rifle I hold, eyes I sold into nightmare

Dear mold and decubitus ulcers

Dear Since Being Diagnosed

Dear offering of the flesh and the blood and the spirit

Dear friends, what we will be has not yet been made known.

Dear ports, lands, children, and calloused hearts

Dear John


If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast, O LORD.


A city of war bubbles on a windy sea

If only you would slay the wicked

for whom I have nothing but hatred

I am fearfully made

My test is a microphone and warplane stick

I fly armed in darkness, and yet you see me

My steel home rides on unseen waves

We work as our children lie silent


Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.


My struggle is not against flesh and blood

but against the rulers the powers of dark and evil in power

the tank crossing the desert at sunrise

the names I don’t remember, you do.

Roll, disassembly line, unfurl your exhaust,

raise some dust, forge the words

that will come when silence is death,

for the Lord who will reward everyone the good that he does, slave or free


It is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.


My nation is holy and my priesthood royal

Why do you call me good?

slaves, submit to your masters

the man in uniform on television

the flag at his side by blue curtains

and the stone by which they fall

all fallen in the war

I wage with my own soul


Open the gates that the righteous nation may enter, the nation that keeps faith.


My soul yearns for you in the night

with no light to guide me

but what burned in my heart

to see the blood disclosed

for the feet of the poor

to trample the lofty city

under raised weapons and tank treads

the dead rise singing


Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.


Three days from now we will cross the river

God has given us this land

the Jericho road is a dangerous road

but we are dangerously unselfish

we will find safety on the highway,

even in the whore’s house

when the enemy soldiers come looking for us

she will know her enemies


The king is not saved by a might army; A warrior is not delivered by great strength. A horse is a false hope for victory; nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength. Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, On those who hope for His loving kindness, To deliver their soul from death.


I have lived long enough to see

under stars made by the breath of your mouth

and the sea stored in barrels

the toppled statute and the cheering women

the kisses and machine guns,

grenade launchers, spontaneous

burst of new song

voices all around start singing


Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared & wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote…This is what these words mean: Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign & brought it to an end. Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. Peres: Your kingdom is divided.


Soldiers in the places speaking a choking language

holes in the walls where shells came through,

bricks in swimming pools, bodies

on the stairs, purple clothes and gold chains

scattered on marble, blood trails

leading over thresholds, suicide notes,

bank statements, checklists, dragged blood, tanks in gardens,

heavy vehicles that shake the road at dawn












Eric Howard is a magazine editor who lives in Los Angeles. His poems have appeared in Birmingham Poetry Review, Caveat Lector, Conduit, Gulf Stream Magazine, Hawaii Pacific Review, Plainsong, and The Sun.

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