The following is an expanded version of the poetry section that appears in the Fall 2007 issue of Inquiring Mind.

This special section of War and Peace Poems is introduced by Ted Sexauer, who served as a combat medic in the Vietnam War and is now an activist for nonviolence. In January and February 2003, he represented the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and Veterans For Peace in citizen-to-citizen diplomacy in Iraq. He is a charter member of the Veterans Writing Group mentored by Maxine Hong Kingston.

— Barbara Gates, Inquiring Mind Coeditor

In this time of dramatic national overreach, two impulses compete for my attention. A sense of outrage requires me to speak out and to act. Need for perspective guides me to contemplative practice.
In one ear, I hear the tearing sound of what surely must be opposed: preemptive war, reasons given never found—this is a fundamental crime. Rule of law abandoned, habeus corpus disappeared. Torture—torture!—openly practiced, without consequence. Impeachment “not on the table.” Each day I don’t say NO to these abuses is a day I myself allow the unacceptable to continue.
Dharma wisdom, vast beyond apprehension, transcends these concerns. Isn’t outrage a form of aversion, a product of illusion? But how can I limit my empathy? Having befriended the cultured city of Baghdad, I suffer its destruction. Having been a soldier, I see behind my eyes what soldiers see this very day. Night after night, my sleep is interrupted by dreams of being called up to fight again.
Poetry helps me find my way. Mark Falkoff, in his preface to Poems from Guantanamo, observes that writing poetry is “a way to maintain [one’s] sanity, to memorialize [one’s] suffering, and to preserve [one’s] humanity through acts of creation.” Reading poetry serves equally, and completes the circle of witness.

—Ted Sexauer

We are honored to present the work of the following poets: Ted SexauerBrian TurnerDavid PlumbSean Mclain BrownSylvia Forges-RyanKarma Tenzing WangchukYusef Komunyakaa Li Po (translated by Taylor Stoehr) • Gregory Ross Anita BarrowsKo Un (translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé and Gary Gach) • Gary GachShaikh Abdurraheem Muslim Dost and Sami al Haj (from the anthology Poems from Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak) and Clare Morris.

Poem for Tet

Lang Co village, Vietnam
Lunar New Year, 31/1/1995

This is the poem
that will save my life
this is the line that will cure me
this word, this, the word word the one

this   breath   the one I am


The Well by the Trail to My An
Binh Dinh Province, 1970

I think of you
papa-san, grandfather,

standing at your open well
there you are, smiling host
to a squad of well-armed foreigners, pulling up
red Folger’s coffee cans of cool sweet water
dousing bowed teenaged heads
eight young men this time, huge, all hairy
like dogs, bearing strange black rifles
(they will not go away) wearing only
boots and floppy war-green undershorts
careless youth from a rich world, blind
to soap water spilling back down the well
your task of diplomacy to keep the soap out
without getting shot

for once
I could see clearly what you thought
as I watched you grin and nod non-stop
like an imbecile, disappearing in that grin
into a sea of caricature papa-sans
I saw something I knew in your eyes
I saw you calling on the god
of get me out of this
I saw in you myself
to preserve the healthful water


From Veteran of Peace, Veterans of War, 2006, Koa Books ( and What Book!?, 1998, Parallax Press. Reprinted by permission.
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The ghosts of American soldiers
wander the streets of Balad by night,

unsure of their way home, exhausted,
the desert wind blowing trash
down the narrow alleys as a voice

sounds from the minaret, a soulful call
reminding them how alone they are,
how lost. And the Iraqi dead,
they watch in silence from rooftops
as date palms line the shore in silhouette,

leaning toward Mecca when the dawn wind blows.


(Ashbah means “ghost.”)

From Here, Bullet. © 2005 by Brian Turner. Reprinted with the permission of Alice James Books.

Brian Turner served for seven years in the U.S. Army. He was an infantry team leader for a year in Iraq with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. In 1999–2000 he was deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina with the 10th Mountain Division. His poetry has been published in the Voices in Wartime Anthology; Operation Homecoming: Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Home Front, in the Words of U.S. Troops and Their Families; and in many journals. He received a 2007 NEA Literature Fellowship in Poetry.
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I saw something burning on my chest
and I tried to brush it off
with my right hand
but my arm wasn’t there.

Eleven Killed over the Weekend

You’re from a little town
somewhere near nowhere
Which is somewhere
where there is nothing but
hope and a slight ring
in the distance
A college education, say
an adventure, a calling

You sign up
It’s a good shot
Clean clothes
Don’t have to cook
and they point the way
just like in the movies
or on TV

Only on this day
the road is light tan
and endless stones
A string of you
hump along listening
to the crank of trucks, tanks
the cluck and click
of gear and boots

This day explodes
Slices off what is you
Half a head, three and a third
feet of large intestine, a splatter
soaked in sludge, oil and blood
This day so far from home


David Plumb’s books include A Slight Change in the Weather, The Music Stopped and Your Monkey’s on Fire, Drugs and All That and Man in a Suitcase: Poems. His work has also appeared in the Washington Post, Miami Herald, Orlando Sentinel, Homeless Not Helpless, Alimentum: The Literature of Food, and the St. Martin’s anthology Mondo James Dean. He studied at the San Francisco Zen Center. A former paramedic, cab driver, cook and tour guide, he teaches at Florida Atlantic University.
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As a hedge against dying, our Commanding Officer issued everyone a red poker chip for good luck. I took two chips, as if the Eucharist and my C.O. a priest. We flew over the Nile and the temples of Luxor, finally crossing the Red Sea in a diamond formation. We were thirty minutes out from pickling our bombs when Anti-aircraft shells took out our right wing. Not even Moses could save us. And later, a Bedouin would find strewn across the desert: some boots, a medal, a map of Iraq, partially charred sketches of a flying fortress, a pocket watch stopped at 7:36 a.m., and two red poker chips.

Half the night up, spent as casings of brass, face it, we begin this way: there are no women, no satellite tv, no coca-cola, not even the sun, hidden as it is behind billowing black smoke. There is only an x on this map with an arrow pointing north to a line of scrimmage. This is simply a departure, demarcation of any sign of hope: caramel apples, wet grass, cotton candy, watermelons, laughter. We are year-worn, indrawn and compact. We are small, broken toys with maps and guns. I can remember my mother, I can’t imagine a father. I can’t write you because everything’s humming a new color, unfamiliar as childhood, a distant planet. I didn’t expect to escape. I had a blueprint, the life of a famous poet, picking cherries in June, fireworks over Penn’s Landing. Now I wake to the sleep of Lorca’s apples, walk through the meadow. This is just a place. These are just words flashing in the grass. To the north, there is the whine of distant jets and heavy bombardments. We must find a way between them.


Sean Mclain Brown is a disabled former marine from the first Gulf War and is a member of the Veterans Writing Group led by Maxine Hong Kingston. He is the director of communications at Woodside Priory and teaches writing at Western Connecticut State University. His poetry and fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in EM, First Intensity, Fourteen Hills, Indiana Review, LUNA, Sentence, Sleeping Fish, Small Town, Paragraph, Potpourri, Transfer and 100 Best American Prose Poems (Firewheel Editions).
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Rereading the Iliad
another corpse dragged
through Fallujah


Sylvia Forges-Ryan, former editor of Frogpond, the journal of the Haiku Society of America, has won many prizes, including the R. H. Blyth Award and a Grand Prix Poetry Prize from the Museum for World Peace in Kyoto, Japan. She is coauthor of Take a Deep Breath: The Haiku Way to Inner Peace. Additional antiwar poems will be published in Turkey in the anthology World Poets against War.
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Valentine’s Day—
the roses this year
smell faintly of blood

First published online at

tax day—
every dollar will buy
a piece of flesh, of bone

First published online at

Hiroshima Day—
in my heart, I release
a thousand cranes

First published online in 2004 at

Memorial Day—
row after row of gravestones
stand at attention


Karma Tenzing Wangchuk is a sixty-year-old Vietnam War vet, member of Veterans For Peace and Buddhist monk, who is active in nonviolent port militarization resistance (PMR) in the Puget Sound area of Washington State.
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To Du Street

Music divides the evening.
I close my eyes & can see
men drawing lines in the dust.
America pushes through the membrane
of mist & smoke, & I’m a small boy
again in Bogalusa. White Only
signs & Hank Snow. But tonight
I walk into a place where bar girls
fade like tropical birds. When
I order a beer, the mama-san
behind the counter acts as if she
can’t understand, while her eyes
skirt each white face, as Hank Williams
calls from the psychedelic jukebox.
We have played Judas where
only machine-gun fire brings us
together. Down the street
black GIs hold to their turf also.
An off-limits sign pulls me
deeper into alleys, as I look
for a softness behind these voices
wounded by their beauty & war.
Back in the bush at Dak To
& Khe Sanh, we fought
the brothers of these women
we now run to hold in our arms.
There’s more than a nation
inside us, as black & white
soldiers touch the same lovers
minutes apart, tasting
each other’s breath,
without knowing these rooms
run into each other like tunnels
leading to the underworld.

Facing It

My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn’t,
dammit: No tears.
I’m stone. I’m flesh.
My clouded reflection eyes me
like a bird of prey, the profile of night
slanted against morning. I turn
this way-—the stone lets me go.
I turn that way—I’m inside
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light
to make a difference.
I go down the 58,022 names,
half-expecting to find
my own in letters like smoke.
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;
I see the booby trap’s white flash.
Names shimmer on a woman’s blouse
but when she walks away
the names stay on the wall.
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird’s
wings cutting across my stare.
The sky. A plane in the sky.
A white vet’s image floats
closer to me, then his pale eyes
look through mine. I’m a window.
He’s lost his right arm
inside the stone. In the black mirror
a woman’s trying to erase names:
No, she’s brushing a boy’s hair.


From Pleasure Dome, © 2001 by Yusef Komunyakaa. Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.

Yusef Komunyakaa received the Bronze Star for his service in Vietnam, where he served as a correspondent and managing editor of the Southern Cross. He has written numerous books of poems including Neon Vernacular (1994), for which he received the Pulitzer Prize and the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. In 1999 he was elected a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Yusef Komunyakaa was recently appointed as the Senior Distinguished Poet in the Graduate Writing Program at NYU.
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At the Western Pass

At the Western Pass, wind and sand,
leafless trees, yellowing grass.

From these barren heights our guards
keep watch for the Tartar foe.

Far below, a deserted fort commands the plain,
but not a wall of the old village stands.

Only bones, thousands of bones,
heaped and bleaching in the bracken.

Who is more to blame, the treacherous Tartar
or our emperor beside himself with rage?

Obedient armies beat the drums of war,
the sun goes dark, the air smells of blood.

Recruiting officers raid the countryside—
three-hundred-sixty thousand men!

Mid cries of woe and tears like rain
the doomed conscripts are marched off.

Who will plow the fields and dig the gardens
while our sons pace the bitter mountain pass?

Don’t tell us how Li Mu once triumphed,
where soldiers have always been fed to wolves!

Translated by Taylor Stoehr

Taylor Stoehr’s translations from classical Chinese, I Hear My Gate Slam: Chinese Poets Meeting and Parting, was published by Pressed Wafer Press in 2007. In 2006 Unicorn Press published his translations from François Villon, Ask the Wolf. He teaches English literature at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.
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Soldiers kill to live
but to survive will dredge their
souls for peace and cry.

From Veterans of Peace, Veterans of War, 2006, Koa Books ( Reprinted by permission.

The first time I was part of a reading of Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace, I had enough time to include (from memory) “Atonement.” As I was driving home, I kept thinking that there was just something “wrong” with the way I had read it. When I got home, I looked at the poem and realized I had remembered it incorrectly. The version I had recited from memory went like this:


Soldiers kill to live
but to survive will dredge their
souls for peace and cry.

Now when I read “Atonement” I read both versions, tell this story and say that the two poems illustrate a healing arc: from grief to peace, or at least more peace and less grief.


Gregory Ross is a Vietnam veteran and an acupuncturist working in the chemical dependency unit of the county hospital in Oakland, California. He hopes, in this life, to make a balloon payment on his karmic debt (see first sentence). Haiku is his favorite poetry form. He can be contacted at
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After Lebanon

When the war is over, that’s when
the real war will begin.
When everyone else has forgotten
there was a war, when the news is talking
about other wars. When the war is over
there will be the war of remembering
and forgetting, the war
of trying to sleep and trying to awaken, the war

of standing each morning at the window
where sunlight still enters and floods the room,

and looking outside
one more day at all

that is not there to return to.


Anita Barrows has published three volumes of poetry; a fourth will appear in January 2008. Since 1993, she has been translating Rilke with Joanna Macy. She is a clinical psychologist and a professor at the Wright Institute in Berkeley, California. She is also a serious amateur musician and singer and a grandmother.
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Poem for Peace

Peace is a wave,
a rolling, living wave.
Beneath that wave
swim every kind of fish.
And all kinds of coral grow.
Above that wave
no one thing is higher than any other.
It brings freedom and equality to all
as far as the sunset horizon.
The white sails speeding across that wave of peace billow full.

Peace is food.
In bygone days, sacred was the smoke
rising from the chimneys in Korea’s hillside village homes
as rice for the evening meal was boiling.
Lovely the rising smoke each morning as bread was baking.
Peace is rice and bread.

Before cooking, they are grains of rice or wheat or corn.
Peace is as urgent as rice and bread.
In the ideograms of Northeast Asia, one sign for peace
shows rice entering a mouth.
Peace begins as a day
when everyone in the world can eat.
Peace is a day when
everyone in the world eats bread together as friends.
Banishing starvation from the earth is peace.

Peace is a flower,
beautiful as a flower.
What if the world had no flowers:
if after days of torment
nights of grief
there was not one single flower,
we would never know what peace is.
If, between person and person,
village and village,
nation and nation,
tree and bird
there were no quiet smile
offering a flower,
peace would merely be the despair
felt when a long-awaited lover fails to return.

Peace is a child.
so pretty,
what in the world can equal a child?
There must be a child
for a family, society, to come into being.
Centered on a child
people become Mom and Dad,
Grandfather and Granny,
Auntie and Uncle.
With a child comes the future of the world.
Therefore everyone’s main concern
must be to raise that child with every care.
Peace is a child [to be] raised like that.
Peace is such a child’s friend, uncle, neighbor.

Peace is a star.
The first thing a child encounters discovers in the universe
is peace.
Looking up at the stars,
he wonders “Who am I?”
And looking up at the stars
he steers his ship.
And deep in the heart of any voyager
is the peace that overcomes every difficulty.
For millennia, humanity has died during long ages eras of war
and living through only very brief moments of peace.
And those very brief moments of peace
mainly served as times for breeding desire for more war.
Peace was always in crisis.
has always been a prisoner of war, caught between war and war.
Why, all the achievements of civilization thus far
have been just means of war by another name,

Peace was a bird.
As gunfire rang out, all the birds disappeared.
The 20th century was an age of huge wars.
They in turn led to the long, drawn-out Cold War.
What a tragedy!
The Cold War became a doctrine.
The birds wandered, lost.

As the 20th century was the age of Korea’s division
the 21st century must move on to the age of Korea’s
We must cast aside the old days,
welcome the new age with a fusillade of drumbeats.
Korea rose again from the ruins in North and South.
Rivers and forests returned to utter ruins.
But division was, at first, a wall
then we grew used to it
so it turned into a mere fence.
The years of contradiction were long indeed.
The hatred born of that sickening division now removed,
we are becoming a people that breathes in harmony.

Peace is a bridge.
War blows bridges up.
Only peace can rebuild them
so people once again can come and go.
Going beyond the separation
peace is bridges crossing so many rivers.

Ah, peace is a grass-green dream.
Without people dreaming
the very word peace
dies crushed by the caterpillar tracks of tanks.
Peace is a dream.
A dream where today’s dream
turns into tomorrow’s reality.
With even just one half such a dream
the world can move toward peace.
Peace is the future’s family and nest.
It’s coming. It’s coming.
I must go out to welcome it.
Like June’s offshore sea breeze on Jeju Isand, it’s coming.


Ko Un read a draft of this poem at the Millennium World Peace Summit at the headquarters of the United Nations in New York City, August 2000, in the presence of over a thousand spiritual leaders.

Translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé and Gary Gach. © 2000 by Ko Un, Brother Anthony of Taizé, and Gary Gach. Printed by permission of the poet and the translators.

Born in 1933 in Gunsan, North Jeolla Province, Ko Un is Korea’s elder literary spokesperson, nominated for a Nobel several times. After being conscripted into the Korean War, carrying corpses on his back, he became a Buddhist monk. Ten years later, he left monastic life. During the 1970s and 1980s, he became a leading spokesman in the struggle for freedom and democracy, for which he was often arrested and imprisoned. Following the ban on translation of his work, he’s been translated into over a dozen languages. “Song for Peace” is forthcoming in Songs for Tomorrow: A Collection of Poems 1961–2001 (Green Integer: 2008). Ko Un has published more than 140 volumes of poems, essays and fiction.

Born in Truro (Cornwall, UK) in 1942, Brother Anthony of Taizé is one of the foremost living translators of contemporary Korean poetry, with over twenty-six titles to his credit, including Ko Un’s Ten Thousand Lives (with introduction by Robert Hass) and Flowers of a Moment: 185 Brief Poems (illustrated). Currently, he is emeritus professor in the department of English language and literature at Sogang Univesity, Seoul. With Hong Kyeong-he, he’s recently published The Korean Way of Tea: An Introductory Guide (Seoul Selection).
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   the old pawnbroker
pays not even one thin dime
   for new war medals

   kept from playing with toy guns
   boys use their fingers instead

   opera patrons pass by
the veteran leaning in trashcan
   shadows in rain


From Veteran of Peace, Veterans of War, 2006, Koa Books ( Reprinted by permission.

Gary Gach is editor of What Book!?: Buddha Poems from Beat to Hiphop (Parallax Press; American Book Award) and author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Buddhism (Alpha Books; second edition). His work has been published in numerous magazines and anthologies. A teacher of Buddhism and haiku, he serves on the International Advisory Panel of The Buddhist Channel (, and his homepage is .i.n.t.e.r.b.e.i.n.g.:
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Poems from Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak (University of Iowa Press, 2007) is an anthology of twenty-one poems written by men held in the United States military detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The poems were translated from Arabic and compiled by Marc Falkoff, a defense lawyer. Mr. Falkoff, who got a Ph.D. in English before he went to law school, represents seventeen Yemeni prisoners at Guantánamo Bay; he dedicated the book to his clients whose poems were written, as he puts it, “inside the wire.”

Most of the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay are in their sixth year of captivity in near-total isolation, imprisoned without charge or trial. According to former prisoners, any poem found by the American prison guards was confiscated and usually destroyed. Mr. Falkoff reports that most of the poetry he was aware of was written by prisoners who had not written poems before being arrested. Although the prisoners weren’t given pens or paper until 2003, some scratched their poems into foam cups with spoons or small stones.

Two Cup Poems

What kind of spring is this
Where there are no flowers and
The air is filled with a miserable smell?

Handcuffs befit brave young men,
Bangles are for spinsters or pretty young ladies.


Copyright © 2007 by the University of Iowa Press,, all rights reserved.

Shaikh Abdurraheem Muslim Dost is a Pakistani poet and essayist who spent nearly three years in Guantánamo with his brother, Ustad Badruzzaman Badr. Dost was a respected religious scholar, poet and journalist—and author of nearly twenty books—before his arrest in 2001. While at Guantánamo, he composed thousands of lines of poetry in Pashto, most of which were retained by the U.S. military after his release in April 2005. In October 2006, shortly after Dost and his brother published a memoir of their Guantánamo detention, Dost was again arrested by Pakistani intelligence. He has not been heard from since.
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Humiliated in Shackles

When I heard pigeons cooing in the trees,
Hot tears covered my face.

When the lark chirped, my thoughts composed
A message for my son.

Mohammad, I am afflicted.
In my despair, I have no one but Allah for comfort.

The oppressors are playing with me,
As they move freely around the world.

They ask me to spy on my countrymen,
Claiming it would be a good deed.

They offer me money and land,
And freedom to go where I please.

Their temptations seize
My attention like lightning in the sky.

But their gift is an empty snake,
Carrying hypocrisy in its mouth like venom,

They have monuments to liberty
And freedom of opinion, which is well and good.

But I explained to them that
Architecture is not justice.

America, you ride on the backs of orphans,
And terrorize them daily.

Bush, beware.
The world recognizes an arrogant liar.

To Allah I direct my grievance and my tears.
I am homesick and oppressed.

Mohammad, do not forget me.
Support the cause of your father, a God-fearing man.

I was humiliated in the shackles.
How can I now compose verses? How can I now write?

After the shackles and the nights and the suffering and the tears,
How can I write poetry?

My soul is like a roiling sea, stirred by anguish,
Violent with passion.

I am a captive, but the crimes are my captors’.
I am overwhelmed with apprehension.

Lord, unite me with my son Mohammad.
Lord, grant success to the righteous.


Copyright © 2007 by the University of Iowa Press,, all rights reserved.

Sami al Haj, a Sudanese national, was a journalist covering the conflict in Afghanistan for the television station al-Jazeera when, in 2001, he was taken into custody and stripped of his passport and press card. Handed over to U.S. forces in January 2002, he was tortured at both Bagram air base and Kandahar before being transferred to Guantánamo Bay in June 2002. The U.S. military alleges that he worked as a financial courier for Chechen rebels and that he assisted al Qaeda and extremist figures, but has offered the public no evidence in support of these allegations. Haj remains at Guantánamo.
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Weed and Star

A man bends toward the edge
of a new-mown lawn, his beard
bright white beneath a lowered straw hat.
Slowly, surgically, he trowels weed
after weed from its city park moorings.

Sometimes he holds a particular grass
to the afternoon sun, admiring the nimbus
around delicate fronds and seed pouches.
Then he lays it down among other fallen kin
in a burlap bag at his feet.

My grandmother picked burrs from our
sweaters when I was a child.
She’d lift them to the light, pull them apart,
examine their design, say, as if for the first time,
“Every seed a work of art.”
She did the same with stars, touching each one,
pulling it down for a moment from its garden
of constellations, her eyes bright with their shine.

Drink of This

Near the poison plant
grows the healing herb.
Their roots braid
in my ground.
I will make a brew of them,
pour it in a cup.
It will tell me
on my tongue
the taste of how I love,
how I kill.


Clare Morris is a member of the Veterans Writing Group and a contributor to Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace. She is a veteran of the peace movement, in which she has been involved since the late 1960s. She is currently a psychotherapist in private practice and a leader of seminars with the Guild for Psychological Studies in San Francisco. Clare Morris has written two books of poetry, published by the Angela Center Press, In Transit: Love Poems to the City and Child of the Longest Night.
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For more on this topic, the following websites may be of interest.

Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace

Men’s Poetry

Veterans for Peace

© 2007 Inquiring Mind