A Poem for Our Times, Thanks to Ken Burns

Editor’s note: The dramatic documentary, The Vietnam War, captured the attention and minds of audiences as it told the story of one of the most consequential, divisive, and controversial events in American history. The subject of this documentary makes pale the current news of Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, the Game of Thrones, Powerball, NFL, Google, YouTube, Amazon, Facebook, Russian hacking, and the countless other events, people, quirks, and shenanigans that comprise the cultural and political dictionary and thesaurus of today’s world. The documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick is the mapquest that historians and educators will use to define and explain America’s journey.

Even now, a year after it was released by PBS, with reruns often aired on public TV stations since then,  the 10-part, 18-hour documentary still evokes deep emotions, intense discussions and, for some viewers, painful memories and the pondering of challenges faced by all of us.

With those thoughts in mind, we encourage you to read and think long and hard about the following insightful poem by Michael C. Dolan, a retired lawyer in Oakland, Calif. After reading the poem, please take the short survey at the end of this posting.


Watching Ken Burns’ Film on Viet Nam

It made me weep

For all the living and the dead

All the wars of man

Endless and forever

I felt it shouldn’t

This mere truth

But I was trapped

In my own organic nature


I am of the earth

And from the earth

All earthly things


Are me and mine

I must weep

As I must breathe


I am not different from the others

I do not float over them

Eternal and free

Even though I foresee

My own death

Such foresight does not save me

From the pain of dying

Nor from the darkness after death


With all my knowledge

I feel hunger

I feel sorrow

I feel the rage of war within me

Along with all the children’s joy

I even feel empathy

For the other man’s pain


It is not just me

Living through these times

This now

Of foolishness and rage


It is not just me

Blundering through this miasma

This now

Of change and celebration


It is not just me

Holding on to nothing

In this now

That madly carries us along


It is not just me

Ever changing

Yet all the same

You see

It’s just us

–by Michael C. Dolan