Silence the Drums

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(With a few lines from the patriotic WW1 song “Over There” written by George M. Cohan in April 1917. Americans believed at that time that the war would be short and the song reflected that expectation)

Johnny’s out of luck
stuck
next to his
broken down
made-in-America
truck
that’s been running on fumes
for too long,
and there he is
stranded
on the side of the road
and the midnight train
ain’t coming
and he’s left humming
that patriotic tune
trapped inside his head
that no snake-oil
can erase…
“Johnny, get your gun, get your gun, get your gun…”
and he doesn’t want it anymore
but can never give it back
“Hurry right away, no delay, go today…”
But after it’s over
the lines at the VA
are a mile long
and all end with
benumbing psychotropics
“Make your daddy glad to have had such a lad…”
and he can’t stand his family,
and he can’t face his own reflection
“Tell your sweetheart not to pine,
To be proud her boy’s in line…”
and when you no longer love yourself
it gets harder to say
‘I love you’ to someone else
and mean it.
“Hoist the flag and let her fly
Yankee Doodle do or die…”
and he gets sick to his stomach
whenever he sees the flag
because he knows it’s blood-soaked
and used to hide the bodies
“Make your mother proud of you
and the old red white and blue…”
and his mother prays for him
because he lost god
by the rivers of Babylon
“Send the word, send the word over there…”
and he realizes
that everything he learned in life
is bullshit
“That the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming
the drums rum-tumming everywhere…”
and he can’t forget
that fucking song
“So prepare, say a prayer,
Send the word, send the word to beware…”
He tries to start running
but he’s ragged,
can’t sleep
with all those war drums
rum-tumming
jagged
tunes
of more war
after war
And it doesn’t matter
Who’s to blame
he’s madder than the hatter
pickled from too many
government pills
a deer in headlights
shoot to kill
and Johnny’s too tired
to fight
and with his last bit of strength
scratch’s his swansong exit
stage left
into the pavement
“We’ll be over, we’re coming over…”
Because someone called the cops
about the crazy guy
on the side of the road
smoke billowing out
of his American-made
truck
and it looks like Johnny got a gun
and he won’t run
and hide,
he’d rather get high
on adrenaline
this one last time
“And we won’t come back
till it’s over,
over there!”
and he wishes
that he never
made it back
to accolades,
handshakes
and free beer
at the VFW
then years of bitter pills
but here he is now
bleeding out by the side of the road
suicide by cop.
Some will call him a coward
but he found no other way
to silence that deafening sound
of new war drums rum-tumming
everywhere…
but it’s fine
in Uncle Sam’s eyes
because new Johnny’s and Jane’s
are born all the time
and grow up learning to sing
age-old patriotic tunes,
going on to make daddy’s glad
and momma’s proud
but if they’re among the lucky
and make it home
according to the VA
Twenty-Two will join Johnny
EVERY SINGLE DAY
To permanently silence
Those fucking rum-tumming
Goddamn drums of war.

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