Before Russia’s launch of the 2022 war in Ukraine, it might have been said Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s weapons of choice in times of disagreement were, by nearly all accounts: humility, eloquence, and a natural charm. American filmmaker David Dodson, who worked for a decade with Zelenskyy on various projects, described him in interview for Business Insider magazine as “the Tom Hanks of Ukraine.”
Dodson also gave him the nickname “Chaplin” as the legendary Charlie Chaplin. A video compilation shared by Kat Abu on Twitter shows Zelenskyy competing on his country’s version of Dancing with the Stars (which he reportedly won in 2006). In one segment of the compilation, he is costumed to look like Chaplin while dancing with as much energized precision as Derek Hough, Janet Jackson, or anyone in love with life ever has. (Does this mean he’s likely to have a profile on IMDB? Actually yes.)
yThe image of performing artist Zelenskyy dancing to one infectious tune after another is far removed from that with which the world is now most familiar: an embattled courageous president struggling with all his might to save his homeland and his people.
Ukrainians follow him willingly because they fell in love with him during a time of relative peace. The world now rallies behind him because the war he fights can be viewed as unjust not only when considering Russia’s president’s unprovoked aggression, but when acknowledging betrayals which made Ukraine more vulnerable than it should have been.
Of Angels, War, & Peace
Just as the increasing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic in 202 forced me to rearrange established priorities, confirmed reports of Russia’s three-pronged land, sea, and air attacks on Ukraine did the same. My focus had been on completing pre-publication tasks for an artbook on different aspects of the pandemic upon individual lives around the world. I stepped away from it long enough to post Ukraine, Russia, and the Art of Being Human, which includes the poem “Angel of War.”
At the time, it seemed ludicrous to imagine the possibility of what we are all now seeing on screens and in print, what we are hearing on podcasts and dreading as we go to bed at night and get up the next morning.
With the conflict growing more intense by the day, the Poet, the Air Force NCO, and the Journalist in me all agreed that having already acknowledged the Angel of War with a poem from The River of Winged Dreams, it was time to show respect for the Angel of Peace with the same. And yes, Volodymyr Zelensky is as human as the rest of us, but at this 2022 moment in history he exemplifies the angelic potential “of our better natures” a lot more convincingly than most of us can claim.
The heroism and inspiring leadership of the Warrior-President of Ukraine are self-evident, and, clearly more authentic than the kind of photo-op posturing too many witness in political leaders around the world. The poem I’m sharing now, however, is not only presented as a tribute to him. It is my way of sharing the pain-ridden journey of the more than one million Ukrainians, largely women and children, who have been forced to abandon their homeland.
Angel of Peace
Such are these places
where lovers of bliss behold
the angel of peace:
Above the burning,
and below the cold of all
the sad killing fields;
Where poetry sighs,
smiling magic in the lap
of flesh and blood joy;
Upon the shoulders
of elders carved beautiful
by sage artistry;
Where a starbright gown
trails healing through gardens of
In the arms of dreams
that shepherd hope through the eyes
of praying children;
bristling silk storms from the shores
of my skin to yours;
In the taste of a
woman glowing firemilk through
the tips of her breasts;
Afloat on rhythms
of minds too stoned on love to
recall how bombs work;
At the edge of a
man’s kiss casting holy spells
of sweet compassion;
Inside the beauty
of faith’s unburied treasure
sparkling truth and hope;
Beneath trees of song
heavy with angelic light,
evergreen with strength;
Upon the wings of
nightingales trilling comfort
to embattled grace;
In your heart’s whisper,
soft as love, that truly all
is well with your soul.
(from The River of Winged Dreams)
For more reflections on the war in Ukraine please check out The Angel of War and the Year 2022 and Ukraine, Russia, and the Art of Being Human.
Author of Dreams of the Immortal City Savannah
and Greeting Flannery O’Connor at the Back Door of My Mind
Creator of Original Silk-Featherbrush Artstyle
“A vision of humanity as a unified force for peace had come alive in the form of millions of living breathing souls and an ideal of international democracy had been realized on a small but unprecedented scale. History was not only made––history was tremendously honored.” – from The American Poet Who Went Home Again (Aberjhani)
During this Easter Holy Week 2013, I find myself thinking about the challenges that Peace faces in our world and wonder why humanity seems to insist more on its destruction than its empowerment. From the recent murder of a 13-month-old baby in Brunswick, Georgia (allegedly by a 15-year-old boy), to the nearly two dozen wars (plus two dozen more conflicts of a similar nature) currently devouring human sanity from sunrise to sunrise, the suicidal lust for the annihilation of life on every scale is scarier than any vampire flick around.
Is there anything more obscene than a non-stop hunger for, and ceaseless indulgence in, the real-world violence that piles up human corpses and mutilates human souls? The answer may be a matter of cultural guerrilla decontextualization. The conscious practice of Peace has been removed from its context as one of the qualifications for nations wishing to be define themselves as civilized and been re-branded as an anomaly indicating defeatist passivity, cowardice, or weakness. The violence of war has come to represent patriotism, heroism, strength, and glory.
We saw on the weekend of February 15, 2003, that it is as possible to wage peace as it is to wage war. For some odd reason, however, while the media frequently reminds people of the anniversaries of wars and other man-made atrocities, commemorations of that worldwide event are so thoroughly ignored that even many who participated in it might doubt it actually happened. The announcement of the Global March for Peace and Unity scheduled to coincide with the United Nations’ International Day of Peace September 21, 2013, served as a reminder that what happened in 2003 was both real and significant. The essay “February 15, 2003: The History that Peace Made,” published in The American Poet Who Went Home Again, was written as the event unfolded to honor the strength and courage demonstrated by those who challenged the presumption that war with Iraq was the only useful response to the attacks of September 11, 2001. The following short excerpt is shared to acknowledge the legacies of Peace and advocate for its unwavering defense:
(from section V.)
The estimated 8 million people who demanded of the world, from February 14 to February 16, that peace be given a chance were a lot more difficult to ignore than other events leading up to the historical occasion and every major television network provided extended coverage of the worldwide phenomenon. That the world community had spoken so voluminously and unambiguously through so many made it easy to believe that the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines moving toward Baghdad would soon receive orders to execute an about face. It appeared the most indisputably intelligent and democratic course of action available. Only it never happened. History, under the guidance of those clamoring for war, took the road so often traveled in the past.
(CONTINUES BELOW VIDEO)
Video courtesy of WLTNews and CNN on YouTube
Statements from the White House regarding the overwhelming strength of the peace movement were at best patronizing; and at worst, patronizing. They acknowledged that the right to assembly––guaranteed by the Bill of Rights in the United States and in many other countries by their constitutions and bills of human rights––was a wonderful, and perhaps amusing, thing to behold. It was pointed out that such an activity was not guaranteed in Iraq and could result in imprisonment or death for those attempting to exercise it. And it was further made clear that such demonstrations, despite the good intentions behind them, were erroneous insofar as their political applications and implications were concerned. The message that came through more than any other was that millions of children had successfully thrown their tantrums and should now be put quietly to bed. Democracy as practiced in the United States during the early part of 2003 had become, apparently, much more a matter of bending and disregarding the will of the people than representing or expressing it.
If the bodies and souls of 8 million people were not sufficient to sway national policy on war against Iraq, what, then, was the meaning of such a massive uprising? Was it truly a matter of nothing more than overgrown misinformed juveniles venting fear and frustration as implied by White House officials? Could it have been part of a terrorist counter-tactic to weaken the United States’ war plans? Or was the international character of the movement an indication of a new form of global democracy evolving out of the fellowship established between like-minded individuals over the Internet?
It may be that the best answer to the meaning of February 14-16, 2003, was offered by the former assistant secretary general of the United Nations, Dr. Robert Muller, later chancellor emeritus of the University of Peace in Costa Rico. Addressing an assembly a month after the massive demonstrations in San Francisco, Dr. Muller observed of the millions marching all over earth that, “This is what waging peace looks like. No matter what happens, history will record that this is a new era, and the twenty-first century has been initiated with the world in a global dialogue looking deeply, profoundly and responsibly as a global community at the legitimacy of the actions of a nation that is desperate to go to war. Through these global peace-waging efforts, the leaders of that nation are being engaged in further dialogue, forcing them to rethink, and allowing all nations to participate in the serious and horrific decision to go to war or not.”
He may have added that these gallant warriors of nonviolence were doing something their countrymen who controlled the popular media had clearly refused to do: they were making peace visible. And by accomplishing that, despite the roar of death and destruction well underway, they succeeded, for a time, in making peace real.
In July 2006, I sat down to write a short simple thank you note to fellow poets and writers who had graciously wished me well on my birthday. To my surprise, the intended short simple note came out of my pen in the form of the following poem:
ANGEL OF GRATITUDE
Each, shaped from a heart
divine—such is the nature
of your humble wings.
Love, Mercy, and Grace,
sisters all, attend your wounds
of silence and hope.
You are the good twin
and the bad. Not arrogant,
With grief or without,
your flight commands awareness
of joy beyond pain.
Holy starbright of
infinite heavens, for these
tears––I do thank you.
Just the fact that it was a poem was the first big surprise. The second was the style in which it was written, a variation on the haiku that I had never used before. Had my muse taken on the form of an angelic presence to gift me with a unique way to say Thank You? Or had an angelic presence paid me a visit to play the role of my muse? I smiled at the possibilities, posted my Thank You poem, and life went cautiously on about its modern-world business.
So how astonished was I when another angel poem materialized just a week later? Very! This one called itself Angel of Grace. I don’t recall a specific reason for its composition, only afterwards feeling deeply inspired—almost pressured in fact—to dedicate it to the English poet Kate Burnside and her family. Since we have never met nor even chatted, this dedication stunned Burnside at least as much as it did me.
These angels of poetry, I thought, have a nicely wicked and scary sense of humor.
Angel of Grace forced me to confront the possibility that even though I had no intentions of writing additional poems about the influence or presence of angels, some additional poems might nevertheless have every intention of making themselves known to me. It turned out they did. Most were written down but some were not simply because I could not always hold the words or images long enough in my mind to do so. They would come in bursts of intense energy like exploding butterflies, dazzle me with their depth and light, then vanish.
The manner in which the poems continued to manifest intrigued me to no end. Predictably, the most violent among them was Angel of War. I did not like the concept of an Angel of War—probably because of the ongoing atrocities of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars—so tried to resist the act of physically writing a poem about one. This struggle not to pick up a pen and write clashed head-on with an intense compulsion to do exactly that. For more than a week I found myself engaged in this psychic battle. Any time I wrote a stanza in one notebook, just to get it out of my head, I would later write somewhere else a question challenging the nature of war. This tugging back and forth eventually gave the poem its final form of haiku-like stanzas followed by angry questions.
The Angel of War experience was a weird one that I did not have time to contemplate long because—talk about some serious irony—the next week the Angel of Peace showed up during a storm that knocked all the lights out. Every time I went feeling through the dark to do one thing, I would grab a candle or flashlight along with a pen and paper then stand wherever I was and write instead. Both Angel of War and Angel of Peace were featured in the July 2007 online issue of Poetry Life and Times.
By the time I wrote The Poet-Angels Who Came to Dinner , which turned out to be the thirteenth of the angel poems, in early 2007, I no longer had energy or room to doubt that I was involved in the creation of something at once singular and abstruse. The intensity of the writes continued to bug me a bit. Or maybe even a lot. Sometimes the words came like ecstatic utterances, sometimes like songs whispered from another time, like actual angelic possessions, or like mental files that had been downloaded while I slept and then printed via my pen as soon as I got up. I began to wonder how long they would go on.
As often happens when puzzled by something on the level of ordinary consciousness, the answer to my bafflement came on a higher level of dream consciousness. In what I described as a dream-vision, I saw dozens, or possibly hundreds, of angels above an ocean lined up across the sky in the form of an arc while I stood staring at them from the shores of a beach. The tops and tips of their wings glittered with the brilliance of silver starlight. The pulse and glow of this light seemed to hum a song that I was sure I had never heard before and yet that I recognized immediately, despite being unable to say what it was. Suddenly, the spirit of my father appeared beside me in the dream––pretty much the way fathers are known to do. I asked him if all those angels lined up across the sky in the shape of an arc meant that I was going to write a lot more about angels?
“That’s part of what it means,” he said, then added, “but you’re thinking too educated.”
“Thinking too educated? How?” I noticed the silver of his hair was similar to that of the angels’ wings and that his speech was more fluid than when he had lived in his world.
“You say they’re forming an ‘arc,’ like something beautiful but not with practical purpose. They’re really making a bridge. Wait a minute, that’s not the way to put it either. They actually are a bridge. You only see the angels on one side of it. There’re just as many on the other side. Now, Son, you know you ought’a recognize that bridge.”
“Ummm, really, why should I?”
“Because you were born at the foot of it and you’ve been walkin’ across it all your life. If it wasn’t for all those silver wings spread out to help you on your journey, you would’a been dead or someplace screamin’ in a nut house a long time ago.”
“Well that makes sense. Why didn’t you tell me this before you died?”
“It wasn’t for me to tell. It was for you to make it to this point in your life so you could see it for yourself. That way you can’t argue against it because the truth is a living part of you.”
Before I could ask another question, I woke up.
In that soft haze between full consciousness and fading dreams, I saw something else. There was my father standing on one bridge paved with feathers of gold; and there I was standing on another paved with feathers of silver. From where he stood, he smiled and waved. I woke up completely. Sitting up on the side of the bed, I grabbed the pen and notebook on my nightstand. Remembering the image of my father upon that bridge, I wondered if he had been a poet and never told me. Getting a better grip on my pen, I started writing.
(excerpt from The River of Winged Dreams)
Contemporary award-winning American author of classically-styled works in history, poetry, creative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and journalism.