1107: Accessory to War by Kim Stafford

20240430 Slowdown

1107: Accessory to War by Kim Stafford


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

After my first year of college, I sat on a mountain of debt. I decided to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, better known as the ASVAB. I thought about enlisting in the military, as men in my family had done. I was proud of their sense of service; however, my decision was purely financial. Soon after, recruiters from the major branches of the military called my home. But my local Army recruiter was the most persistent.

For nearly a month, he rang my phone; it felt daily. I didn’t tell my parents. I stretched the phone cord out of the kitchen and into a hallway, and listened as he listed off the procedure for signing up. On several occasions, I enjoyed talking with him. Yet I never committed.

Then, one evening, while studying for an exam, his chief commander called instead. He asked pointed questions that felt concerning. He wanted to know if the recruiter had laid out all the benefits of enlisting in the Army.

I said, yes, I understood them all. Then, he asked, had the recruiter made a remark that was offensive. I said, no, he hadn’t. Then, to my surprise, he said, “You’re not signing up now, but someday you will. You need us. I know your type. You’re poor and smart. You don’t have many options.” I hung up.

What changed my mind? I was in a college course on the history of slavery and abolitionism. There, I studied more intimately the Religious Society of Friends. I even considered life as a Quaker and went to meetings in Olde City Philadelphia. I valued the work of folks I knew in the American Friends Service Committee and their commitment to nonviolence. I wanted to be associated with people who sought to promote peace, whose vision of a world meant the absence of the tools of war.

Today’s sobering poem lands a powerful reminder: that even when we adhere to a belief against war, even when we wish not to collude in acts of aggression, in a powerful nation as ours, mere citizenship implicates us.

Accessory to War
by Kim Stafford

Last glimpse before 
dark: crushed mint in a bowl
for tea, pewter pot with the bent spout,
and my brother sprawled on the carpet singing
me to sleep, the song our grandmother sang to our
mother under the olive trees in the mist of her stories
that were our book of delights, night by night
the telling of the time before, gardens
and bread, water from the well,
doves in the fig tree, then
starlight on the roof.

Reading the news, I learn
my taxes bought one rivet on the shoulder
of a bomb that fell on a family, my rivet flung
free as shrapnel whistling through the room to blind
a child so her brother clawing through smoke and rubble
vowed revenge in all directions, his life for retaliation—war
works so well for enemies, making each other seem
necessary, while my taxes, dirty money earned
by teaching and writing, bought the rivet
on the shoulder of the bomb
this poem sent.

“Accessory to War” by Kim Stafford from AS THE SKY BEGINS TO CHANGE © 2024 Kim Stafford. Used by permission of the Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Red Hen Press.