Below and Beyond War: Susan Friess

Below and Beyond War

by Susan Freiss


How removed are we

from the newest attacks

and counter attacks?

How removed from terror

and souls jettisoning

from precious particular lives?

How removed from the slow violence

of oppression accelerated

into vengeance and revenge?

How removed from histories

of humiliation begetting

humiliating deathly harm?


Just how removed?

Or, better we ask,

how are we removed?

By thousand of miles

and buffering beliefs

that they are there anguished,

captive, petrified

and we are not?

Eyes open we feel

that buffer’s permeability

and see the illusion of our distance,

our horror ready reverberation.


Hands tremor helplessly,

aspiration for justice caught

in our throats, we sink,

let reverberation

draw us into the well

of our connection

and hold vigil

below and beyond war

allowing the convulsing,

the death rattling, the unhinging

to break our hearts open—

again, again, again



Ineffable the malevolence

of histories of oppression

and virulent racism

into which I was born

and more and more wittingly

have lived, white girl

with so little sense of self,

white woman at home

in the woods and fields

of the seemingly calm Midwest,

mothering, befriending.


Learning, following

atrocities I meet dismay

her emanations of despair

my own and yours

along our lines of connection

empathic distress stirs

tears brought to the woods

and fields and there, sure enough,

F-35s, metal death machines,

practice overhead,

grass and trees hold vigil.


We cannot pretend

this not part of that

or that is not part of this.

Voices will not be silenced

that object to genocide

though our country has

tried and tried.

The rhythm of vigil is

breaking open

throbbing, pulsing, emanating

below and beyond war.


Susan Freiss: I wrote the first section of this poem in the days immediately after October 7. The second section was born of living within the first. May the meaning and experience of vigil ever deepen our compassion and understanding of each other and of all suffering the consequences of war. 

Madison Chapter – World BEYOND War