Bill O’Connell: Three Poems, War in Ukraine

What does a poet do when the war is all over the news? He responds, she responds. Writers everywhere are responding to the horrific war in Ukraine, posting new work of their own and sharing poems by Ukrainian poets of today and the past. Artists of all kinds are telling us how they feel, what they see, who they are thinking of, what we can do. Jane Brox says we write to organize our response to world, and Tom Sexton says he writes because it’s what he can do. 


Bill O’Connell lives in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts between the Connecticut River and Quabbin Reservoir. Bill is a recent winner in the Atlantic Currents II writing contest for his poem “When We Were All Still Alive,” the title poem from his new book from Open Field Press, which is available at His other books are Sakonnet Point and On the Map to Your Life. Bill is a graduate of UMass Lowell, with a master’s degree from Colorado State University. He has a poem forthcoming in The Lowell Review 2022, due this month.

Bill O’Connell: Three Poems, War in Ukraine


Human Kind


Today we will learn what went on

in the war while we slept

far from the whistle and boom

of Grad rockets on Kiev —

what flying steel will do

to concrete, families in basements

hanging on. I saw it

in my mind and on

CNN: fireballs —

the laws of physics splattered,

a family with suitcases

shocked to death by a blast.


No darkness without the lit places —

the downtown of the mind defended

by partisans. In the movies the invaders

appear from the skies, the myth

of the next great coming —

metal-limbed, reduced to circuits

without senses but sensors

we outwit and explode

back into space,

to planets we can only imagine, seek

to go there and destroy.


No one slept in Kiev last night

where it is night again as we wake

to tune into CNN to view

the damage. Clucking our tongues

at the invaders, rivers of grief, cities

shot to rubble, televised war

in real time, no hero coming

to save the day

but heroes none the less

waiting among broken concrete

and burnt tanks

for the Russians.


Stop Making Sense Again

(watching war on CNN)


My body thinks the mind knows something.

The mind, oblivious, doesn’t recognize

pain unless it’s a migraine. Fingers grip

the hand: womb-wrap. Clench, clutch.

I didn’t want to own anything but

the world chased me down like an

overweight cop in a fast cruiser, wrote

me a lifetime ticket

and wrapped me up in it

like a UPS Covid package sterilized

before opening. Metaphor,

I tell my students, is how we

make sense: I am a rock, I am

an island formerly owned by Paul Simon.

Get it? Breaking News: Ukraine, Man’s

Inhumanity To Man. Next up we speak

with a shell-shocked retired general brought to you

by elderly ailments and Botox.

Tired of war? Boost up

with Botox. People will notice!

People will swipe left with worn out fingers.

Here’s Joe Namath with a number to call:

I bought a silver bullet

with a pill inside. Take it, Joe said,

take it. I was afraid it might be

a placebo.



The View From Here


I’ve had too much of Putin

pounding Ukraine into

a moonscape so I

shut off CNN and go up

(I’m going up I say

to my wife) to listen to

Miles & Trane and then

Vjay Iyer turn physics

into notes and space to filter

what comes to me through T.V.

and the Net: endless

channels of noise

Whitman might embrace

as the human condition

on parade. Miles plays

then Coltrane comes in

after Adderley to take

everything higher. Then

Vjay on the now-piano

translates YAWP into Sanskrit

with an Albany accent —

the war’s eight octaves,

the rhythm of shelling,

the people in the subways

singing their national anthem.