Entry - MAG Poetry Prize 2011


by John MacDonald

In May 2006, an American campaign group who were touring the United States protesting against the three-year-old Iraq War brought their protest to Washington DC.  Their campaign was called ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ and they protested by lining up hundreds of  pairs of ‘military’ boots in long lines on the grass which stretched along The Mall.  Each pair of boots represented a dead US serviceman or woman.  Each pair of boots had attached to it the name of a soldier who had been killed in Iraq; since the campaign was supported by the families of many of the deceased soldiers, many of the boots also had attached to them a photo of the named soldier, a family letter or a bunch of flowers.  Arrayed in perhaps 10 to 15 long rows, these boots stretched out on the bright green grass of the Mall, the Lincoln Monument at one end and the Capitol Building at the other.  It was a hugely poignant and dignified protest against that war, one which commanded the attention of passers-by on that quiet sunny day.  I was one of them.
J. P. MacDonald


Pairs of empty boots
placed in long straight rows on the grass. 
They are dull-black, like war;
the tongues are silent, the laces loose and limp.
Dead skin, warming in the sun. 
They were not always empty, those boots.
They once held toes that mother tickled,
feet which another hand caressed.
Ah, how those hands would have gripped
had they known where those feet would soon tread.
Those boots helped each soldier to his death;
he couldn’t have marched there without them.
But they bear no blame;
they, like him, were only doing what they had to
when the foot comes down.
And now
the boots are placed in lines,
so the people can see the cost of their defence.
They crouch to examine, touch
and do so tenderly;
each boot is a peaceful brow.
Beyond the lines,
the Capitol stands tall.
Its dome is an upside-down smile.
It is shining, white; worthy of defense.
It gazes silently over the boots.
Inside its walls
they cobble some more.
The boots sit in silent pairs,
each placed by a caring hand.
No need to tie the laces,
or polish to a shine.
Each boot is a dead man’s foot;
one which stepped
over the line.                                                    

Added: 27.04.2011

Judges' comments on this poem


A very emotive poem. I liked the images of the boots but felt it wordy and would have benefited from an edit


Interesting poem. Nice images. Useful to have the paragraph at the beginning, although not essential. Poem would work on its own as well.


A serious subject and a different perspective on war making the soldiers speak for themselves through their pairs of boots.