James Toupin


Washington, D.C., March 15, 2003

Once I would have known
to come, but that weekend noon
I walked, work mooted, out
of conditioned air, into
a surprise of spring.
Cars all cleared, blue jeans
and tee shirts promenaded
down the street center,
clusters of old friends chatting.
It seemed a reunion. A young
man megaphoned the rhythm
of familiar chants.
The lie was in the air.

I should have known the time
was come. The President,
in his paradise, blocks off,
would scarcely have us in view,
his eyes fixed on the desert
of his ends, foreseeing
blameless bombardment to open
the firework music of
his righteousness. His truth
must be set in motion
and soon. March meant the heat
was gaining between the rivers.
The lie was in the air.

Out of place, dark-suited,
yet I joined for a ways,
strolling, as little as
my neighbors matching the pace
the young man’s calls insisted
we should march. It seemed I
walked again in that flood
of demonstrators pouring
down streets built over dunes,
where, younger than he, I had
secreted myself, failing
to stop another war.
The lie was in the air.

What we – what I did not know
was that the orders were given,
planes and troops would move,
force thinking it would forge
its new facts on the ground,
even as witness took
to the streets. The ground is always
prone, marshland or sand, to
motion, and empire to
all-too-just shifts of hubris,
having more to dread the
farther its power stretches.
The lie was in the air.

And if not to stop it,
for what did we parade? –
as though to distance ourselves
from the history that would
be rained down in our name.
I did not stay for speeches.
Who could have said enough,
some Jonah sent against
his will to Nineveh?
I walked away, back to
my buried life, where what
must be said goes to hide.
The lie was in the air.


James Toupin is a retired government lawyer now teaching in the law school of American University in Washington, DC. His poetry has appeared in numerous journals since he began publishing in 2008, including recently Virginia Quarterly Review (online), Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Beloit Poetry Journal and Canary. He is the translator of Selected Letters of Alexis de Tocqueville on Politics and Society (University of California Press), and he is a writer on legal topics.