The Cold War

By Lowell Jaeger

We’d need a fire to survive in the wild,

the Boy Scout Handbook advised.

We’d need flint, tinder and twine.

Like Neanderthals we’d squat to practice

scraping sticks upon sticks until friction flamed.


At home our mothers worried

over pressure cookers of mason jars

loaded with green garden beans, pickled

cucumbers, golden kernels of corn.

Calculated shelf spans; estimated portions

for how many mouths, how many days.

The pressure cooker tsk-ticking like a bomb.

The mothers insisting we stand back.


While out in the weeds and brambles beyond

our bedroom windows, our fathers

who art not in heaven swung pick axes

and spades, excavating the clan’s cave

of cinderblock and concrete and steel.


We sat up late in bed with flashlights

and the Boy Scout Handbook, learning

to tie snares and bait traps.  Learning

to chip flints.  To cook meat on an open spit.

Learning to expect the worst


was headed straight at us, as it had been

since the terror of the mastodons.  Since volcanoes

belching molten rock.  Since the first

dull thud of clubs splashed blood.

Since the first stone axes broke bones.



As founding editor of Many Voices Press, Lowell Jaeger compiled Poems Across the Big Sky, an anthology of Montana poets, and  New Poets of the American West, an anthology of poets from 11 Western states. His third collection of poems, Suddenly Out of a Long Sleep (Arctos Press) was published in 2009 and was a finalist for the Paterson Award.  His fourth collection, WE (Main Street Rag Press) was published in 2010.  He is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Montana Arts Council and winner of the Grolier Poetry Peace Prize. Most recently Jaeger was awarded the Montana Governor’s Humanities Award for his work in promoting thoughtful civic discourse.

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