Poems From A Man Who Dodged The Draft

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Photo: Poet Robert Cooperman

Robert Cooperman dodged the draft. He did everything he could to avoid fighting (and dying) in the Vietnam War.

He thought a childhood injury would keep him out of the Army, but it didn't. He tried becoming a conscientious objector. No dice. Eventually, with the help of a psychiatrist who lied for him, Cooperman was declared mentally unfit to serve.

Today Cooperman is an award-winning poet in Denver. He shares this chapter of his life in the new collection "Draft Board Blues."

Read an excerpt:

Who Went and Who Didn’t

Let’s be honest about the Vietnam draft,
if you were a rich and powerful man’s son
you didn’t have to go unless you wanted
to get away from the blowhard, or felt a duty
to your country, or thought a war hero could easily
win a future election. If you were white, middle-class,
a city or suburban boy, there were doctors notes
diagnosing you were afflicted by any number
of lethal diseases; shrinks’ letters lamenting
you were a dope fiend, a homosexual, crazier
than a birthday balloon, air zooming out of it.
There were student deferments and maybe the war
would end before the diploma was rammed
into your terrified hand. There were teaching jobs,
conscientious objector status, or if you were truly
desperate: Canada, Sweden, if you brought
enough money, so you weren’t deemed a parasite.

But God forbid, you were from a small town,
a farm, were black or Latino, or all of the above,
and your family needed the combat pay, or worst,
a judge roared, “Prison or the army,” so off you went,
like a British convict transported to the Antipodes.
And if you weren’t lucky, shipped home in a box,
or without some limbs, or maybe in one piece,
but you couldn’t sleep, you drank, did drugs, had flashbacks
of fire fights, buddies dying in your arms, and no one
understanding why you couldn’t just get on with your life,
instead of fighting with your family, your girlfriend,
your wife, who might finally sob you weren’t the same:
she and the kids afraid of you. So maybe you’d end up
on the street, hearing voices, the VA telling you nothing
was wrong, and you really, really, really wanted to believe
those lying fuckers, but knew you were twisted up inside,
no way you could ever get straightened out, again.