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Observer, March 20

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The thousands of birds you've seen flitting from tree to tree in every neighborhood lately are cedar waxwings. Tens of thousands, really, of these astonishing-looking birds, faces masked, wingtips dipped in red “wax” and tail-feathers in yellow, are on the move. Just outside the Observatory, in a small section of sky, we can see several hundred circling over the intersection of Markham and Scott streets and swooping in on the hollies growing at the Statehouse Convention Center below. They've got the Canadian woods on their minds as they strip the berries off the trees of Little Rock; soon we'll look up and not see even one.

What sort of grown-up flips the bird at teen-agers? Oh well, they only got two fingers and one thumbs down from passersby, report the girls who joined the anti-war demonstration Saturday in War Memorial Park. Like the cedar waxwings, to perhaps carry the bird theme to the brink, the group — a respectable 150 at one point — descended on the corner of Markham and Van Buren with their signs, “Peace — Bring it On!” and so forth. Three belly dancers, their pantaloons made of gauzy flags, moved their hips to music. Fortunately, there were no collisions at the intersection.

The group — mostly over 50, if we observed correctly, including war veterans and veteran protestors — had processed to the corner from the park pavilion after the delivery of inspirational speeches from a legislator, a peace group leader, a veteran and a preacher, the last making the particularly stinging remark that the press reports more on the $4,000 earned by a “gubernatorial hooker” than the nearly 4,000 American deaths in Iraq.

A fellow protester turned to The Observer and asked, Why doesn't the press report the huge number of Iraqi dead? Why don't we hear at least an estimate of innocent lives lost from the American press? Other countries do not flinch at such facts. Real news has become an unfilled niche in American journalism.

Here are some numbers. By October 2006, according to the Lancet medical journal, 655,000 Iraqis had been killed, mostly by terrorist and sectarian violence. That was a year and a half ago. Some estimates now put the toll at more than 1 million.

Arkansas has lost 59 people.

Ed Madden, a native of Newport and associate professor of English at the University of South Carolina, will be in Arkansas in April for the Literary Festival touting his new book of poetry, “Signals,” published by the USC Press. It includes this composition named for the town most known as the birthplace of our governor:

Amagon, Arkansas

after David Baker

Small towns puncture the highways leaving / Newport, the county seat, their smallness a kind / of grace. Everything has been left out

to weather — a car on blocks, rocking horse / faded to dusty blue. Driving through / is the prevailing point of view. There is

a portable sign in front of the store, where / the specials every day are staples: bread, / milk, ground chuck, and what's not advertised —

Shirley's crafts scattered across the shelves / on the back wall, Wayne's take on the weather. / There are stacks of snuff and Skoal cans

at the register. A box beneath the counter / has all the tabs, credit where credit is due. / Across the street at church, sermons rarely

leave casualties. Attendance is the only virtue / left; gossip and family take care of other / sins. Once a train ran through town,

but now just tractors and plows, pickup trucks / on the way to Walart, the big stores in Newport. / Or the John Deere dealer in Weiner, where

they have the rice festival every year, / cooking contests and beauty queens, harvest / longings transliterated as civic pride. Nothing

is lonelier here than attention. This is the season / when crop dusters are blamed for everyone's dying gardens.

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