Memorial Day, 2008
I wrote this to honor the day.
* * *
Rhyme is for a day or an hour; remembered loss goes tandem to the end of the animal.
The old man in shirt garters and asparagus green hat
Hears the red-fronted Teletype clattering out “ZCZC”.
He takes out a yellow W. U. telegram blank to format
The War Department message (subtexted U. S. Army).
This is why, he knows, friends don’t come by to chat;
And kids now don’t stop to click the brass Morse key.
No one with kin abroad wants to see the fateful jurat
Or get the black-starred envelope enclosing a decree
Of lifelong sadness
But the singing wires along the AT&SF road have told
A story from a burning island in the sea nameless before.
The one that used to play in the alley is gone from the fold,
Who pledged allegiance each school day; joined the Corps.
Winking lights lit him, and he waned before he waxed old.
His Hellcat’s steely wings did not keep him above the roar
When he went low to help comrades fighting for a foothold.
Friends remember him laughing in the corner drugstore;
A girl’s face goes colorless
The fat tires of a blue Columbia bike wobble over gravel
Under the old man’s slight weight. He knows frighted eyes
See him out of sunny windows, his sacrament too chasmal
Even to be borne by wing-footed Mercury; but his to baptize
Relatives with news like wormwood and gall; hearts unravel.
“Don’t leave loved ones alone; send for relatives to apprize;”
Better singers are kin who bring a balm in sounding babble.
But her scream as he pedals up the drive says The Father of Lies
Still experiments in madness
Night in the old town cemetery paints pale lavender roses black.
The old telegrapher comes once again to see it set in stone: 1918.
On a July day, they joined; shipped to France; shared a bivouac.
At St. Mihiel, both ran, shouting, under a dome sky of aquamarine,
So long ago – but he knows the blood and victory; the counterattack
That killed his friend. Coming home, the dark dreams ensanguine,
And rye not to remember. He looks up at great Heaven’s barrack,
Unsurprised particular stars are missing in the empyrean magazine.
Is it height . . . or abyss?
". . . it's all about the sacrifice/And the weapons you choose." Tonic - Casual Affair