Here, in Silence, More Soldiers Dead

Posted by on Nov 17, 2012 | 2 comments

We’re past the election, past Memorial Day. But we’re not past seeing the photos and names of dead soldiers roll by at the end of the PBS News Hour. How many years has it been? Night after night. It might be different ( a lot of things would be different, I suspect)  if we were all sacrificing equally, if all sorts of families—rich and poor, humble and prestigious—were losing their sons and daughters and moms and dads. But it’s preponderantly the poor kids from small towns. Or poor kids from the inner city.

I wrote a poem about this. I mention the great World War I poets, Siegfried Sassoon, Rupert Brooke, and Wilfred Owen. It was Owen who wrote “Anthem for Doomed Youth.” (And the book I mention is Make Way for Ducklings, first published in 1941).

The poem will be in my new book but here it is, now:

Here, In Silence, Are Eight More

Night after night the photos of dead soldiers
go by on the News Hour like playing-cards while we drink

our wine, though we stop for that length of time, of course,
out of reverence, but it’s not enough. The well of

how-not-enough-it-is is bottomless, deeper than TV. Even
if you track back through the Comcast cable, back to

the electrical impulses, you’re not even close to what to do.
Not even if you end up on Main Street in Salisaw, Oklahoma,

and follow the 19-year-old into the storefront full of
uniforms, crisp, medallioned, follow not his vanity

but his hope, his longing for order, for the squared shoulders
of order, his wish for the vast plains of the world

to unroll at eye-level, so he can walk out into the particulars,
the screaming, the blood. Owen, Brooke, Sassoon: what

anthem for doomed youth this time? His death rests
like a quarter in the pocket, a sure thing. Its arrival

is a few missing lines I fill in, wrongly, because
the mind does that: I have him watching in slow motion,

with love and pity, the flowers beginning to bloom
on his shirt, the sky closing like a book. Sadly, then,

he disappears entirely into my mind, his last breath
easing between my words. There was a book in his childhood.

No, mine. Ducks cross the road, a mother duck leads them
through traffic to the pond. The pages flip so that

the ducks seem to move. They slide into the pond
with the satisfaction of making it through the human

confusion. Our soldier floats like a duck. Like a night-flight
casket. In the photo his eyes, straight-forward, being all

they can be, float on the surface of a pool of uncatalogued
genetic material. One snapshot in time, his eyes were

like that, his mouth. He can’t remember. He never was
like that. He was playing dress-up, then, hoping to make it true,

and did, so true no one could get in a word, in protest.

2 Comments

  1. Its good to be back in touch.

  2. Fleda,
    This is beautiful.
    Tara

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