Memorial Days

| 29 Sep 2011 | 08:43

Dedication For the ones who survived beachheads, and deserts, mountains and jungles but were lost in the battle of their hometown returns. Memorial Days 1 The Saints we were called. I feel the thick sticks in my hands, still; Rimshots and paradiddles popping off The snare into blue, Connecticut, Mill town morning air. Tom-toms answering one row back. My brother blowing trumpet in the brass section. Fifty-star flags lining our route, And marshaled in behind us: The Veterans of Foreign Wars, Boy and Girl Scouts, Antique cars, a politician In the back seat of a lustrous old Buick Flicking his candy to kids in the street Radiating-red and polished chrome fire trucks. Police, sirens off, roof lights Flipping and reflecting in storefront glass. It was all I could do back then To keep from tripping over myself, Lovestruck as I was For a girl in the color guard. She was going with our team’s Star running back who everyone said Was headed for the first string of some Powerhouse Catholic college. Soon he’d be gone, Gunning for a bowl game; She’d have to notice me then, Marching not fifteen feet from her.... 2 New hometown a hundred towns west Of my old hometown, and Decades since the B-movie of my high school days. Roads, lawns, monuments nearly dry now After last night’s splattering rain. New parade day. New youth: Fresh-faced, mostly in step, Trumpeting and drumming a march Cooked up from a pop song— Ratamacues and grace notes echoing Our little canyon of historic buildings. And falling in as before: the civic organizations, Keepers of Commonwealth law, Rescuers, Volunteers, Veterans of our most recent wars. We marvel at the vintage cars— Washed and waxed, pacing themselves behind Bagpipers down the center of Broad Street. It’s easy to see how a country can come to sing A catchy jingle: See the USA In your Chevrolet.... We, the people, onlookers from sidewalks And gutters, seated in folding lawn chairs, Know the black and white of it: how Some from small towns like this can leave, Called up to conference tables skyscraper-high To consider costs and returns from all angles; Coming home for holidays, First, a few years by themselves, Then, with wives, Then, with children. And certain civilians standing for shade Beneath the Court House beech tree Recollect others who’d have lived whole lives here; Citizens like ourselves, Attending winter high school tournaments, Watching offspring run and shoot, Rebound and dribble .... But were called up, and, Answering the call on a May day morning like this, Left the world of the small river town, Left the kingdom of waterfalls and feeder streams for all time. 3 The veterans march to Memorial Park, And mark time, And stand at attention, And under the arching maples go Silent to honor the dead, some of them From the old school on Harford Street— Warriors before my time. Some from the 58,000 of my generation, Brothers long gone with their unborn children, Remembered now as the fifty-star flag Exhales, snaps and sags its shoulders, As, at half-staff, the black and white of the still-missing Lifts once and goes limp. Gone, the running back who enlisted. Gone, Warriors and Saints whose numbers came up. Gone, the politician flicking his candy. Gone, the black and white of the first TV’s. Gone, replaced with Less-menacing-looking facilities, The old brick munitions factories. And, dead themselves—ancient history, in fact, To most of those assembling around war memorials— Presidents who plead the oath, And misled, And kept our small-town graveyards fed. Gone, too, the inventors of the last century. Gone to dust, its engineers, its charioteers, Though, on black and white balloon tires, Some of the stunning monstrosities they designed Roll before our eyes, spit-shined, hearse-like in the blinding sun.ll