Three for Veterans Day


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Shine, Republic

The quality of these trees, green height; of the sky, shining; of water, a clear flow;
      of the rock, hardness
And reticence: each is noble in its quality. The love of freedom has been the quality
      of western man.

There is a stubborn torch that flames from Marathon to Concord, its dangerous
      beauty binding three ages
Into one time; the waves of barbarism and civilization have eclipsed but have
      never quenched it.

For the Greeks the love of beauty, for Rome of ruling; for the present age
      the passionate love of discovery;
But in one noble passion we are one; and Washington, Luther, Tacitus, Eschylus,
      one kind of man.

And you, America, that passion made you. You were not born to prosperity, you
      were born to love freedom.
You did not say “en masse,” you said “independence.” But we cannot have all
      the luxuries and freedom also.

Freedom is poor and laborious; that torch is not safe but hungry, and often requires
      blood for its fuel.
You will tame it against it burn too clearly, you will hood it like a kept hawk, you
      will perch it on the wrist of Caesar.

But keep the tradition, conserve the forms, the observances, keep the spot sore. Be great,
      carve deep your heel-marks.
The states of the next age will no doubt remember you, and edge their love of freedom
      with contempt of luxury.


Robinson Jeffers
from The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers













After the Wilderness

      May 3, 1863

When Clifford wasn’t back to camp by nine,
I went to look among the fields of dead
before we lost him to a common grave.
But I kept tripping over living men
and had to stop and carry them to help
or carry them until they died,
which happened more than once upon my back.
And I got angry with those men because
they kept me from my search and I was out
still stumbling through the churned-up earth at dawn,
stopping to stare into each corpse’s face,
and all the while I was writing in my head
the letter I would have to send our father,
saying Clifford was lost and I had lost him.

I found him bent above a dying squirrel
while trying to revive the little thing.
A battlefield is full of trash like that —
dead birds and squirrels, bits of uniform.
Its belly racked for air. It couldn’t live.
Cliff knew it couldn’t live without a jaw.
When in relief I called his name, he stared,
jumped back, and hissed at me like a startled cat.
I edged up slowly, murmuring “Clifford, Cliff,”
as you might talk to calm a skittery mare,
and then I helped him kill and bury all
the wounded squirrels he’d gathered from the field.
It seemed a game we might have played as boys.
We didn’t bury them all at once, with lime,
the way they do on burial detail,
but scooped a dozen, tiny, separate graves.
When we were done he fell across the graves
and sobbed as though they’d been his unborn sons.
His chest was large — it covered most of them.
I wiped his tears and stroked his matted hair,
and as I hugged him to my chest I saw
he’d wet his pants. We called it Yankee tea.


Andrew Hudgins
from What Comes Down to Us: 25 Contemporary Kentucky Poets













Sleeping in Dick Cheney's Bed

It's unnerving how comfortable this is:
NORAD watching over the bedroom, Colorado
mule deer chewing the dawn outside as I dream
I'm wading thigh-high into the North Platte River,
wearing rubber waders, casting a handmade fly
with a whip-like, graceful sling of the line
until I fall back, plunge into the cold rushing
white water, my eyes blurred hard
under the sun's interrogations--Cheney's hands
like a preacher's delivering me deeper into the truth,
with a gasp of air, a flash of light, to be plunged back down
the way he offers midges and blood worms and rusty scuds
to the cloudy river, running 1400 cubic feet per second,
until I cough up the fictional and beg for the heartland's
fluid clarity, salvation, the charity of forgiveness, anything
to unravel the dream and return me back my California bed,
my lover beside me and not this stale man's breath
clinging to the Egyptian cotton sheets, the hanging curtains,
the flaring light of Colorado Springs where Cheney slept
in this very bed, both of us held by the same coiling
box spring, goose down pillows cupping our heads
gently into sleep, the reddening glow of Mars
rising over the horizon, dead skin sloughed off
to coat my own skin at an invisible level, and still--
what does it say about me, that the Pinot Grigio
tasted so good on my tongue, and that
I struggled to be a sergeant tonight,
speaking to the officer corps in a theater
filled with 1600 listening faces--as I spoke
about rape, death, and murder--what does it say about me
that I can return to Cheney's room after midnight,
strip my clothes off to curl in the bed
where he too has slept, the sheets a sublime reprieve
for my tired frame, the night a perfection of sleep.

Brian Turner
from Phantom Noise