Tears welled and threatened
To leave tear-track evidence
Of breathtaking profundity.
But what of flesh? This ruddy cheek
Pulsing with life, ruled by blood
Is blessed with time to weep.
It’s what I’m doing now,
And can do tomorrow if I like,
In no small part thanks to them.
The flood of all their fear- and pain-
Induced tears and tears of remembrance,
The calm and blustery seas drank deep.
In so many ghastly states, they tended to
Last things as they slid into glassy waves,
Too quick for leisurely tears of reflection.
They didn’t have time to – drowning.
Dying, as so many wartime souls - their
Proto-tears fused splash-quick with sea.
I hear the dulcet strains of a soothing chorus.
Could spirits be resurrected memories?
I’d never heard this Vaughan Williams
Before. Before I saw my grandfather
Lie so still, he’d taught me many a thing
About war’s strange change of heart.
“With our poor flesh and our poor blood”
We duke it out and eke it out and scratch
Eyes and flesh in war and, I fear, worse.
Young men fused their fate and fealty
With their peers and largely-faithful elders.
A glorious communion. A grand Hearse.
“Clothed with everlasting good, ”
They uniformly forged ahead.
Dead. But before death,
Each to each a fair shake,
A favor, a fight, a shared cigarette.
A fervor. Each to each a love
Stated and shown and shared,
For family, for occupation, for hobby.
And woe to him who kept quiet,
Whose gravest joys might sink
To silent depths, not being discussed.
Oh to count the almost-saids.
I imagined an empty and calm sea
Stretched for miles before my view
Suddenly parted by the bold prow
Of a death ship, a sunken destroyer,
Breaching all laws of gravity and reason
On its solemn way to heaven.
And on its fine decks the proud men
Assembled, jaws jutted and guts sucked.
Their gaze, fixed upward, would not meet mine.
Merchant marine crews from America,
German U-boat crews
Sometimes unreported, sometimes news.
The Lusitania. Spaniards from the Armada.
Trireme crews from Athens. Scores
of slaves with arms thick from rowing
keeping solemn company with grunts
the sea swallowed just short of beachheads.
Sea foam bubbled and water poured
As the bulk freed itself.
We watched it sail toward the heavens.
“And give them thanks for evermore, ”
Even the swindlers, the lovers of rapine.
The sea received them all into its frothy maw.
Making equals of selfless teens
And boisterous curs who primped and preened
And calm, stout sailors from temptation weaned.
My grandfather’s brother I never did meet.
The Arizona’s trapped oil coats his pearly bones.
Hodie in terra canunt angeli, laetantur archangeli.
(today the angels sing on earth, the archangels rejoice)
[12-16-05 Berkeley, CA]
This poem has not been translated into any other language yet.