When they asked him what did you do during the war he said “I just stood guard.” When they asked him where he said “A station, just a station, like most others, I just stood guard.” When they asked him did you see the trains carrying the bodies crammed into cattle cars he said “I saw many trains, it was just a station, but mostly I looked at the sky, wishing for the sun, but mostly it was gray and there was smoke from the chimneys.” When they asked him why did you wear the lightening bolts he said “I was a ski instructor but I broke my leg so I stood at the station, just a station like most others.” When they asked him did he know of the ovens he said “They made bread which we ate each night when there were no potatoes.” When they asked him about the Jews he said “I knew no Jews; there were none in the town where I stood guard at a station, just a station like most others.” When they asked him what he did after the war he said “I prayed, just prayed for my sins, sins like those of so many others.”
As the plane slowly descends the cemetery appears through a break in the clouds. The headstones are arrayed in neatly ordered geometries, unknown to those who lie beneath, and those who water the always verdant lawns.
Mausoleums cluster in a small village, from which no one ever moves, and rest comes easily to those who lie within.
If you are patient and do not look for it, there is a still moment in each day when nothing at all happens, when the silence without demands a silence within, when thoughts evaporate like the mist of an early morning dew, when you have precisely enough and cannot imagine needing more, when where you are is where you must be, when the past and future float off and their gravitational pull on you breaks, and you simply are in the only moment there is.
There is a statue of William Penn atop the city hall in Philadelphia seeming to stare down over the city with bronze eyes incapable of seeing. Hagar wandered the wilderness after she was evicted by Abraham at Sarah’s urging, the price of jealousy, with bread and water and the promise of a great nation. It is pure speculation whether Hagar was enslaved and freed or, as we would claim it today, employed by the family. In the end the distinction matters little. Penn remains blind atop the building Hagar and Ishmael are long dead, and Jefferson likely had children with one of his slaves, or so the DNA evidence indicates. I am of Norwegian and Scottish patrilineal heritage it appears though my great nation is a six year old girl and almost three year old boy.
What do you say to those who turn their backs on those broken in battle, or broken at the sight of battle, who were left to clean up the collateral damage, or who were collateral damage, were pierced by IED’s, or shaped charges, who had inadequate armor, or no armor at all, who were left in moldy rooms, were dropped on the street, who don’t want to go back again, and still again, who see clearly with their eyes closed, who cannot find shelter in a maelstrom of thoughts, who did what was asked and wish they hadn’t, who asked for leaders and found only followers, who asked why and were told “just because,” who never came back, or who were left here.
Previously appeared in SNReview, Vol. 9, No. 2, 2007 and in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press (2008).
Early this morning as I drove through the mist that clings to Portland in March like a child’s yellow slicker, I thought of you, home, asleep on our bed, my side tidy, no faint indentation of life, and I thought of the thousands who have died to date in Iraq, who never again will leave a faint indentation in any bed. It is far easier thinking of you, of regretting the miles between us at this moment, but knowing that I will shortly bridge those miles and we will tonight indent our bed, that two thousand miles is little more than an inconvenience, while many of them are no more that a dozen miles outside of countless towns; but the effect of that short distance is infinite and they can only indent the thawing earth beneath the granite stones.
For a while, I will be using Thursday’s posts to feature poems I previously had published. Today’s, Early Morning previously appeared in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press, (2008).
There was a time not all that long ago, he reminds me, when the event of an eclipse was a certain sign the world was ending. Prayers were offered in profusion, and the event proceeded and passed, so faith in prayer was restored, if not in astronomy. Today eclipses are viewed as just other celestial events, like meteor showers and solar flares, something to see, something to experience, but always with the knowledge that tomorrow will always be right around the corner. But the eclipse of our freedoms is something we have never seen, and many now believe the world is ending, but we should, he says, realize that like the slow passage of the earth across the face of the moon, we will emerge into the light again in due time, our prayers having been answered.