Friday, November 15, 2013

The view from the middle of November

Monday was Veterans's Day, a day I spend remembering my brothers-in-arms who didn't come home, or who now have reached their "sell by" date and have left us. I've been having some trouble lately getting started with on poems, not being able to come up with ideas. And my muse seems to have been furloughed with the rest of the government and didn't come back yet.

So, I was reading a weekly poetry gathering called The Weekly Avocet, put together by a fellow poet, Charles Portolano. He suggests using a quote or a line of poetry as the starting point for a new poem.
The Writer's Almanac, a newsletter put out daily by Garrison Keillor mentioned the speech Shakespeare had Henry V make to his troops at Agincourt just before they are to go into battle against a far superior French army. One line from this speech "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers" you'll recognize as containing the title of a fine movie about the infantry in WW II.

Henry V

"This story shall the good man teach his son;

And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,

But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

For he to-day that sheds his blood with me

Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,

This day shall gentle his condition:

And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,

And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks

That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day." 

I thought I'd use that line as a point from which to write a poem for Veteran's Day. I took several days writing it, and it probably still needs some tweaks, but I'll post it here for now. I hate to put my poetry in the same post as lines from Shakespeare, but at least I used a good man for inspiration.

My band of brothers 
I meet them in the grocery store 
parking lot or the hardware store. 
I recognize them by a license plate, 
a window decal, a bumper sticker, 
the baseball caps they're wearing. 

We stop briefly to chat, sharing 
where we served, Quang Ngai, 
Can Tho, Cu Chi, An Khe, Saigon. 
We were there at different times 
and had very different duties, but 
we share a bond, we served our 
country and we are brothers. 

It was an unpopular war in which 
those called to duty came home to be 
spit upon, called vile names, shunned 
in polite society, never welcomed, made 
to suffer in silence and all alone. 

So today when we meet, and mention 
those days, backs straighten, eyes take on 
a look of pride, and we remember those 
we fought with, those who did not return. 
A nod and on our way, but not without 
saying, "Welcome home, Brother."

Middle of November is packed with meaning for me. November 10th is my mother's birthday as well as the birthday of the Marine Corps. And the 11th is Veteran's Day, and two weeks later from my mother's birthday, the 24th is the anniversary of her death, seven years ago this year. I wrote one of several poems about her death last year to remember it.

The Last Leaf to Fall 
The shadows of desiccated leaves, 
hanging from winter-bare branches, 
fluttered on the hospital floor 
the day my mother died. 

She was the last of her generation, 
outlived the rest by a dozen years. 
She often said "I want to be with Dad." 
Her last days were painful, hellish, 
spine curled, head bent to her knees. 
She was surrounded by other shriveled 
women and men, who, like the leaves, 
were barely hanging on. 

Perhaps she waited for us to visit her 
one last time. We held her hands 
all morning, begging her to let go. 
She did, but only after we left.
The same way a leaf will let go 
when no one is watching it.  

I'm also working on a poem that builds off a quote from Aldo Leopold's Sand County Almanac, but that's for another time. We'll be off for Denton, TX, for Thanksgiving with family. Should be a good trip. Later! Probably some time in December.