Tuesday, March 07, 2006

HUSH NOW

So I did it, finally after 10 years and a million revisions, my manuscript of poems "Still Life" is finished, done, completo. This isn't the first time that I thought I was through, but it is the first time I knew it. Special thanks goes out to all the publishers who have rejected it over the years, thereby giving me a chance to polish it to its current level of sheen. Of course it's just going to keep getting rejected, but I don't care now. I know that I've done everything possible to produce the best poems I can. Now I can start working on the next one. I should have at least three by now, but hey, I'm lazy as hell and write slowly to boot. Below find the last poem that need substantial revisions, I may do more work to the MS, but it's all just touch-up now. The main coats have been brushed and rolled and are drying as we speak. This is one of the few poems I have written where everything is true. Enjoy;

HUSH NOW, DON’T EXPLAIN
(for Muskie and Dee)

Under a sapphire ceiling,
the three of us walk west
on Constitution Ave.
At 19th St. we become
black threads weaving
through a quilt of white tourists.
You and Denise ask me
what I remember of the war.
I recall in black and white,
helicopters swarming like locusts,
two men emerging from a jungle
bearing a bandaged comrade.
A Buddhist monk wrapped in robes
a warmer orange than
the flames which engulfed him.
I was barely old enough
to understand the flame's finality.
Our conversation fades as
we approach the book of names.
It says Robert Louis Howard,
Panel 22W.
You say Thua Thien, June 1969.
We round the corner
to the headstone of an era,
find an eternal funeral.
Who knows if the sudden hush
is reverence or shame.
Roses, wreaths and carnations,
bright as fresh blood
lean against the stone,
heads bowed.
A legless vet rolls by,
the eye of his camera blinking furiously.
The name sits
thirteen lines from the top.
The tallest, I’m drafted to make the trace.
I square the paper
shading to reveal a shade.
As I hand you the ghost of a name,
the arithmetic hits me.
The summer of ’69
found you in diapers.
All you’ve had for a Dad
is a folded flag,
and a Sergeant’s smile
on a curling Polaroid.
Slowly, the reflecting pools
of our eyes fill.
Trembling, you pose the question
that vexes still. Why?
We walk to the benches
trailing teardrops.
Denise hums a balm
as we huddle and rock.
Below us, three tight-lipped
bronze soldiers.
Above us, a flag spilling
like blood down a bayonet.
Above that, an August sky
almost blue
as the tremor
in Denise's contralto.

I don’t usually explain (or try to expand on) my poems, but this poem is different for me. It’s (obviously) about the first time I visited the Viet Nam Veteran’s Memorial, with my cousins Denise (Hugs and kisses, wherever you are) and Rob (What up, soldier?). I had lived in DC about 15 years at that point, but had never gone to see this particular memorial. I had once tried to go see it, but didn’t realize that unlike all the other monuments, it isn’t visible from the street. So I wound up going right past it and never finding it. Then Denise moved here and we started hanging out and one weekend Rob came down from Connecticut to hang out. I think my mother may have told me that Rob’s father had gotten killed in the war, I’m not sure. Anyway off we go, we took Rob to a couple different places on a mini site-seeing tour first and were all having a great time. We were laughing and joking as we walked down Constitution Ave from the Washington Monument. None of us had ever been to this monument and didn’t know what to expect. If there is anyone foolish enough to doubt the power of art to affect folks in the most powerful of ways, then just take them there and that will end that nonsense forever. The combination of the sculpture, the natural setting and the way the people interact with the monument, creates a very spiritual and moving experience. I was pretty composed until I handed the first tracing to Rob, after I saw the expression on his face, I started losing it. I fought tears all the way through the other 3 or 4 tracings and by the last one could barely see. When we went to the bench and sat down, I cried like I never have, before or since. And Denise just held us, two grown sobbing men and hummed that song. For me part of it was sadness, part guilt. I harbored a tremendous amount of animosity towards my father (See Silent Night or Father, Son), but at least I knew him and had spent time (some happy) with him. I felt bad for Rob like I’ve never felt for anyone. That day was a real turning point for me, in terms of putting things in perspective and beginning to deal with my own issues. I had the stuff about my Dad in earlier drafts, then took it out. I’m not sure if the poem is completely finished or not, but I can live with it as is. We’ll see
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