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June 1, 2010

Memorial Day, Belmont

Shaw's father wanted no monument
except the ditch,
where his son's body was thrown
and lost with his "niggers."

--Robert Lowell, For the Union Dead

The VFW Commander in his flat Boston voice
intones the names of the dead:
DeStefano, Haratoonian, Donnelly, O'Neil.
Sweating, Buddha-fat babies watch; their
shrunken grandmas sag into low lawn chairs.

The high school band follows the route we have
marked for them. They play like experts, but they can joke,
knowing they have a few years before they sink
into the chairs along the way.

In this town, Lowell checked himself in
to the loony bin
and glimpsed his future in the faces
of the other mental cases.
(Plath too, and Ray Charles.)

Once John Birch HQ, it knows fear.
Cambridge public housing blocks stand in sight: warnings.
The lady selling cones from the ice cream truck
wears a hijab. Belmont's Finest march to the tune
of Valley Forge, Custer's ranks,
San Juan Hill and Patton's tanks.

And the ditch, it comes closer each year.

Blank shots over the town's war graves.
The bones hear nothing, but the shots and smoke
are for the grandmas, the band, the babies,
for the ravaged veterans of the one war
we all fight alone to the last breath.

June 1, 2010 9:17 AM | category: verse and worse | Comments



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