As I did last Memorial Day, I’m posting excerpts from poems that especially speak to me today. I hope you enjoy these, and will share some of your favorites in the comments.
1) “It is Dangerous to Read Newspapers” by Margaret Atwood (full text here):
…Now I am grownup
and literate, and I sit in my chair
as quietly as a fuse
and the jungles are flaming, the under-
brush is charged with soldiers,
the names on the difficult
maps go up in smoke…
passive eyes transmute
everything I look at to the pocked
black and white of a war photo,
can I stop myself.
It is dangerous to read newspapers.
Each time I hit a key
on my electric typewriter,
speaking of peaceful trees
another village explodes.
2) A Mad Fight Song for William S. Carpenter, 1966″ by James Wright (full text here):
At the edges of Southeast Asia this afternoon
The quarterbacks and the lines are beginning to fall,
A spring snow,
And terrified young men
Quick on their feet
Lob one another’s skulls across
Wings of strange birds that are burning
3) “Learning Experience” by Marge Piercy:
I have come out on the train from Chicago to talk
about dangling participles. I am supposed
to teach him to think a little on demand.
The time of tomorrow’s draft exam is written on the board.
The boy yawns and does not want to be in the classroom in Gary
where the furnaces that consumed his father seethe rusty smoke
and pour cascades of nerve-bright steel
while the slag goes out in little dumpcars smoking,
but even less does he want to be in Today’s Action Army
in Vietnam, in the Dominican Republic, in Guatemala,
in death that hurts.
In him are lectures on small groups, Jacksonian democracy,
French irregular verbs, the names of friends
around him in the classroom in Gary in the pillshaped afternoon
where tomorrow he will try to fail his license to live.
4) “19 January 1944” by Salvatore Quasimodo (full text here):
Someone is alive.
Someone, perhaps, is alive. But we, here,
absorbed in listening to the ancient voice
seek for a sign that outreaches life,
earth’s dark sorcery
where even among the tombs of rubble
the malign grass rears up its flower.
3 thoughts on “Poems for Memorial Day”
A genuine question, why is your memorial day today? What’s important about this specific date?
Hi, great question! In the United States, it is considered a day to reflect on those who have died in service to our country. An excellent summary of the day’s origins is here: http://www.va.gov/opa/speceven/memday/history.asp.
Thanks for reading! Donna
Love that Margaret Atwood poem and the William S. Carpenter (never heard of him.) Thanks for these. It’s important to remember what Memorial Day is and this poetry brings it home.