Political Poet's Choice: "Here, in Silence" by Fleda Brown
I was just weary. Those mostly-baby faces day after day, nearly young enough to be my oldest grandchild. But after the great World War I poets, Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Rupert Brook, how could I write this again? What new words are there? The anxiety of influence, as Harold Bloom called it. All I could do is focus on now and let the weight of past excellence bleed into the work. Owen, Sassoon and Brook do actually find their way into my poem.
I was angry, of course. So I had this one small-town guy, someone I made up out of all the others. I have him heading into the recruiting office. What does he want? It's so vague. I think of W. B. Yeats' poem, "An Irish Airman Foresees His Death"--the lines "Those that I fight I do not hate,/ Those that I guard I do not love." So what drew the airman there, to fight? "A lonely impulse of delight," he says. What else can I say, beyond that?
I let him disappear into my mind. I remember a story book--it's actually "Make Way for Ducklings" now that I think of it, but I made it into one of those books that you flip the pages fast and it looks like the images are moving. What made me think of that? I guess the danger, the innocent ducks trying to get through the traffic. The ducks made it; the soldier didn't.
Here, In Silence, Are Eight More
Night after night the photos of dead soldiers
go by on the News Hour like playing-cards while we drink
our wine, though we stop for that length of time, of course,
out of reverence, but it's not enough. The well of
how-not-enough-it-is is bottomless, deeper than TV. Even
if you track back through the Comcast cable, back to
the electrical impulses, you're not even close to what to do.
Not even if you end up on Main Street in Salisaw, Oklahoma,
and follow the 19-year-old into the storefront full of
uniforms, crisp, medallioned, follow not his vanity
but his hope, his longing for order, for the squared shoulders
of order, his wish for the vast plains of the world
to unroll at eye-level, so he can walk out into the particulars,
the screaming, the blood. Owen, Brooke, Sassoon: what
anthem for the doomed youth this time? His death rests
like a quarter in the pocket, a sure thing. Its arrival
is a few missing lines I fill in, wrongly, because
the mind does that: I have him watching in slow motion,
with love and pity, the flowers beginning to bloom
on his shirt, the sky closing like a book. Sadly, then,
he disappears entirely into my mind, his last breath
easing between my words. There was a book in his childhood.
No, mine. Ducks cross the road, a mother duck leads them
through traffic to the pond. The pages flip so that
the ducks seem to move. They slide into the pond
with the satisfaction of making it through the human
confusion. Our soldier floats like a duck. Like a night-flight
casket. In the photo his eyes, straight-forward, being all
they can be, float on the surface of a pool of uncatalogued
genetic material. One snapshot in time, his eyes were
like that, his mouth. He can't remember. He never was
like that. He was playing dress-up, then, hoping to make it true,
and did, so true no one could get in a word, in protest.
"Here, in Silence" was first published in The Delaware Poetry Review (2007). Fleda Brown's new book, released in March, is "Driving With Dvořák," in the American Lives Series, general editor Tobias Wolff, University of Nebraska Press.
March 17, 2010; 4:35 AM ET
Categories: Poet's Choice
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