Monday, May 19, 2014


When I was young almost every town had a Memorial Day Parade. This was a big event for the community and our school bands marched in all of them. I was proud to be a part, playing at different times saxophone, clarinet, drums and once even a glockenspiel. I especially liked how proud I was to be marching in the same parade as my Dad who was a WWII veteran.

In those days we had veterans from four wars march with us, although the wounded and almost all the Spanish American vets rode in open convertibles.

As kids we would get restless as we stood around at the cemeteries waiting for ceremonies we couldn’t hear to finish. Most of the time the bands were positioned off in the far reaches of the place where all the “old” graves were located. I can remember wondering who put all the little flags on these graves that were so far removed from current life. Most of these graves were for Civil War veterans whose markers were small, often in disrepair and very hard to read.

I wrote the poem Abraham’s Mountain (In the Cat’s Eye, 2009) a few years ago after  I stood in a different cemetery on another Memorial Day. This time I had intentionally sought out that old portion of the cemetery which was again far from the ceremonies. The focus, as might be expected, was mostly on veterans from Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. The little flags were still placed on the graves of all of our veterans but little attention was otherwise focused on the distant memories of the Civil War.

As I listened to the far off report of rifles and then the haunting notes of taps, I wondered if the soldiers buried at my feet would be surprised to learn that their war has been the longest of them all. That bringing a nation together, after it had been ripped asunder, would involve so much more than the force of arms. Would they be surprised that hatred and prejudice still bubbles to the surface from the tar pits of people’s minds, even so many generations later?

Glenn K. Currie

 

 Abraham’s Mountain(2)

 

Strangers gather here

On Memorial Day.

They plant little flags

Made in China.

Worn stones are decorated

To honor those

No one knew.

James (something)

New Hampshire 5th

Died December 1864.
 
Speakers are as stiff

As the cheaply-made flags.

Words from a different time

Remember many wars

With little understanding.

Their heavy labor

borne on caissons:

Their ashes then

 solemnly carried away

On a languid wind.
 
And Abraham’s war,

Started long ago,
                                                                   
 Wages onward

In deeds and spirit.

Strangers fire their rifles

Into the air,

And hear only

The thin cry

Of a lonesome bugle.

Far away,

Invisible dominoes

Are still falling,

Like the ancient gravestones.