Saturday, January 30, 2016

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 finally 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 them 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?

Perhaps as Lincoln’s actual birthday approaches, we might honor those who gave so much for freedom but also remember that Lincoln’s and our work is still not finished. Our nation is a work in progress and each of us is also.

Glenn K. Currie

                     Abraham’s Mountain

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 heavily labored words
borne on caissons:
Their ashes then
 solemnly carried away
On a languid wind.

They forget that
Abraham’s war,
Started so long ago,
Wages still
In deeds and spirit.
Strangers fire their rifles
Into the air,
And hear only
The thin cry
Of a lonesome bugle.
But far away,
Invisible dominoes
Are still falling,
Like the ancient gravestones.

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