Eyewitness News, Resolutely Toward the End, Almost
And now the news: Tonight the soldiers
dropped their guns to dance. The sight
of spinning starlit men, their arms
around such waiting waists, alarmed
those paid to think the awful thoughts
of war. Just how did these hard men
decide on just this time to twirl
in bloodied dust, and how do we
explain the skin to skin, their hips
aligned, dramatic dips—was that
a kiss? Some dance and others lay
a soundtrack down—they pound ghost drums,
they twang imagined strings, they blow
notes blasted blue through sandy winds,
they dream a stout piano's weight.
They spark the dance—the rumba, twist,
the tango, yes, the trot and stroll,
the slither, slow, unmanly grind
within a brother's brazen arms.
And so analysis begins.
The talking heads can't harp enough.
The cameras catch the swirling men,
their thrown-back heads and bended backs,
the rhythm of their rite, the ways
they touch. The television chants
their numbers and their names, to shame
them into still. The music doesn't
stop, the soldiers pivot, swing,
unleash their languid limbs, caress.
They don't slow down to weep or stop
to grieve their new-gone guns. The public
bray begins, the song of killers
killing must resume!, but then
the mirthful moon illuminates
the ball, our boys in glide and flight
and woo. We see the dancers' dangling
eyes and oddly open sores,
shattered shoulders, earlobes gone,
the halves of heads, the limp, the drag
of not quite legs. Tonight they dropped
their guns, and snagged a nasty bass
to roughride home. You hear the stomp,
the weary wheeze and grunt, the ragged
nudge of notes on air? You see
the whirling soldiers spin, the love
they braved, and oh my god, that kiss?
RESOLUTELY TOWARD THE END
The 54th Regiment Passes in Review, May 29, 1863. Boston, Massachusetts
We struggle to balance dream and distance,
honor them with verse, worship, analysis.
The hollows in history urge us to relegate
them to the scrubbed clutches of myth.
Lifting their sacrifice higher than our heads,
we pen awe at the muscle they have left us,
those brothers and sons carrying on their backs
crosses the color of skin. All these histories
away, we wish them prideful, not yet aware
of what the we have asked of them.
We do not remember sole faces. So conjure
the whole, tattered but rigid, clicking cut
rhythms down the narrows of this American
city, their forward crisp and unerring, hearts
drumming double beneath the black,
beneath the blue. Such men are experts
at striding resolutely toward the end
of their lives. All that man-fed hell rising up,
and nothing but a born country inside them.
The 54th, doomed, leading chin, marching
in Boston, our country's cocked mother, today
a shrewish place, all veins and gut, sung-to
streets dismal with neon splash and quick
commerce. Black boys vogue in drooping
denim, fling stern invective, bop their heads
to less than less than nothing. Replacing
their slave names with strings of adjectives,
they are first to the delusion that heroes
are not those left standing, but those who fall.
War loops 'round bout itself, quick-steps, rearranges.
Death wears its soft mouth, purrs toward new soldiers.
For Cindy Sheehan
You almost had me.
The poem I wanted to write
was threaded through with your son's blood,
stanzas linked by the stringy gristle of him.
I was almost at your side, both of us violently barren
of boysómine sucked into the carnage of G swagger,
yours romanced and betrayed by a fool of soft murders.
I'd heard your definite closing and wailing.
I listened to you say, aloud and aloud, My son is your news.
His huge absence is your sleep.
Do you remember the newborn Casey, wailing, sticky slick,
the way he broke body and insisted upon the world?
Your first gift to him: The sugared shit of passage.
Patiently, you showed him what his knees were for.
He crawled toward war.
a needy clump of bones and shadow.
a sweaty t-shirt, a failed science class, a kiss,
and turned toward your son's killer.
Sun-scarred and patient, you marred GW's pampered landscape,
ached him in your role as woman who left behind.
And you almost had my bullets, my money,
my broken but breathing son as offering.
I almost donned your logo, adopted the face
of your minus, pounded your nails into my palms.
I practiced my mouth around Casey, Casey,
until I could rock with the exploding
and ride a flaming shard of Humvee into the hollow.
I was on the verge of celebrating our own slow coincidence—
the brutal birthing,
flow of milk,
I wanna give a shoutout to my peeps in Crawford.
Chaos-coifed, overtoothed and professionally emptied,
you spit it into the camera's eye, oily and grinning:
I wanna give a shoutout to my peeps in Crawford—
and who says we can't be gangsta?
And I envy and abhor such humor so close to the gallows,
so inside the shuttered eyes of your gone son.
You almost had me. I was yours
until you traded Casey's blood for a sweet snippet of airtime,
until you went so wrongly and gleefully OG, I was
weary witness to your wagging middle finger,
and I am right here,
waiting for you to remember
his chunky body rendered to pink mist, the sand obscened
with face, forearm and his last known sound.
That sound, despite your dreaming, was not repeated.
That sound was not your name.