A World War I battle in Belgium

Lying on the ground,
the dead at Langemarck
tell lies
long and bitter

tell of
lost sacrifice,
future glory;
dark and cold,
young field-grey regiments,
“holy grey rows,”
broken hawks lying
on the broken ground

tell tales
long and bitter;
the guns that
mowed them down
amid the broken stumps,
the blunted trunks of trees

cold and silent.

The wind blows
on the blood and the corpses,
blows through the eternal cemeteries,
the hallowed memorial hall,
keeping count of the fallen,
the good cause, the bad generals,
rank by rank,
faithful and innocent boys,
hardened soldiers creep
in the silent fog;

the wind blows,
leaving them all
dead as stones.

We feign reluctance,
loose the doves of peace
and go to war anyway,
sweep consequences
under the rug and
across murderous fields of fire
run like maniacs,
soiling ourselves,
terrified and
whistling the thin
whistle of death;

run like lunatics
while vicious and efficient,
the machine guns
ring in our ears,
quick delicate,
the bullets zipping,
the cartridges clinking
on gun carriages
like holiday bells.

Among trundling tanks
and nosing artillery,
regiments, battalions,
slaughtered like poultry
and the singing, so they
say, the singing of
the Deutschland song,
silly as Mother Goose,
presents the public face
of Flanders’ castle of the fallen;
the faces
not forgotten, never lost;
the singing boys,
the marching dead,
go on and on,
howling like wolves,
over the uncaring ground.

Langemarck, Langemarck,
who cares about your old battle,
tortured away and
misrepresented here?
Painted whore of
a landscape that never was.

Who cares to speak
at the cost of speech
the worn-out truth or
tell a few more lies?
Guild or corrupt
the graceful and sensible lily?

At Langemarck’s start
the living bodies lay and
trembled on the earth,
pressing down hard;
poisonous gas and
torpid mud drowned out
the noise of guns
until all was drowned in death.

Listen, listen,
you can hear death’s
clear clarion in the
report from the High
what was said
no more a lie
than the cost of
battle, the devotion
to bits of dead bodies;

these dead at Langemarck
left living love and life
to the women and children;

let them lie.




“Most suicides happen shortly before dawn.”
From “Bitter Fame” by Anne Stevenson

I think we will meet again old friend–
You who took a quick way out
(Who ever dared call it an easy way?)
In the darkest hour, on a night
Of endless, cold rain.

We went to school together
Worked in the same factory
Played baseball on the weekends.
A decade apart we married the same woman.
Even that scarcely rocked our friendship
(Although I could have done without
The “hand-me-down” jokes.)

For years we had little use
Or need for the medical profession.
You used to say, “I’ll only see a doctor
If it really hurts, or I’m really scared.”

Spitting up blood is scary all right
And the docs confirmed what you
Already knew—lung cancer, stage three.

I took you on a long hiking trip.
Your only special request was
“Don’t bring a camera.”

We talked very little
But there was a linkage,
At night we would stare into the fire
Hour after hour.

Afterward, back home
You called it “martyrdom by injection”
And you rode a carousel
Of pills, vomiting, pain, and confusion.

Confusion was the worst.
The only complaint I ever heard was:
“Sometimes I lose my grip.”

The funeral was a cold affair
Of his and my wives,
Ex-wives, wannabees, baby mommies,
And a confusing welter of children.
It made me think
Of the hawker at a baseball game shouting,
“You can’t tell the players
Without a program.”

To my utter disinterest,
I found I had inherited
All your fishing gear and guns,
Even the one you used at the end.
Odd: I thought it would have been
Police evidence or something.

I put the stuff away.

The years soldiered on,
So did I.

Until today: I was diagnosed
With lung cancer, stage three.
Doesn’t that beat all!

Where, where, where did I pack your gear?

I think we will meet again old friend.


MAY 2016