What We Say
Late autumn. The sun’s
troubled: warm, dazzle,
or warn? I’ve yet to get
ready. All night
of frost. Elsewhere,
armies hard at work,
like the moon as we sleep,
suddenly on the move
if we looked, like it’s always
had to be. At least,
that’s what we say.
And in the morning,
the same—armies at work,
like the moon, like us,
unlocking our office doors,
tunneling through to afternoon,
with nothing else to say.
—first published in Why War, Finishing Line Press, 2014
It all recurs for the maimed, how they remain,
or don’t, atop the plots of the buried. Those
who could do something table the question.
They relax in the rocker of their certainty,
a war, any war, an abstraction that walls off
the bursting specifics. A twenty-something friend
found he’d deployed to sort body parts. Arrayed,
they’d survive the fever sweeping a land we
could never know. Welcomed by the white-blue
atrium of a foreign sky, he’d prowl his perimeter
until his duty tapped him. Then the oven-sun
would relight his nightmare, the categories
of bone and flesh his production line. What
achievement could signal his success? What
dream in the meantime could relieve raw nerve?
The perfect tour would end when he was still
in one piece, a nation’s need ignoring the gore
behind the games, the horror nestling into
the still-living because still in one piece.
—first published in Tuck, September 14, 2017
—for Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School
Fourteen chairs loiter, emptied, no young bodies
adjusting for the next lesson, hand-raising,
class-clown antic, contemplative talk, pat show
of teen contempt, rhythm beaten with pencil, palm,
bouncing knee, jouncing heal, wise-crack, step
in the impossible problem never to be solved.
Instead, more of the same news, the same vows
taxiing the hellish hallways of feigned intention
but never taking off—the same dazed moments
of the dead. Perhaps their freed spirits now see
through the coal-black tunnel of some eternity
right into the next school’s beehive of victims.
Perhaps they still shadow their three steady mentors
who stood staunch ground in the slow-motion flow
of high-speed ammo. The clip of names shoots holes
clean through law’s callous gut—
Aaron, Helena, and Alex,
Carmen, Peter, Cara, Chris, and Meadow,
Scott, Alaina, Martin, Alyssa, and Nick,
Jamie, Luke, Gina, and “Guac” Joaquin—
whose roll call
claims only an absurd third of a minute, while
their totaled lives witnessed nearly 5 thousand
wheels of the moon through some 75 trillion miles.
But unlike the pull of that implacable moon,
the glib fever of ‘prayers and condolences’ can’t
turn the tide of memory’s radiating its fixed
fissures scored by shards of glass and bone.
Here, we’re left to settle the moonscape of Too Late
for those whose expelled footsteps befuddle us.
And lauding immortality soothes no better. We
know we relax at our children’s peril, run rash risk
of shoring up the open/closed-carry-frenzied fight,
take false hope in the bundles of white-washed bills.
Anthony Borges took five bullets to shield twenty
surviving friends, sacrificed his soccer stardom
because somehow he knew what he had to do.
His lacerated back and shattered femur scream
in a language we now must teach across America.
—first published in Bullets into Bells, July 10, 2018
D.R. James has taught college writing, literature, and peace-making for 35 years and lives in the woods outside Saugatuck, Michigan. Poetry and prose appear in various journals and anthologies, and his latest of eight poetry collections are If god were gentle (Dos Madres) and Surreal Expulsion (The Poetry Box).
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