Sunday, May 25, 2008

For Memorial Day, Four Poems


Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Shovel them under and let me work--
I am the grass; I cover all.
And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
What place is this?
Where are we now?
I am the grass.
Let me work.
Carl Sandberg


Soldiers never do die well;
Crosses mark the places--
Wooden crosses where they fell,
Stuck above their faces,
Soldiers pitch and cough and twitch--
All the world roars red and black;
Soldiers smother in a ditch,
Choking through the whole attack.

Ernest Hemingway
Paris, 1923


"Read out the names!" and Burke sat back,
And Kelly drooped his head.
While Shea--they call him Scholar Jack--
Went down the list of the dead.
Officers, seamen, gunners, marines,
The crews of the gig and yawl,
The bearded man and the lad in his teens,
Carpenters, coal passers--all.
Then, knocking the ashes from out his pipe,
Said Burke in an offhand way:
"We're all in that dead man's list, by Cripe!
Kelly and Burke and Shea."
"Well, here's to the Maine, and I'm sorry for Spain,"
Said Kelly and Burke and Shea.

"Wherever there's Kellys there's trouble," said Burke.
"Wherever fighting's the game,
Or a spice of danger in grown man's work,"
Said Kelly, "you'll find my name."
"And do we fall short," said Burke, getting mad,
"When it's touch and go for life?"
Said Shea, "It's thirty-odd years, bedad,
Since I charged to drum and fife
Up Marye's Heights and my old canteen
Stopped a rebel ball on its way.
There were blossoms of blood on our sprigs of green--
Kelly and Burke and Shea--
And the dead didn't brag," "Well, here's to the flag!"
Said Kelly and Burke and Shea.

"I wish't was in Ireland, for there's the place,"
Said Burke, "that we'd die for by right,
In the cradle of our soldier race,
After one good stand-up fight.
My grandfather fell on Vinegar Hill,
And fighting was not in his trade;
But his rusty pike's in the cabin still,
With Hessian blood on the blade."
"Aye, aye," said Kelly, "the pikes were great
When the word was 'clear the way!'
We were thick on the roll in ninety-eight--
Kelly and Burke and Shea."
"Well, here's to the pike and the sword and the like!"
Said Kelly and Burke and Shea.

And Shea, the scholar, with rising joy,
Said, "We were at Ramillies;
We left our bones at Fontenoy
And up in the Pyrenees;
Before Dunkirk, on Landen's plain,
Cremona, Lille, and Ghent,
We're all over Austria, France, and Spain,
Wherever they pitched a tent.
We've died for England from Waterloo
To Egypt and Dargai;
And still there's enough for a corps or crew,
Kelly and Burke and Shea."
"Well, here is to good honest fighting blood!"
Said Kelly and Burke and Shea.

"Oh, the fighting races don't die out,
If they seldom die in bed,
For love is first in their hearts, no doubt,"
Said Burke; then Kelly said:
"When Michael, the Irish Archangel, stands,
The angel with the sword,
And the battle-dead from a hundred lands
Are ranged in one big horde,
Our line, that for Gabriel's trumpet waits,
Will stretch three deep that day,
From Jehoshaphat to the Golden Gates--
Kelly and Burke and Shea."
"Well, there's thank God for the race and the sod!"
Said Kelly and Burke and Shea.

Joseph Ignatius Constantine Clarke


To the Nurses of Bataan.

Funny looking angels, in their blood-stained rumpled coveralls.
Funny looking angels, with their patient weary eyes.
And you know I don't mean "funny" . . . Godamighty! They are lovelier
Than any laundered angels twanging harps in Paradise.

War is not a pretty business . . . it is Hell and stench and agony.
They're not nurses in the movies . . . "cool pale hands on fevered brows"
It is bathing shattered bodies, antiseptics, anaesthesias;
It is constant grinding vigil, watchful eyes that dare not drowse.

There is laughter . . . they provide it . . . like a soothing hypodermic
When they want to scream with tension or to black-out with a faint.
They are soldiers, Man, what soldiers! Take your hats off, Folks, salute them.
They are human. They are women. And they rate the name of saint.

We went through the Hell together, fighting . . . all of us were fighting.
We with rifles, knives and bullets; they with bandages and blood,
In the open, unprotected; getting just the same as we got,
And they didn't ask for favors in that rotten muck and mud.

When they're handing out the medals, building monuments and arches,
When they tell heroic stories of the ones who carried on . . .
Let them carve in golden letters that undying splendid story
Of the service and the glory of the Angels of Bataan.

Don Blanding

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