Memorial Day weekend: open thread

Memorial Day at Arlington National CemeteryIt’s Memorial Day weekend. As we honor our fallen, let’s also reflect on the larger question of war and on the reasons these dead heroes are too often asked to give up their lives.

S&R invites our readers to offer their own favorite poems of war and memory. Or stories. Or personal recollections. Whatever.

I’ll start. This one, from Yehuda Amichai, isn’t about America, but I think the message probably resonates for all of us.

Memorial Day For The War Dead

Memorial day for the war dead. Add now
the grief of all your losses to their grief,
even of a woman that has left you. Mix
sorrow with sorrow, like time-saving history,
which stacks holiday and sacrifice and mourning
on one day for easy, convenient memory.

Oh, sweet world soaked, like bread,
in sweet milk for the terrible toothless God.
“Behind all this some great happiness is hiding.”
No use to weep inside and to scream outside.
Behind all this perhaps some great happiness is hiding.

Memorial day. Bitter salt is dressed up
as a little girl with flowers.
The streets are cordoned off with ropes,
for the marching together of the living and the dead.
Children with a grief not their own march slowly,
like stepping over broken glass.

The flautist’s mouth will stay like that for many days.
A dead soldier swims above little heads
with the swimming movements of the dead,
with the ancient error the dead have
about the place of the living water.

A flag loses contact with reality and flies off.
A shopwindow is decorated with
dresses of beautiful women, in blue and white.
And everything in three languages:
Hebrew, Arabic, and Death.

A great and royal animal is dying
all through the night under the jasmine
tree with a constant stare at the world.

A man whose son died in the war walks in the street
like a woman with a dead embryo in her womb.
“Behind all this some great happiness is hiding.”

Categories: Arts/Literature, War/Security

Tagged as:

6 replies »

  1. I had to wait to until after are visit to Arlington Cemetery. My husband and I combined have over 30 years of service. We have been fortunate in that we have only lost a couple of friends. This is the third time we’ve lived in the DC area and we have made it a tradition to go to Arlington at least once every Memorial Day weekend to lay flowers on the grave of a truly great soldier that was my husband’s boss when we got married. He was killed by a ricochet during a live-fire exercise in 1995. This year we added a second grave to our visit, that of one of my husband’s class mates from West Point whose convey was hit by an IED in 2008 in Afghanistan. Being at Arlington on any day is thought provoking.

    I encourage everyone, whether you like the military or not, whether you believe that our country is doing the right thing in Afghanistan and Iraq or not, please, at least once in your life, make the trek to Arlington Cemetery and walk among the headstones in the sections away from the Tomb of The Unknowns and Kennedy’s grave. Reflect upon those that gave their lives and those who came home, but served with honor and earned eternal rest on sacred ground. I challenge you not to be at least a little moved.

    Today when we were walking to the graves of those we knew, my son stopped to read several of the markers we passed and inquired how each person had died. Some were easier to explain than others. The Command Sergeant Major who was 78 when he died, most likely died of natural causes, sad, but easy to understand as old people die. The 22 yo Marine killed in Operation Iraq Freedom, was harder to explain. Being that my son is 14 yo and autistic, I never know how much of the emotional stuff he gets, but he seemed saddened by the deaths of these people that he had never met, because he knew that they meant something to someone.

  2. From Albert to Bapaume

    Lonely and bare and desolate,
    Stretches of muddy filtered green,
    A silence half articulate
    Of all that those dumb eyes have seen.

    A battered trench, a tree with boughs
    Smutted and black with smoke and fire,
    A solitary ruined house,
    A crumpled mass of rusty wire.

    And scarlet by each ragged fen
    Long scattered ranks of poppies lay,
    As though the blood of the dead men
    Had not been wholly washed away.

  3. Suicide in the Trenches,
    by Siegfried Sassoon–

    I knew a simple soldier boy
    Who grinned at life in empty joy,
    Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
    And whistled early with the lark.

    In winter trenches, cowed and glum
    With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
    He put a bullet through his brain.
    No one spoke of him again.

    You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
    Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
    Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
    The hell where youth and laughter go.