Monday, May 25, 2015

Monday's Poetry: "Memorial Day"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Last year on this holiday I wrote a bit about the history of Memorial Day which was officially known as "Decoration Day," the day for decorating graves, up until 1967.  I remember that my parents referred to the holiday as "Decoration Day" their entire lives.  Last year in this space I printed Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem, "Decoration Day," as a homage to the history of the event.  Today I am updating with Michael Anania's "Memorial Day," a poem which the American poet penned in 1994.

I particularly like the first three lines of this poem which so accurately describe a situation that my Aunt Mary and I found ourselves in a few years ago.   We were at the veteran's cemetery in San Diego, the one on the beautiful hilltop overlooking San Diego and Coronado Island, and Aunt Mary wanted to show me the grave of my uncle and her husband, Wayne Hearcel Macy, a World War II veteran who had died in 1956.  Veteran's cemeteries tend to have thousands of stones and they all look alike, so it is easy to get disoriented while looking for a particular grave, no matter how many times one has been to that grave.  Aunt Mary, who had been to the cemetery and to Uncle Wayne's grave on times too numerous to count, quickly seemed to become upset that she could not walk directly to his grave.  Eventually we found it, but the experience was quite disconcerting, especially for her.

Michael Anania's verse brought back memories of that search.

Memorial Day
by Michael Anania

It is easily forgotten, year to
year, exactly where the plot is,
though the place is entirely familiar—
a willow tree by a curving roadway   
sweeping black asphalt with tender leaves;

damp grass strewn with flower boxes,
canvas chairs, darkskinned old ladies
circling in draped black crepe family stones,   
fingers cramped red at the knuckles, discolored   
nails, fresh soil for new plants, old rosaries;

such fingers kneading the damp earth gently down   
on new roots, black humus caught in grey hair   
brushed back, and the single waterfaucet,
birdlike upon its grey pipe stem,
a stream opening at its foot.

We know the stories that are told,
by starts and stops, by bent men at strange joy   
regarding the precise enactments of their own   
gesturing. And among the women there will be   
a naming of families, a counting off, an ordering.

The morning may be brilliant; the season
is one of brilliances—sunlight through
the fountained willow behind us, its splayed   
shadow spreading westward, our shadows westward,   
irregular across damp grass, the close-set stones.

It may be that since our walk there is faltering,
moving in careful steps around snow-on-the-mountain,   
bluebells and zebragrass toward that place
between the willow and the waterfaucet, the way   
is lost, that we have no practiced step there,
and walking, our own sway and balance, fails us.

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