David Lehman |
We were smoking some of this knockout weed when
Operation Memory was announced.
To his separate bed
Each soldier went, counting backwards from a hundred
With a needle in his arm.
And there I was, in the middle
Of a recession, in the middle of a strange city, between jobs
And apartments and wives.
Nobody told me the gun was loaded.
We'd been drinking since early afternoon.
I was loaded.
The doctor made me recite my name, rank, and serial number when
I woke up, sweating, in my civvies.
All my friends had jobs
As professional liars, and most had partners who were good in bed.
What did I have? Just this feeling of always being in the middle
Of things, and the luck of looking younger than fifty.
At dawn I returned to draft headquarters.
I was eighteen
And counting backwards.
The interviewer asked one loaded
Question after another, such as why I often read the middle
Of novels, ignoring their beginnings and their ends.
Had I decided to volunteer for intelligence work? "In bed
With a broad," I answered, with locker-room bravado.
The truth was, jobs
Were scarce, and working on Operation Memory was better than no job
Unamused, the judge looked at his watch.
It was 1970
By the time he spoke.
Recommending clemency, he ordered me to go to bed
At noon and practice my disappearing act.
Someone must have loaded
The harmless gun on the wall in Act I when
I was asleep.
And there I was, without an alibi, in the middle
Of a journey down nameless, snow-covered streets, in the middle
Of a mystery--or a muddle.
These were the jobs
That saved men's souls, or so I was told, but when
The orphans assembled for their annual reunion, ten
Years later, on the playing fields of Eton, each unloaded
A kit bag full of troubles, and smiled bravely, and went to bed.
Thanks to Operation Memory, each of us woke up in a different bed
Or coffin, with a different partner beside him, in the middle
Of a war that had never been declared.
No one had time to load
His weapon or see to any of the dozen essential jobs
Preceding combat duty.
And there I was, dodging bullets, merely one
In a million whose lucky number had come up.
It happened, I was asleep in bed, and when I woke up,
It was over: I was 38, on the brink of middle age,
A succession of stupid jobs behind me, a loaded gun on my lap.
Robert William Service |
"Black is the sky, but the land is white--
(O the wind, the snow and the storm!)--
Father, where is our boy to-night?
Pray to God he is safe and warm.
"Mother, mother, why should you fear?
Safe is he, and the Arctic moon
Over his cabin shines so clear--
Rest and sleep, 'twill be morning soon.
"It's getting dark awful sudden.
Say, this is mighty *****!
Where in the world have I got to? It's still and black as a tomb.
I reckoned the camp was yonder, I figured the trail was here--
Nothing! Just draw and valley packed with quiet and gloom;
Snow that comes down like feathers, thick and gobby and gray;
Night that looks spiteful ugly--seems that I've lost my way.
"The cold's got an edge like a jackknife--it must be forty below;
Leastways that's what it seems like--it cuts so fierce to the bone.
The wind's getting real ferocious; it's heaving and whirling the snow;
It shrieks with a howl of fury, it dies away to a moan;
Its arms sweep round like a banshee's, swift and icily white,
And buffet and blind and beat me.
Lord! it's a hell of a night.
"I'm all tangled up in a blizzard.
There's only one thing to do--
Keep on moving and moving; it's death, it's death if I rest.
Oh, God! if I see the morning, if only I struggle through,
I'll say the prayers I've forgotten since I lay on my mother's breast.
I seem going round in a circle; maybe the camp is near.
Say! did somebody holler? Was it a light I saw?
Or was it only a notion? I'll shout, and maybe they'll hear--
No! the wind only drowns me--shout till my throat is raw.
"The boys are all round the camp-fire wondering when I'll be back.
They'll soon be starting to seek me; they'll scarcely wait for the light.
What will they find, I wonder, when they come to the end of my track--
A hand stuck out of a snowdrift, frozen and stiff and white.
That's what they'll strike, I reckon; that's how they'll find their pard,
A pie-faced corpse in a snowbank--curse you, don't be a fool!
Play the game to the finish; bet on your very last card;
Nerve yourself for the struggle.
Oh, you coward, keep cool!
I'm going to lick this blizzard; I'm going to live the night.
It can't down me with its bluster--I'm not the kind to be beat.
On hands and knees will I buck it; with every breath will I fight;
It's life, it's life that I fight for--never it seemed so sweet.
I know that my face is frozen; my hands are numblike and dead;
But oh, my feet keep a-moving, heavy and hard and slow;
They're trying to kill me, kill me, the night that's black overhead,
The wind that cuts like a razor, the whipcord lash of the snow.
Keep a-moving, a-moving; don't, don't stumble, you fool!
Curse this snow that's a-piling a-purpose to block my way.
It's heavy as gold in the rocker, it's white and fleecy as wool;
It's soft as a bed of feathers, it's warm as a stack of hay.
Curse on my feet that slip so, my poor tired, stumbling feet;
I guess they're a job for the surgeon, they feel so queerlike to lift--
I'll rest them just for a moment--oh, but to rest is sweet!
The awful wind cannot get me, deep, deep down in the drift.
"Father, a bitter cry I heard,
Out of the night so dark and wild.
Why is my heart so strangely stirred?
'Twas like the voice of our erring child.
"Mother, mother, you only heard
A waterfowl in the locked lagoon--
Out of the night a wounded bird--
Rest and sleep, 'twill be morning soon.
Who is it talks of sleeping? I'll swear that somebody shook
Me hard by the arm for a moment, but how on earth could it be?
See how my feet are moving--awfully funny they look--
Moving as if they belonged to a someone that wasn't me.
The wind down the night's long alley bowls me down like a pin;
I stagger and fall and stagger, crawl arm-deep in the snow.
Beaten back to my corner, how can I hope to win?
And there is the blizzard waiting to give me the knockout blow.
Oh, I'm so warm and sleepy! No more hunger and pain.
Just to rest for a moment; was ever rest such a joy?
Ha! what was that? I'll swear it, somebody shook me again;
Somebody seemed to whisper: "Fight to the last, my boy.
Fight! That's right, I must struggle.
I know that to rest means death;
Death, but then what does death mean? --ease from a world of strife.
Life has been none too pleasant; yet with my failing breath
Still and still must I struggle, fight for the gift of life.
* * * * *
Seems that I must be dreaming! Here is the old home trail;
Yonder a light is gleaming; oh, I know it so well!
The air is scented with clover; the cattle wait by the rail;
Father is through with the milking; there goes the supper-bell.
* * * * *
Mother, your boy is crying, out in the night and cold;
Let me in and forgive me, I'll never be bad any more:
I'm, oh, so sick and so sorry: please, dear mother, don't scold--
It's just your boy, and he wants you.
Mother, open the door.
"Father, father, I saw a face
Pressed just now to the window-pane!
Oh, it gazed for a moment's space,
Wild and wan, and was gone again!"
"Mother, mother, you saw the snow
Drifted down from the maple tree
(Oh, the wind that is sobbing so!
Weary and worn and old are we)--
Only the snow and a wounded loon--
Rest and sleep, 'twill be morning soon.
Maxine Kumin |
Gassing the woodchucks didn't turn out right.
The knockout bomb from the Feed and Grain Exchange
was featured as merciful, quick at the bone
and the case we had against them was airtight,
both exits shoehorned shut with puddingstone,
but they had a sub-sub-basement out of range.
Next morning they turned up again, no worse
for the cyanide than we for our cigarettes
and state-store Scotch, all of us up to scratch.
They brought down the marigolds as a matter of course
and then took over the vegetable patch
nipping the broccoli shoots, beheading the carrots.
The food from our mouths, I said, righteously thrilling
to the feel of the .
22, the bullets' neat noses.
I, a lapsed pacifist fallen from grace
puffed with Darwinian pieties for killing,
now drew a bead on the little woodchuck's face.
He died down in the everbearing roses.
Ten minutes later I dropped the mother.
flipflopped in the air and fell, her needle teeth
still hooked in a leaf of early Swiss chard.
Another baby next.
the murderer inside me rose up hard,
the hawkeye killer came on stage forthwith.
There's one chuck left.
Old wily fellow, he keeps
me cocked and ready day after day after day.
All night I hunt his humped-up form.
I sight along the barrel in my sleep.
If only they'd all consented to die unseen
gassed underground the quiet Nazi way.
Carl Sandburg |
THE BALLOONS hang on wires in the Marigold Gardens.
They spot their yellow and gold, they juggle their blue and red, they float their faces on the face of the sky.
Balloon face eaters sit by hundreds reading the eat cards, asking, “What shall we eat?”—and the waiters, “Have you ordered?” they are sixty ballon faces sifting white over the tuxedoes.
Poets, lawyers, ad men, mason contractors, smartalecks discussing “educated jackasses,” here they put crabs into their balloon faces.
Here sit the heavy balloon face women lifting crimson lobsters into their crimson faces, lobsters out of Sargossa sea bottoms.
Here sits a man cross-examining a woman, “Where were you last night? What do you do with all your money? Who’s buying your shoes now, anyhow?”
So they sit eating whitefish, two balloon faces swept on God’s night wind.
And all the time the balloon spots on the wires, a little mile of festoons, they play their own silence play of film yellow and film gold, bubble blue and bubble red.
The wind crosses the town, the wind from the west side comes to the banks of marigolds boxed in the Marigold Gardens.
Night moths fly and fix their feet in the leaves and eat and are seen by the eaters.
The jazz outfit sweats and the drums and the saxophones reach for the ears of the eaters.
The chorus brought from Broadway works at the fun and the slouch of their shoulders, the kick of their ankles, reach for the eyes of the eaters.
These girls from Kokomo and Peoria, these hungry girls, since they are paid-for, let us look on and listen, let us get their number.
Why do I go again to the balloons on the wires, something for nothing, kin women of the half-moon, dream women?
And the half-moon swinging on the wind crossing the town—these two, the half-moon and the wind—this will be about all, this will be about all.
Eaters, go to it; your mazuma pays for it all; it’s a knockout, a classy knockout—and payday always comes.
The moths in the marigolds will do for me, the half-moon, the wishing wind and the little mile of balloon spots on wires—this will be about all, this will be about all.
Marriott Edgar |
Henry the first, surnamed " Beauclare,"
Lost his only son William at sea,
So when Henry died it were hard to decide
Who his heir and successor should be.
There were two runners-up for the title-
His daughter Matilda was one,
And the other, a boy, known as Stephen of Blois,
His young sister Adela's son.
Matilda by right should have had it,
Being daughter of him as were dead,
But the folks wasn't keen upon having a queen,
So they went and crowned Stephen instead.
This 'ere were a knockout for Tilda,
The notion she could not absorb
To lose at one blow both the crown and the throne,
To say naught of the sceptre and orb.
So she summoned her friends in t'West Country
From Bristol, Bath, Gloucester and Frome,
And also a lot of relations from Scotland,
Who'd come South and wouldn't go home.
The East Counties rallied round Stephen,
Where his cause had support of the masses,
And his promise of loot brought a lot of recruits
From the more intellectual classes.
The Country were split in two parties
In a manner you'd hardly believe,
The West with a will shouted: "Up with Matilda !"
The East hollered: Come along, Steve!
The two armies met up in Yorkshire,
Both leaders the same tactics tried.
To each soldier they gave a big standard to wave,
In hopes they'd impress t 'other side.
It were known as the battle o't Standard,
Though no battling anyone saw,
For with flags in their right hands, the lads couldn't fight,
And the referee called it a draw.
The next time they met were at Lincoln,
Where Stephen were properly beat,
At the end of the scrap he were led off a captive,
With iron balls chained to his feet.
They took him in triumph to Tilda,
Who, assuming an arrogant mien,
Snatched the Crown off his head and indignantly said
"Take your 'at off in front of your Queen!"
So Stephen were put in a dungeon,
While Tilda ascended the throne
And reigned undisturbed for best part of a year,
Till she looked on the job as her own.
But Stephen weren't beat by a long chalk
His plans for escape he soon made,
For he found Tilda's troops were all getting fed up,
Having heard that they wouldn't be paid.
So when Tilda got snowed up at Oxford,
Where she'd taken to staying of late,
She woke one fine morn, to the sound of a horn,
And found Stephen outside her front gate.
Her troops gone, her castle surrounded,
She saw she hadn't a chance,
So, the ground being white, she escaped in her nightie
And caught the next packet for France.
She didn't do badly at finish,
When everything's weighed up and reckoned
For when Stephen was gone the next heir to the throne
Were Matilda's son, Henry the second.