Memorial Day Poem

Today is Memorial Day, a day to honor those who sacrificed their lives in our military. I am sharing a poem from my chapbook Kin Types about a sister who awaits word from her brother who is a soldier in WWI.

Once and Now

His letter, once wet and now dry, once
wrinkled now smoothed against her breast,
once a receptacle for all he could not say,
the lone poppy in the field, the striped sky, not 
the mud, men, horses, bullets, shovels.
Definitely not, but she suspects as much. 
She listens to her husband outside the church 
door, reads the casualty lists, hovers around
those waiting. Now her big brother’s letter 
like his touch on their dying mother’s cheek,
is enough. He’s been long a soldier, the bachelor 
patriarch. In the early days he wrote pages
of the trembling sweep of the Pacific, 
ancient trees and reeds poking like magic
sticks from the water, a field of buttercups
near the Presidio, a borrowed horse he rode.
Given their immigrant circumstances, the career
had seemed wise until now, with Huns like red
devils leering down from propaganda posters
jeering them with their German names, 
a town friend’s Dachshund ripped from her arms,
his brains smashed on the pavement, onto
her shoes. Shoes she showed Clara, pointing,
See, see how dangerous they are in their hate!
The knock sneaks up on her from behind.
She has turned to put the letter in the ribbon-
tied stack, so standing between fourteen years
of letters and the knock, she knows that this
is not the paperboy coming for his coin. 
She knows what a ridiculous leap her mind
has made, but still she is certain about the paper,
and it is a paper telegram. Without opening it, 
she slips the Western Union under the grosgrain.
Once busy, she has all the time in the world now. 

Clara Mulder née Waldeck 
Caledonia, Michigan, United States 

Clara has received the dreaded telegram that will validate her worst fears--that her laughing, vibrant brother will not be coming home.

I chose a very mild–in this case British–stamp with WWI propaganda.


Filed under Family history, History, Kin Types, Poetry, Poetry Collection

28 responses to “Memorial Day Poem

  1. Heartfelt poem but that stamp is a bit weird.

    • This stamp is nutten compared with some of the propaganda posters. In one sense it’s understandable, but in another sense it creates or fosters hatred, such as what happens in the poem. Thanks, Kate!

  2. A lovely poem. You make vivid a war that has been somewhat forgotten. I like the stamp.

  3. Such a poignant poem. I am going to have to re-read Kin Types!
    Do you read Heather Cox Richardson’s Letters from an American? Her post today is about another brother who didn’t return.

    The stamp is mild. So much propaganda.

    • Thank you so much, Merril. I have not read her, but just remedied that!!Thank you.
      Yes, so much propaganda. When Russia invaded Ukraine and people were spilling out Russian–or what they thought was Russian–vodka, it’s easy to see why people feel that way. But with propaganda like this it sets the stage for hatred and, subsequently, violence.

      • You’re very welcome, Luanne. I’m a big fan of hers because she really does her research and makes connections with current events and history.

        Yes, propaganda definitely can fuel hate and violence.

  4. What a hard hitting poem, Luanne. Thank you for sharing it.

  5. Great poem, Luanne, apropos for the day. So much is appalling in war, propaganda, and the death of a loved one.

  6. Hi, Luanne. What a wonderful poem. It reads like a scene from a novel. Just beautiful. I was very moved by it.

  7. Amy

    Even though I’ve read the poem before (at least once), it still gives me goosebumps and tears.

  8. Powerful poem that certainly touches the heart! My mother collected all kinds of old stamps. They definitely tell a story…

  9. I almost forgot that it was really Memorial Day.
    Thank you for the moving reminder. Beautiful.

    • Thank you, Sheila. Yes, we do need to be reminded. All those people having picnics and boating .. . .

    • Were you watching tennis today? The gardener was. He’s getting into tennis more and more. Watching it, not playing it since he can’t do much with his SLAC wrist (bone on bone).

      • Luanne, please tell the gardener for me that I consider watching tennis my one (hahaha) weakness! We have the Tennis Channel as well as the ESPN channels so I watch some tennis tournament somewhere from the beginning of the season until the end. The 4 Majors are watched in real time in their time zones by me which means crazy sleep patterns dominate during those events.
        My favorite tennis time of the year, though, is the clay season which culminates at the French Open. TMI?
        So in answer to your original question, both Pretty and I were front and center for the finals Saturday and Sunday. Pretty has a passion for tennis, too but she prefers to actually still play!
        And of all the tennis players I’ve watched over the last 50 years, Nadal is my personal favorite. I am thrilled for his win.
        No telling how many books I could have written if it weren’t for tennis.
        Please advise the gardener that tennis watching is addictive, but there are worse ones.

        • LOL, he loves Nadal too. And watched all weekend. I guess he inherited that from his mom who loved tennis so much. Hahaha, I will tell him about the addictive part of it. Pretty sure he’s developing one . . . .

  10. What a poem. What a stamp. What a weird time to be alive, then and now.

  11. That is a powerful poem. Thank you, Luanne.

  12. What an amazing poem Luanne. So fluid, and so evocative.

Leave a Reply