by Fred Marchant
in memoriam: Robert Lowell
Cold scrambled eggs. Burnt bacon curling
under his slightly cockeyed glasses.
Opera on the stereo, the bay ice-flat
and gray as a naval deck. The shore
rimey and swirling with snow, gusts
rising up to us, a window rattling
behind his “I can breathe out here.”
A Sunday in November, 1969,
the morning after Trinity Square
mounted his Old Glory trilogy.
Bloody Mary toasts, with celery-stick
swizzles, Worcestershire, horseradish,
and fiery talk about the Narragansett,
and the colonials who were slavers.
To the sunporch beaming with poets
I carry with me a shadowy prosaic:
orders to Viet Nam. A green lieutenant,
shave-headed as a monk, I leave tomorrow
and can’t fathom Lowell’s question about
the Green Bah-rehs, his breath chopping
the word into hardly intelligible halves.
He takes over and pictures the pajama’d
guerrilla flying out the rear hatch
of the helicopter. He asks me
if I have seen this, and he assumes
I know more than I am saying, me
now the dim, lumpen, and enemy soldier
pleading innocence, ignorance, dismay.
It is as if a vacuum has sucked up
the stray talk, and under his affronted
glare I feel like Hawthorne’s young Robin
Molineux bewildered by Boston’s
mocking, checker-faced hostility.
I too am blistered by the moment,
and can’t believe this is happening.
The china clinks, and talk slowly
resumes while I come to, blinking
like a hammered calf. I hardly know
the abbreviation C.O., but a conscience
must be at work when he leans over
and whispers, “Come back. Intact,”
rhyme nearly full, orders fully meant.
Copyright © 1993 by Fred Marchant.
From Tipping Point, winner of the 1993 Washington Prize and published by The Word Works, Inc., 1994.