Once again, we remember. For Sgt. James Michial Moore, USA, KIA, Vietnam, and those before and after.
Archibald MacLeish was an ambulance driver and artilleryman in World War I, and his brother, a naval aviator, was killed on 14 October 1918. Kenneth MacLeish’s death strikes me as somehow representative of the ghastliness of war in general, and that war in particular.
After being shot down, MacLeish successfully landed his Sopwith Camel. At which point, having landed in the wrong place at the wrong time, he was gassed. His body was found the day after Christmas, and identified some time later, based on clothing details and the airplane. Rats had eaten his face.
This poem appeared in Archibald MacLeish’s collection Streets in the Moon, published 1926. The version that appears in his Collected Poems omits the final eight lines.
Ambassador Puser the ambassador
Reminds himself in French, felicitous tongue,
What these (young men no longer) lie here for
In rows that once, and somewhere else, were young. . .
All night in Brussels the wind had tugged at my door:
I had heard the wind at my door and the trees strung
Taut, and to me who had never been before
In that country it was a strange wind, blowing
Steadily, stiffening the walls, the floor,
The roof of my room. I had not slept for knowing
He too, dead, was a stranger in that land
And felt beneath the earth in the wind’s flowing
A tightening of roots and would not understand,
Remembering lake winds in Illinois,
That Strange wind. I had felt his bones in the sand
Reflects that these enjoy
Their country’s gratitude, that deep repose,
That peace no pain can break, no hurt destroy,
That rest, that sleep. . .
At Ghent the wind rose.
There was a smell of rain and a heavy drag
Of wind in the hedges but not as the wind blows
Over fresh water when the waves lag
Foaming and the willows huddle and it will rain;
I felt him waiting.
. . Indicates the flag
Which (may he say) nestles in Flanders plain
This little field these happy, happy dead
Have made America. . .
In the ripe grain
The wind coiled glistening, darted, fled,
Dragging its heavy body: at Waereghem
The wind coiled in the grass above his head:
Waiting–listening. . .
. . .Dedicates to them
This earth their bones have hallowed, this last gift
A grateful country. . .
Under the dry grass stem
The words are blurred, are thickened, the words sift
Confused by the rasp of the wind, by the thin grating
Of ants under the grass, the minute shift
And tumble of dusty sand separating
From dusty sand. The roots of the grass strain,
Tighten, the earth is rigid, waits — he is waiting –
And suddenly, and all at once, the rain!
The living scatter, they run into houses, the wind
Is trampled under the rain, shakes free, is again
Trampled. The rain gathers, running in thinned
Spurts of water that ravel in the dry sand,
Seeping in the sand under the grass roots, seeping
Between cracked boards of the bones of a clenched hand:
The earth relaxes, loosens; he is sleeping,
He rests, he is quiet, he sleeps in a strange land.