Poppies: A Memorial Day Tribute

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In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row...

John McRae, May, 1915

By Timothy Collins

The setting is simple: a windswept, small-town park in the midst of farm fields. Thunder rumbles, almost like distant artillery, as a small group of people gathers to commemorate the fallen soldiers. It is Memorial Day. 

The small town is Prairie City, Illinois, which has sent soldiers off to battle since at least the Civil War.

So many wars, so many dead, so many wounded. A knot of perhaps 50 people gathers to hear the speeches and music, to mourn the fallen, and to be quietly happy for those who survived. 

Such reverent ceremonies are held in hundreds, perhaps thousands of rural and urban communities across the country, reminders that nationhood and its freedoms are costly.

These wars — distant past and present — touch us deeply, whether we approve or not. War is never easy. It is always brutal. Sometimes it seems a necessity.

The survivors and noncombatants are left to mourn, remember, ponder, learn from the past, and hope for peace while we are alive. There is little else we can do for the dead, except remember them as time passes for us:

Vietnam War Memorial — June, 1989

  Shuffling feet.  Shuffling
on black slate past black granite
  covered with the names.

  Name upon name and
still more names of dead soldiers
  killed in Vietnam.

  Tears on the faces,
faces of the survivors.
  Part of ritual.

  Healing ritual:
Gifts by long, black granite wall
  with names of the dead.

  Forget-me-not seeds,
bottles of beer, photographs,
  letters, flags, flowers.

   People touch the names
engraved on black granite wall,
  reaching for loved ones.

   Rubbings of names,
memories kept on paper,
  memories from stone.

   Healing at the wall
covered with name upon name.
  Black granite crying.

First published in the Daily Yonder, May 28, 2012.

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