DETERMINING WHO THE MARCHERS WERE
It was my job to determine who the marchers were.
And how long they had practiced the different steps they were used to making.
I wouldn’t say that it was a hard job.
Only that when I grew tired of doing it,
nobody else volunteered to take my place.
As it was, the marchers recognized me even from a great distance
and applauded when they realized
that I was counting the people in each one of their lines.
It had been years since anyone had done this as rigorously as I had.
And their confidence in my counting them
left me at the same time actually content and fairly amazed.
I remember one line of ten men, when I said later that there were eleven of them,
smiled, and thought that it was a joke.
But, of course, it wasn’t a joke.
And the eleventh man, who claimed that he resembled me
even down to the color of my hair, when he put his tunic down,
lapsed into the kind of a coma I recognized
fitfully from months of pouring grease over my head
and years of placing birds in the sky.
—from Rattle #31, Summer 2009
Lee Stern: “For years I have had the same nightmare, that I am standing in a line of people who have just been instructed to march off a cliff. So I wrote this poem, thinking the nightmare would go away. But it didn’t. In fact, the laugh track that carried it along got a little bit louder. And in the accompanying music, I found, the part for the bassoon was taken over by a drunken band of clarinets.”