SHADOW OF A FLAG
When my battle buddy blew his brains
out with an M16, having straddled the barrel
and pushed the trigger down with a cleaning
rod, everyone, everything
Finally, Top said in a whisper (because no sound
remained) “everyone, take a knee,”
and his simple act cut through the fear.
It got us thinking.
This circle that formed
in the dirt was it, forty three of us,
and this short slender man in the center who looked
at each woman man old young person without words.
The shadow of the flag danced beneath the real
thing, which shifted in a changing wind.
And we knelt for what seemed an hour, may
have been minutes, silent. No one wanted to break
the reverence. The fabric of the flag
stretched like time and for some of it
we watched its shadow dance through the circle.
So much had happened this year. Two months back
we saw the news from home, a man on a sidewalk
stabbed with the flagpole in his chest.
Weeks before that another flag hung tattered
from the bed of a pickup truck whose owner
waved his AR 15 in the air, mouth frozen
open in the newsprint.
These images came
courtesy of the
Stars and Stripes and at this moment
crossed my mind—the way its meaning shifted.
In time, the First Sergeant said, “This is why we’re here,
each other, and this is why we’ll make it back, each other.
Not a party, not a cloth. This is the family
whose opinions matter—take care of it.”
We knelt in earnest in that circle of dirt,
hand in hand, praying, not praying,
Smithson passed through each of us,
and the only cloth that mattered
was the one that covered him on the flight home.
from Poets Respond
D.A. Gray: “In the wake of the new NFL kneeling policy, some fans insist it is out of respect for the troops. There are a few more important things that a shallow form of patriotism will never grasp.” ( web)