Lafayette, we are here

The first poem I wrote after arriving in Providence had an epigraph, "after reading Apollinaire".  That was 44 years ago, in the spring of 1970.  I'm still after Apollinaire, I guess.  This is another "occasional poem", on the sad occasion of the 100 years of war since the War to End All Wars began (in which my grandfather, Edward S. Gould, was a captain in the 124th Artillery.  "Lafayette, we are here").

(A few days ago I remembered that in my grandparents' apartment, near the U of M & the Mississippi River, there was to be seen not only Grandpa's big brass shell ("the last shell fired in the Great War," he always said), & not only his rack of ever-present pipes & tobacco fumes, but also an old print, hanging over the dinner table - a formal 18th-century dance, with Lafayette twirling on his toes, & George Washington & friends off to one side, looking on.)


That pudgy Parisian poet-vet
tattooed all over with scars –
a Queequeg of the War
to End All Wars (but not just yet) –

he of the blundered parentage (the
Pope was perhaps his father?)
– all that Roman bother –
a fenced-in pyramidical sage

gypsoid tumbleweed, fuming
over his Dallas Lorelei
across the Rhine (goodbye,
good luck)... O trench-spit spuming

rural rose!  & the grapevine murmurs
Marne, Loire... the soil
of France – the ceaseless toil
of dew, pour l’amour de Dieu (showers

of tipsy fireflies in the wind-blown
hair of remote by-ways, so
gently merveilleuse)...
Adroit the boatman, who hath sewn

these sails – hath bent these anchored ribs
into prow, & figure-
head (one pierced oreille);
subtle the fisherman (Gennesareth

swab) who scanned these Galilean farms
with an ear to the waves.
Après l’Armistice, he saves
a little pipesmoke... (ashen charms).


Guillaume Apollinaire


Cosmos vs. chaos


        one if by land, two if by sea

The labyrinth of your fingerprint,
Sophie.  The human touch,
impregnable (not much).
Love’s murmur in sleep – rue, mint...

only rumors, next morning.
Kuala Lumpur, O
KL!  Five years ago now.
Humid trance-kayak, flush with beaming

taxi-drivers (& one friendly Parsi
from Indie-archipelago).
Quiet storefront Tao-
templa.  Shrines, mosques...

all side-by-side (recumbent lakes
amid brass moped squalls).
Phoebe & Khaled’s
tropical apartment (your namesakes’

Polynesia to come).  Long flight
Boston Los Angeles Seoul
(Malaysia Air).  All
to knit my future son, in law (bright

Baba-to-be, Sophie).  They fall
into the sea, these planes.
Or to the earth.  Cranes
drift to Missouri... elegant, sprawl

(regal, awkward) in the naked stream.
All the birds of the air
shall make nests... where?
OK, acorn (steep cowpoke dream).



Swords... plowshares

Some ringing lines from the prophet Isaiah (verse 2.4) came to mind today :  

And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

Reading, thinking much about the "Great War" lately (as are many people these days).

Note how Isaiah specifies three aspects of war - singling them out for a future renunciation :

1)  the technology of war ("swords into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks").   This zeroes in on the special obscenity of modern warfare.  We are enslaved by our own mastery of technology : it has become so easy to kill a human being.  To commit mass murder.  The technology we make is our accomplice.

2)  the politics of war ("nation shall not lift up sword against nation").  The nation-state has become a sophisticated, polished machine of power-accumulation.  Power in the Machiavellian sense, for its own sake.  War is a means to this end.  Here war itself becomes the accomplice of centralized human viciousness (our pride, our vanity, our greed, our wrath, our fraudulence).

3)  the pedagogy of war ("neither shall they learn war any more").  Someday mankind will have to renounce the whole panoply of militarism and warcraft.  At present, we limit certain weapons as taboo, out of bounds (chemical weapons, nerve gas, land mines).  Thus we avoid the really difficult renunciation - to do away with the whole shimmering glory of arms and war science.  Isaiah can only project such a social transformation into an undefined future.... On that Day.


Battle of the Somme

Today marks 98 years since the Battle of the Somme (July 1, 1916).  One of the ultimate expressions of military & general human folly.  I've written another occasional poem (for my ongoing folly, Ravenna Diagram).


The trench was like a twisted river
of manure and rust.  Bent-
over Al & Bertie, faint
now in memory.  That ravin’ conniver

H.G., with the bloodshot eye –
souvenir de Louie?  “A touch
of the royal”  not much.
Slaughtered under a Ruskin sky.

All three.  South of Ypres-jeepers,
beside the sleepy Somme.
This somnolent hum
of toothy cogs must end, the weepers

say.  Someday.  When rabid dogs
cease racketing around by
Snuffy’s Drive-in (west end
of Mendelssohn – past the Log

Cabin – in the long grass, by the lake).
Remember the Limping Lady?
Cartwheels no more, sadly.
Tears well.  & for God’s sake.

There is only one kingdom, only
one king.  We’ll see her through.
That aureole around a blue
moon, Jeanne... born before we.

She cycles through ruin, absolutely.
Up from the crooked well,
like a gleam in a lake.  Sea-shell.
To bear it all, enfant.  Anew.  Étoile-épée.