Tuesday, May 31, 2011

`Hidden in Unexpected Terms and Places'

On Memorial Day morning I drove the boys to the playground in the big downtown park, taking advantage of the brief rainless spell. We noticed a collection of American flags beyond the trees and walked over to investigate. There was no ceremony, no dais or brass band, just dozens of flags hung on the sides of salmon-colored obelisks, part of the park’s decorative wall. On a monument covered with the names of donors to the park’s construction fund I noticed, for the first time, passages from poems by the Big Baby Poet, Theodore Roethke, whose work I associate with the ongoing infantilization of American letters:

“I see the green, and things to come.”

“To have the whole air!
The light, the full sun
Coming down on the flowerheads.”

And so forth – safely “green” greeting-card sentiments. Rightly, no one else was paying attention to them, merely jogging or walking dogs, enjoying time away from work and school, like us, on Memorial Day. I’ve been reading what I can find of R.L. Barth, poet, publisher and Marine Corps veteran of Vietnam. In “A Letter to My Infant Son” (“outside Da Nang”) he writes:

“And what is courage? Too many things, it seems:
Carelessness, fatalism, or an impulse.
Yet it is none of these. True courage is
Hidden in unexpected terms and places:
In performing simple duties day by day;
In sometimes saying `no' when necessary;
In, most of all, refusing to despair.”

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