Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Happy Birthday, Gene

Today in Watkins, Minnesota, in 1921, Eugene McCarthy was born. I should have been for him in the '68 election, but I was young and I hated him for being alive when Bobby was dead... Older, I appreciated him more. We need men like him now.

He was also a poet.


Teeth bare to the wind
Knuckle white grip on handle bars
You push the pedals of no return,
Let loose new motion and speed.
The earth turns with the multiplied
Force of your wheels.
Do not look back.
Feet light on the brake
Ride the bicycle of your will
Down the spine of the world,
Ahead of your time, into life.
I will not say--
Go slow.


There are quiet waters
where a berry dropped
by a bird flying
starts ripples that
from the center of the pond
spread in concentrics, dying
in silence at the feet of the blue reeds.
I now know where these waters are.


There in the savage orange of autumn Tamarack
rusted spikes reeling the slanted, last
of the northern day, down
into the black
root waters,
among the least trees in that least land
in the darkened death camp
of the tribe of trees
I saw you.
green gold willow, arched and graced,
among spines and angled limbs.
captive? queen?
all lost light from the smothering swamp,
alone, you bear back.


Kilroy is gone,
the word is out,
absent without leave
from Vietnam.

who wrote his name
in every can
from Poland to Japan
and places in between
like Sheboygan and Racine
is gone
absent without leave
from Vietnam.

who kept the dice
and stole the ice
out of the BOQ
whose name was good
on every IOU
in World War II
and even in Korea
is gone
absent without leave
from Vietnam.

the unknown soldier
who was the first to land
the last to leave,
with his own hand
has taken his good name
from all the walls
and toilet stalls.
whose name around the world
was like the flag unfurled
has run it down
and left Saigon
and the Mekong
without a hero or a song
and gone
absent without leave
from Vietnam.

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