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Happy Memorial Day….sounds weird. You wouldn’t really wish someone a “happy” memorial day, though, would you? I guess I’d say, Happy Monday Off after doing your remembrances, honoring your own sorrow and our nation’s broken heart, and renewing your spirit with fires in your backyard. Happy that.

I’m still thinking about it. I show my students lots of photos of memorials when we teach war books, which is often. They are more well-travelled than I, but less observant, and don’t often care much for memorials until we start reading war stories and talking about what the buildings represent.  I have not seen the 9/11 memorial, but it is on my list (I have a bucket list of memorials, libraries, and castles). The photographs are good. I like the reflecting pools and the way it brings our attention down, not up.

Tonight’s poem isn’t going to be about memorials, because I’ve been thinking of some fragments today, and thinking about all the wounds and all the soldiers left unwhole but alive. Maybe it is going to be about a memorial, I don’t know.

Day of Honor for the Alive but Unwhole

The fighting fish, selected for its unearthly blue tail, the tail torn off between two small and curious fingers, needs to be righted every thirteen minutes for five hours to fight the belly up,

but the gills keep pumping, and occasionally he swims by jerking his head to and fro. Especially fro. Fro and fro and fro around in circles before drifting to a stop and beginning to turn heart to the surface again.

The tree in the yard got blown sideways in a microburst this fall, an unexpected insurgence of strong wind, red leaves exploding to the sky in their improvised dance. Less lazy couples might have pulled out the roots remaining but we waited, and when the buds sprouted again in the spring, we called ourselves hopeful and were proud.

We watched in the yard as the butterfly with the wing chunk missing hopped and flapped the one left for thirteen minutes before it landed on the dandelion, and our oldest said it looked like that boy in the airport, the one wearing the boots and “camoflash”.

So many in camoflash at the airport. This boy only had thirteen minutes to get to the gate, which is a long way to go on prostheses, two of them.

The fish nearly died yesterday, but today it appears dead less frequently, and ate a pebble of food. Sometimes its stillness makes us forget he is there, but then we look close, and see the breath. He’s just waiting, propped upright by the plastic plant, for the swim.

Let’s make a day for the unwhole-but-alive. For the working-on-it and surviving. A day of rest for the ones we pinned with sharp hope pins, for the ones with roots left in the ground, for the ones with half a tail, for the ones who wish we’d quit staring in the airport.  A day of honor and of peace, where no arms are taken, taken, or taken up, and even the butterfly gets to speak truth about injury.


uhhhhhh. This is an uncomfortable poem. I’m uncomfortable with it. Sometimes that is a good sign, and sometimes it is a sign that I just accidentally wrote a really insensitive poem in which I compare veterans to our pet fish and I am a giant asshole. I can’t really tell which it is tonight, although I strongly suspect the latter and I don’t really have time to do anything about it. Everyone gets at least one assholey poem in year, right? Happy Monday. Sigh.