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Contents Page: July, 2010, vol 6 no 2

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Theresa Williams

Memorial Day

A young man at the gas station says "No" when my husband asks if he rides. And he tells us he thinks motorcycles are a fast way to death. Twice his age, we say nothing; we've discussed the risks with each other so many times before. We both smile as we put on our helmets. The little towns we ride through are decorated with flags. In the yards, the peonies are too heavy for their stems. The blossoms bend until they lie on the grass, fresh with green clippings. In the countryside, farmers plow the fields. The air smells of cow dung and straw, which is sweet, not like the fat peonies which are beautiful and dying but like fertility, like that which is to come.

at this graveyard
the road dips
the air is cooler


Comments by Bruce Ross:

This haibun has the mythic and pastoral qualities of Brueghel’s painting “The Fall of Icarus” (celebrated in a poem by William Carlos Williams): in a pastoral landscape various things are going on with the subtext of the death of young men, the brunt of those whose deaths are honored on Memorial Day. Ironically, the young man the author and her husband meet considers their motorcycles a “fast way to death.” They accept the possibility and pass through small towns displaying flags.

The death theme is hinted at with giant-blossomed peonies weighted down to the grass. As in “The Fall of Icarus” farmers are plowing a field, unmindful of the young Icarus falling to his death for striving for too much, the sun melting the wax holding together the wings that bore him. The sweet smell of cow dung and straw concretizes the pastoral idiom of nature’s Edenic fertility and beauty. But someone, some young soldiers, have died, as in Milton’s “Lycidas,” and, as in that poem, nature grieves. Thus the prose concludes with the fallen peonies’ dying beauty equated to fertility, the death of young soldiers, and “that which is to come,” peace, another generation of young soldiers, a more beautiful world.

The concluding haiku compresses the prose’s lesson. At a graveyard, probably displaying Memorial Day flags over the buried dead, the author and her husband test their nerve, perhaps, at a decline. The haiku’s concluding line, “the air is cooler (at the decline),” hints at the airiness of “that which is to come,” making a great link. In effect Theresa has composed a great poetic elegy on the passing of young life and the natural cycle of life and death.

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