The Stripped Sleeve
Upon St. Crispin’s Day
I have had some idea of war,
Watched the news specials,
Read all the right articles
In the encyclopedia,
Memorized all appropriate
Passages of poetry.
I can tell Perry from Patton,
The Argonne from Agincourt,
Have measured out thin red lines,
Toe, heel, heel, toe,
Between the rocks at Devil’s Den.
Yes, I know of her.
But I met her just the other Tuesday,
Clinging like an oily, tattered coat
To the shoulders of her latest son.
“He has outlived my day,
And come safe home,” she said.
He had a frank face, I remember,
A humble kind of honesty written in his cheekbones -
But I could not look at him.
He was blind.
Seven teeth were missing.
The smile, they whispered, had been sewn back into place.
Only one surgeon-sautered eye was left to shine,
His last, single star of youth:
Wandering in the socket,
Looking for its mate.
He surely felt me look away.
Could he forget the acrid nights
And bitter mornings,
That burning city putrefied by passions?
And was his face his honor or his shame?
I will not guess.
For all I have are maps, and books,
And scraps of iambic pentameter
To go by.
“He will remember with advantages,” she said.
Yet - What good was all my humming of Non Nobis,
Recitations of someday feasting neighbors,
Of showing scars on a saint’s day?
For here a son had stripped his sleeve,
And I could only shudder.
These wounds I had upon St. Crispin’s day.