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For the Union Dead -- Robert Lowell

Guest poem submitted by Sheri K. Stoll:
(Poem #1295) For the Union Dead
 "Relinquunt Omnia Servare Rem Publicam."

 The old South Boston Aquarium stands
 in a Sahara of snow now.  Its broken windows are boarded.
 The bronze weathervane cod has lost half its scales.
 The airy tanks are dry.

 Once my nose crawled like a snail on the glass;
 my hand tingled
 to burst the bubbles
 drifting from the noses of the cowed, compliant fish.

 My hand draws back.  I often sigh still
 for the dark downward and vegetating kingdom
 of the fish and reptile.  One morning last March,
 I pressed against the new barbed and galvanized

 fence on the Boston Common.  Behind their cage,
 yellow dinosaur steamshovels were grunting
 as they cropped up tons of mush and grass
 to gouge their underworld garage.

 Parking spaces luxuriate like civic
 sandpiles in the heart of Boston.
 A girdle of orange, Puritan-pumpkin colored girders
 braces the tingling Statehouse,

 shaking over the excavations, as it faces Colonel Shaw
 and his bell-cheeked Negro infantry
 on St. Gaudens' shaking Civil War relief,
 propped by a plank splint against the garage's earthquake.

 Two months after marching through Boston,
 half the regiment was dead;
 at the dedication,
 William James could almost hear the bronze Negroes breathe.

 Their monument sticks like a fishbone
 in the city's throat.
 Its Colonel is as lean
 as a compass-needle.

 He has an angry wrenlike vigilance,
 a greyhound's gently tautness;
 he seems to wince at pleasure,
 and suffocate for privacy.

 He is out of bounds now.  He rejoices in man's lovely,
 peculiar power to choose life and die--
 when he leads his black soldiers to death,
 he cannot bend his back.

 On a thousand small town New England greens,
 the old white churches hold their air
 of sparse, sincere rebellion; frayed flags
 quilt the graveyards of the Grand Army of the Republic.

 The stone statues of the abstract Union Soldier
 grow slimmer and younger each year--
 wasp-waisted, they doze over muskets
 and muse through their sideburns . . .

 Shaw's father wanted no monument
 except the ditch,
 where his son's body was thrown
 and lost with his "niggers."

 The ditch is nearer.
 There are no statues for the last war here;
 on Boylston Street, a commercial photograph
 shows Hiroshima boiling

 over a Mosler Safe, the "Rock of Ages"
 that survived the blast.  Space is nearer.
 When I crouch to my television set,
 the drained faces of Negro school-children rise like balloons.

 Colonel Shaw
 is riding on his bubble,
 he waits
 for the blessèd break.

 The Aquarium is gone.  Everywhere,
 giant finned cars nose forward like fish;
 a savage servility
 slides by on grease.
-- Robert Lowell
[broken link] http://www.latimes.com/features/printedition/books/la-bk-fraser22jun22162422,1,6457119.story

[LA Times free registration required]

The above-referenced article yesterday in the L.A. Times inspired me to
search for Lowell's "For the Union Dead". It is very powerful. Many
people may have seen Ed Zwick's movie "Glory" about the Massachussetts
54th regiment of black soldiers in the Civil War based on the book One
Gallant Rush, by Peter Burchard. I checked 'wondering minstrels' and I
could not find any of Lowell's poems, this is a good one to start with.

--Sheri

27 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Alan Kornheiser said...

Bravo. What a perfect choice for today. Had we really no Robert Lowell.
Time, fashions, styles...let us tell stories of who's in and who's out, eh?

Again, thanks for reminding me of this.

Alan

Suresh Ramasubramanian said...

Sitaram Iyer [04/07/03 16:10 -0500]:
> The above-referenced article yesterday in the L.A. Times inspired me to
> search for Lowell's "For the Union Dead". It is very powerful. Many
> people may have seen Ed Zwick's movie "Glory" about the Massachussetts
> 54th regiment of black soldiers in the Civil War based on the book One
> Gallant Rush, by Peter Burchard. I checked 'wondering minstrels' and I
> could not find any of Lowell's poems, this is a good one to start with.

As for Lowell - there's this poem called Dara you can look at.

For Black soldiers, have you published the lyrics for Bob Marley's Buffalo
Soldier on minstrels yet?

srs

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