In the Waiting Room

Considering the anniversary of women’s suffrage in the United States at this moment I was reminded to return to Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “I Am Waiting,” which returned me to the hope that inspired this response, this love note to America, for an occasion somewhere between Last Rites and Baptism.

Sparrow by RLGNGNZ on Flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No-Derivs 2.0 License

We were sorting the Grapes of Wrath, 
waiting for the shift to be done. 
Our unrest was everywhere: 
flags and chanting; paint and the piercing 
of swords into the flesh at the sides of sworn enemies. 
When was our Last Supper, and when would it return?
Wonder, we looked for you everywhere, waiting for our numbers
to be called.

The whales waited elsewhere, 
bleeding oceans back into their ears;
do they hear each other through the current of it? 
We wanted to know 
what they’d been saying all along 
after hellos and we wanted to lie down again 
––the lovers, the weepers, the dreamers, 
across the Great Divide, our bodies bridges 
for the feet that could not believe 
unless they stepped across us, 
unless they put their hands in the wounds 
of their feet in our backs, back to the Lost Continent 
they’d been trained to disbelieve     America, 
we were waiting for your music for so long 
that when you hobbled back to the Dark Tower
your intimations of immortality bleeding out 
from stray bullet wounds, your torch arm falling 
slack, we couldn’t help ourselves     America, 
we circled you, we circled ourselves         no one 
was looking, but     we were there; we stood up, 
our single bodies     no longer the bridge 
it was our hands     Now        we held 
them         the shape of us unfastened 
from the overpass     ––still, we held,    some 
of us        even though         the gaps 
of our         form were         widening
our collective         path        an open mouth. 
Eye, be on your     sparrow now.      Watch us 
as we stand before ourselves




Your remains rest, your remains unfound. You were decorated, wept over; letters said you were tired, found peace of mind, slept with a pistol on your chest.

You fell at Battle of the Bulge, B-17 missing over the Aleutians; survived Omaha Beach, saved wounded, drowned in frozen seas, in training runs over Yuma, in POW camps in Burma. You volunteered after D-Day, 9/11; died at Iwo Jima, on impact, slowly in a trench; underwater, in midair, in the desert; your family searches still. You loved Tennyson, football, ice cream and Clarion Bells before sunset. You sang in the choir, stepped on a landmine, took fire in Kunar Province, in Afghanistan, Camp Sheehan, Fallujah.

The day you went missing, your son was born.

Your remains rest, your remains unfound. You were decorated, wept over; letters said you were tired, found peace of mind, slept with a pistol on your chest. Folded flags met your mothers, fathers, wives, daughters, sons; “Taps” played, then twenty-one guns.

You were in the glee club, physics, wrestling, the relay; long legs remembered, and dimples; a serious side and how you slept in class. You would be an aeronautics technician, a veterinarian, a teacher; practice medicine, take your son to Mt. Whitney, have dinner on the harbor, swim at the pier, return next football season and for Christmas, to hold your daughter for the first time.

You wrote your favorite Wordsworth lines in a textbook, “Grieve not, rather find strength in what remains behind.” We gather among remains, looking for more, as the living do, in silent reflection on the unknown of the All that you gave, marking hallowed ground with what we may not name.

Speaking of the nameless, may we remember them too. No sense being stingy with memory, with grief, with all the lost lives that we are taught to call nothing at all. 

Image: Memorare – Manila 1945 Monument, Sculpted by Peter de Guzman
Photo by Joal Perocillo on flickr