Saturday, August 6, 2016

At Fort Benning GA; Ritual waters; Route step; Soldier

At Fort Benning GA
where father trained for eventual D Day
invasion of Normany, WW II 1944


Ritual Waters

The mighty Fox River now sees the young Burmese father
At its banks communing with the moving water
Which flows like the Ihrewhaddy in his homeland
Slowly but surely, and it has fish

Hla rides my bicycle – now his -  in spare moments and continues
His pursuit of a livelihood at the Fox River
The other day he told me he caught eight big fish
“How big?” -  and he held his thumbs and middle fingers together
to represent girth

instead of  hands far apart to represent length
the way we do around here
which said he is thinking of food
where fishermen of my acquaintance usually are thinking of a trophy

How wonderful to think of Hla riding my bicycle to the river
With a fishing pole
Catching fish that struggle to survive in slowly clearing water
Fish to feed his boys who also like to catch and eat fish, as in Burma

In olden days and even now sometimes we see
Milwaukee (?) blacks and pore folks at the riverbanks and lakeshores
in Waukesha County – they aren’t from around here -
hunkered down, usually, so as not to stand out

fishing “our” recreational waters
for food, smiling furtively beneath broad straw hat-brims
when they snag one that would bring their hands
around in big O’s;
And well-to-do locals motor by and cluck their tongues and say:
“Just look at that!”


Route Step

The bridge from Wheeling Island Ohio
across the Ohio River
to Wheeling West Virginia
was built before the Civil War
the first and oldest
continuously-operating such bridge
in the United States

Travelers on Route 70
pass over the Ohio on a newer bridge
to the north
but within sight of the old bridge
which serves local traffic
and which is anchored
on the Wheeling side
in tons
of cement beneath
our traditional stop-over hotel
on the annual way to the Maryland farm

So that shock waves of the bridge cables
are transferred slightly to our beds
and we're connected vibratorily
and there is no extra charge for
such magic finger treatment

I like to take an early morning walk
across the bridge each year on my trip
and I've noticed spider webs on the supports
that mimic the fretwork of the bridge itself;
and I've felt the sway of the bridge
in the wind, or when a car passes over
next to me on the narrow pedestrian walk

The water looks far below
and it is

During the Civil War
Union soldiers were marching in lock step
across the bridge and they set up a
vibration that caused one of the three instances
when bridge has collapsed;
those calamities happened during
the bridge's earlier life;
it hasn't fallen in a long time
proponents say

But that's when the broken march step
came to be, known as Route Step
to any soldier or parade marcher,
because the ordered but free-form paces,
out of pounding rhythm,
kept the Wheeling bridge
from falling down again



I saw a picture in a newspaper yesterday
of Russian children being taught in a classroom
about gasmasks
and I thought
how wrong that is.

A good share of my now 80 year life
 has been given up
to reflecting on how wrong things are.

When I was a child people's bodies
were being shredded, blown apart

in World War Two
not a glorious war but one that had to be won
and my bandage-winding, sweater-knitting
Red Cross costume-wearing paternal grandmother
with her progeny, four sons, all in the war

 would dress me in military costume
and her heart would swell with pride when
I looked like a little soldier, like one of her sons
on her front lawn in Cedar Falls, Iowa

but it never felt right to me

and when with my dad then Captain Dix we traveled from
military post to military post as he trained
for the ultimate D-Day invasion with the 90th
I shied from ceremonial cannon firing
I think I shamed him by holding my ears

and not liking the sharp sting of gunpowder
in my nose which I remember well.
Children come into this world with
a purity that is wrested from them -
the Russian children had that look

that look of something not being right;
Who wants to stand next to a blasting cannon
Who wants to wear a uniform for play
and what does it say to teach little boys and girls
about death being in the air they breathe?

Mental disorders, poisoned brain cells
a fetid pond in which to swim
for Earth's minnows
it fosters irregular heartbeats and earns us failing marks
with the cosmos:

 in this holy sea a spoiled estuary.