While I know no poem in the language greater than Gerard Manley Hopkins's "The Wreck of the Deutschland," and confess a supremely warm spot for Joyce Kilmer's cozy but forgotten "The 12:45," a favorite is this sonnet by Millay from her collection Fatal Interview.
Now by the path I climbed, I journey back. The oaks have grown; I have been long away. Taking with me your memory and your lack I now descend into a milder day; Stripped of your love, unburdened of my hope, Descend the path I mounted from the plain; Yet steeper than I fancied seems the slope And stonier, now that I go down again. Warm falls the dusk; the clanking of the bell Faintly ascends upon this heavier air; I do recall those grassy pastures well: In early spring they drove the cattle there. And close at hand should be a shelter, too, From which the mountain peaks are not in view.
Chariot from Hades, fire glinting from its windshield, steel knife splitting the atom to pull in front of me, so close now I can see the driver, her phone, can hear death ring. Searching for a place to get away, I swerve into a corridor of hate, detesting her, my body fired with full throttle hatred, I rev up, speed ahead, so close now I can see her her mouth a frightened grimace. How exposed she is, wearing only the flimsy dress of a car, her brief face etched and dying on the air, when someone calls, Bless this child. May her parents see her alive tonight, speaking through me, a voice, then peace, as she passes safely by.
The snow in North Dakota asks a question with no question mark, no capital letter, to indicate where it begins and ends or what lies in the middle, for that matter. The question is white and drifts above the cab of the snowplow while in its orange light people lean into the wind along the curb, digging out cars that vanish in the night.
At home their dogs are silent, hearing no sound. The cattle huddle and freeze, and buffalo crossing the buried fence, free now to roam, stand silver and stiff as nickels in the dawn— eyes frozen wide and blank as if they tried to comprehend the question while they died.
“When you pray, go into your room,” He said, so each green dawn as spring light stirs, I sit, womb-snug, in my small room, hushed high above unfurling leaves, with Luke who’s all of five days new, but solid as a loaf of bread, and, oh, such wisdom; petal-soft, in and out, I hear his breath. Receive. Release. That’s all there is. Just this. Quiet. Nothing more.
Study war no more
Mar 18, 2011
Michael Izbicki grew up in a nondenominational church in California. A National Merit Scholarship finalist, he chose to go to the U.S. Naval Academy out of a sense of duty to his country during a time of war. At the naval academy he began to doubt whether the career to which he had committed himself could be squared with the tenets of just war doctrine. He got in trouble when he responded no to this exam question: "If given the order, would you launch a missile carrying a nuclear warhead?" After a four-year legal battle, the navy discharged him as a conscientious objector. Izbicki may have to reimburse the service for part or all of his education (New York Times, February 22).