It all recurs for the maimed, how they remain,
or don’t, atop the plots of the buried. Those
who could do something table the question.
They relax in the rocker of their certainty,
a war, any war, an abstraction that walls off
the bursting specifics. A twenty-something friend
found he’d deployed to sort body parts. Arrayed,
they’d survive the fever sweeping a land we
could never know. Welcomed by the white-blue
atrium of a foreign sky, he’d prowl his perimeter
until his duty tapped him. Then the oven-sun
would relight his nightmare, the categories
of bone and flesh his production line. What
achievement could signal his success? What
dream in the meantime could relieve raw nerve?
The perfect tour would end when he was still
in one piece, a nation’s need ignoring the gore
behind the games, the horror nestling into
the still-living because still in one piece.
Make a Difference!
—a villanelle to commencement speakers everywhere
Tonight, fatigue’s grim flower unfurls,
but Gandhi, gunned down, had this to say:
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Oh? Even when casting before swine my pearls,
every action seems absurd, and all the day—
and tonight—fatigue’s grim flower unfurls?
Even though, in my disgust, I’d hurl
the grenades myself, I should, anyway,
be the change I wish to see in the world?
What about how resolve just sways and swirls?
What about colleagues countering, “Let’s pray”?
Especially then fatigue’s grim flower unfurls,
failure feels relentless, all fervor whirls.
But still I’m to spin—on these feet of clay—
this Be the change you wish to see in the world?
The global Bottom Line confirms I’m the churl,
binds me with a twist to the old cliché:
tonight, fatigue’s grim flower’s unfurled
by the change I’d wished to see in the world.
D. R. James’s poetry collections are Since Everything Is All I’ve Got (March Street) and five chapbooks, most recently Why War and Split-Level (Finishing Line). Poems have appeared in various journals and anthologies, including Ritual to Read Together: Poems in Conversation with William Stafford (Woodley) and Poetry in Michigan / Michigan in Poetry (New Issues). James lives in Saugatuck, Michigan, and has been teaching writing, literature, and peace-making at Hope College for 32 years.