Jul/Aug 2017 Poetry Special Feature

Whitman on the Bank of Lethe

by David Mathews

Image courtesy of the British Library Photostream


Whitman on the Bank of Lethe

...what America did you have / when Charon quit poling his ferry and you got out / on a smoking bank and stood watching / the boat disappear on the black waters of Lethe? —Allen Ginsburg, "A Supermarket in California"

A gallery of crows calk
        as they fly in circles above.

                The busy Union Ordnance Corps,
        methodically and uniformly pry, pick, and sort
                rifles, revolvers, swords, and bayonets
                        that were held in young cold dead hands.

Since the warring Ancient Greeks,
        armies are resupplied by their fallen—
                more important than grave digging.

                They tediously fieldstrip, replace parts,
                        clean, and shine these weapons as

        cannons thunder and muskets sound off
                from the surrounding hills that smoke and smell of gunpowder.

After he passes by that with his walking stick,
        going up the ribbon of road, a man who saw
                        prosody in the common man's shoulders,
                                witnessed a pile of limbs like the leftovers of sirens

                flung from over-worked medics in bloodstained butcher's aprons,
                        needing to swig whiskey meant for the amputee patients.

Good Grey Poet.
"Old courage-teacher,"
what America did they have,
those wounded you visited?
Those you gifted flowers, fruit, or tobacco.
Wrote letters home for. Read aloud to.
Nursed and dressed their wounds. Held hands as they passed.
Remembered as beautiful boys where they grew up,
playing with smiles, young and unafraid of anything.


Previous Piece Next Piece