Jun. 19, 2006

Six National Guardsmen Blown Up Together

by Peg Lauber

MONDAY, 19 JUNE, 2006
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Poem: "Six National Guardsmen Blown Up Together" by Peg Lauber from New Orleans Suite © Marsh River Editions. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Six National Guardsmen Blown Up Together

Today the six come home for good,
those who grew up together on the bayous,
like those boys in the Civil War
who enlisted together, died together,
sometimes leaving small towns
with no young men—
a whole generation gone. These six hunted,
fished, trapped together, but someone
tracked them, hunted them
a world away from their usual prey—
alligators, nutrias, crawfish, bass.

Right across the canal out front
is the Naval base's runway approach
where we'll hear or even see
the big cargo plane carrying
what is left of the men coming in,
rumbling and lumbering along, scaring
the brown pelican and his mate
flying low up the channel
and scattering seventeen members
of the Cajun Air Force,
those bigger white pelicans,
cruising, then banking away.

Only the gulls will remain
gliding around with mournful
screeches, appropriate requiem.
Then silence, all planes grounded
in respect for the relatives, the wives
who huddle on folding chairs, bent
weeping into their small children's hair,
the children frightened, weeping with them,
now understanding that their father
in that flag-draped box will not,
like a Jack, pop out
if they touch a button—
that nothing, nothing
will ever be the same.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of film critic Pauline Kael, (books by this author) born in Petaluma, California (1919). In 1965, she published a collection of movie reviews and essays on film criticism called I Lost It at the Movies, and it became a best-seller. She went on to become the film critic for The New Yorker magazine for almost twenty-five years.

She said, "You have to be open to the idea of getting drunk on movies."

It was on this day in 1964 that the United States Congress passed the Civil Rights Act after a long battle in the Senate. Lyndon Johnson signed the act into law thirteen days later. It was this piece of legislation that outlawed all segregation on the basis of race in the United States. The text of the law was extremely specific, listing all the places of public accommodation where segregation was forbidden, including any inn, hotel, motel, restaurant, cafeteria, lunchroom, lunch counter, soda fountain, gasoline station, motion picture house, theater, concert hall, sports arena, stadium, or other place of exhibition or entertainment.

It's the birthday of short-story writer and memoirist Tobias Wolff, (books by this author) born in Birmingham, Alabama (1945). He's the author of several collections of short stories, including In the Garden of the North American Martyrs (1981), but he's best known for his memoir about his childhood, This Boy's Life (1989). His first novel, Old School, came out in 2004.

Tobias Wolff said: "There are very few professions in which people just sit down and think hard for five or six hours a day all by themselves. [If you become a writer] you have the liberty to do that, but once you have the liberty you also have the obligation to do it."

It's the birthday of the journalist and music critic Greil Marcus, (books by this author) born in San Francisco (1945). He started out as a music critic for various magazines, and he has gone on to write many books of criticism, including Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock 'n' Roll Music (1975).

It's the birthday of mathematician and mystic Blaise Pascal, (books by this author) born in Clermont, France (1623). He's known for writing a book about religion called Thoughts (1669), but he also invented the first mechanical calculator, demonstrated that a vacuum could exist in nature, and invented the mathematics of probability.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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