Monthly Archives: June 2006

Compassion and Mercy



The 40,000 & the One

The 40,000 & the One

The world is full of screams
and falling leaves.
Was that wild delight turning into blows?
And did the little man in the faded uniform
suddenly come alive in rage?
The van he left in the middle of the street is
still there. The cops look for him
while he looks for himself.
If they move the vehicle before the CSP,
the crime scene photographer,
they will erase the entire incident too quickly
even for those who joke and nudge corpses
with their feet
smoking, waiting, preserving
the holiest place outside of church or birth.
When someday the asphalt is repaved,
covered over with a truckload of steaming black
smoothed out with the weight of an ancient machine,
yellow lines drawn again to stop you from passing,
even the dogs won’t be able to tell what
happened there.

I don’t know what happened to
Sgt. Benjamin J. Layman, 22, of Mt. Vernon Ohio
and Sgt. Justin D. Norton, 21, of Rainier, Washington,
the names on today’s list.
The D O D says they “died on June 24 in the vicinity
of Baghdad from injuries sustained
when they encountered enemy forces & small arms
fire, and an improvised explosive device which
detonated during a dismounted patrol.”
Yes, you have to get out of the big humvee
they promise you in the glamorous ads and even if
you’re in it, it won’t protect you worth shit.
It is noted that the notice of your death is numbered 606-06,
and it comes from the Assistant Sec.of Defense for Public Affairs.
Such glory ye shall receive for God and country.

Our great friends and allies the British,
have lost a grand total of 113 men,
not that I should begrudge them the small number,
but I do.
Just as I begrudge the death last week
of Joshua Priddy, 22, in Ohio, on Rte 163,
near milepost 19 in Erie Township,
of a motorcycle crash.
He had survived a tour in Iraq, survived
and IED explosion – been a hero saving others,
survived and come back, yet there was a chance,
they say, that his unit would be returning to Iraq. He was
traveling at a terrific rate of speed when he veered off
the road. The accident is under investigation.

I also begrudge the death of Russel Yasser,
daughter of Yas al Khafaji, 11 yrs old,
died 18 November 2005 with her mother Zehra
of a suicide car bomb in Jadiriyah Baghdad,
the death of Ahmad Rashid Al-Rawi,
adult male, political party member
kidnapped & shot
in Ramad 7 November 2005
the daughter of Nabiel Sharaf Aldeen
aged 2, of gunfire in Kirkuk.

I will decry the names of 40,000 dead in
the fertile crescent of a childhood dreaming.
I will decry our names of 2,584.
I will decry the British 113.
And I will decry the death of you, Joshua Priddy,
near milepost 19.

The world is full of screams and falling leaves,
but you have yet to hear my voice.


PBSweeney June 2006

Dawn By the Great Lake

Dawn By the Great Lake

The gulls are circling endlessly
arc after arc over the landscape
to see, with outstretched wings,
the shape of what is known for them

A pass south over muted brick, asphalt,
mulberries weeping fruits on plots of green,
flags and bunting, empty verandas,
the dog who lifts a leg and moves on.

Turning into the blaze of east
they enter the arc that leads
thru the still horizontal light and ends
with a north going
to the unclaimed sky.
The lake edge disappears, the water’s surface
runs below. Out and out they glide
over the inland sea until the arc’s moment
breathes at last.

Landward again.
The birds close up in a smaller circling
wings tilted to eye the shape of things below
what has been added, what has
been taken away
and all about are windows
open to rooms of sleeping bodies.

Ours is the one with the
blue hydrangea in a glass on the sill.
Ours is the one with the man turned
to the girl, even in his sleeping.
Ours is the one that comes at
this moment, under the arc of wings,
under the eye that looks
to see the shape of what is known
and passes on.


Small Happy Poem

How remarkable
the smell of leaves
and the fading light
a glimpse of salmon and gold
on the crown of the headland

The lamps come on quickly
we haven’t a clue
about real darkness
or the richness of silence

It’s cooling off
a day that was so blissfully warm
crunching of brittle leaves underfoot

I’m making fish and mash for supper
and I won’t forget your peas
or the way, later,
I’ll find my place in the crook of your arm
far from the loose wind of out there.

PBSweeney October 2005


For R.S.Jones

What am I doing in the bookstore?
I’m rounding out my day of
obsessing about your death by searching
forwards and acknowledgements
postscripts and author’s notes
tucked in the latest books of your writers.
As I suspected, brief lines of mention;
gratitude to “the late Robert Jones,” “ for the
kindness of my editors, particularly the
late Robert Jones.” Yes, I have found you-
fleeting little love letters to you-
months, almost a year, later.
Later! I have been late in all of this.
But I know what they mean, your writers.
I know the words that gallop
through the books in spasms of undertext,
undertow, with only you to save the swimmers.
I had a summer like that.
I’d walk down the lane of
the unkempt farmhouse I’d rented on Mecox Bay
through the tumbled riot of milkweed, chicory, queen
anne’s lace and yarrow,
to the rusty mailbox at the end
where there might be a letter from you,
full of what my poems had meant to you.
I was so far away then.
A letter from you might ground me for weeks, might
allow me to stop weeping in the underbrush
with the other scared rabbits,
fix a meal, have a coffee, smile at a beetle.
So let me just say,
thanks for throwing me a line.
I’d have drowned without it.

PBSweeney 7-23-02

The Quiet that Descended

The quiet that descended at last
had been hanging in the sky all day
in anonymous, soft cotton grays
gentle as a dusk preparing us for sleep.
The breeze calmed
and the limbs of trees grew still,
even the crows that daily berate us
were quiet – small stark silhouettes.

Sometimes, I just want to look at
something beautiful
light on water, light on leaves, light on
the edge of stones or sand
with no capturing, no synthesis, no inspiring
just love of gold, carnelian, emerald, azure
like van Gogh eating pigment
because he couldn’t help himself
who wouldn’t
even for the poison of its consumption
who wouldn’t choose annihilation in love
who wouldn’t burn under a calm sky
the conflagration lifting the trees
with the wind of an ecstatic moment
the crows taking flight
the unquiet ascending.