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11 November 2005

Veterans Day / Remembrance Day 2005 (marks the Armistice that ended World War One)

What will you do this
Remembrance Day?
Where will your body stand?
What will your eyes look on?
What will your heart think?

We call it Veterans Day
My uniform is gone
My Mom gave it away
To my nephews
To wear on Halloween

I didn't really mind
I made some lifelong friends
Most of us made it home alive
We smoked a lot of dope

(The other day
that trip to Boston, coming home
at a gas station on the Mass Pike
I bought a Jimi Hendrix CD
and played it really loud
he was in the 101st Airborne
he jumped out of airplanes
three or four times a week)

Last year somewhere in Canada
a very young branch manager
chased an old poppy seller
out of his bank

Oh crap McCrea
Quit bellyaching
They break faith with us all the time
And who cares whether
We sleep or not?

They break faith every time
They do it all over again
And send our nephews
And send our sons
And send our grandsons
To another one
another one
another one
another one

They only wait just long enough
for the bank managers to forget
the last one

some old man
is selling poppies
on the sidewalk in my town
If I see him tomorrow
I'll buy one

memories of old wars
your Thames
my Connecticut
flowing to the same Ocean
memories of old wars

amazingly soon
distressingly soon
pathetically soon
irresponsibly, criminally soon
all the young branch managers
who will have never known
about the Syrian War
and the Iran War
will chase the old vet
selling poppies
out of the bank

it would have meant something
you know
if they'd stopped
having wars
I'd wear my ribbons
(fast typing; excellent spelling;
kissing officer ass extraordinaire)
I'd march tomorrow
in the old men's Parade
if they'd stop
having wars

eve of Veterans Day / Remembrance Day 2005


Canadian poet John McCrae was a medical officer in both the Boer War and World War I. A year into the latter war he published in Punch magazine, on December 8, 1915, the sole work by which he would be remembered. This sonnet commemorates the deaths of thousands of young men who died in Flanders during the grueling battles there. It created a great sensation, and was used widely as a recruiting tool, inspiring other young men to join the Army. Legend has it that he was inspired by seeing the blood-red poppies blooming in the fields where many friends had died. In 1918 McCrae died at the age of 40, in the way most men died during that war, not from a bullet or bomb, but from disease: pneumonia, in his case.

Compare the mood in the first two stanzas with that in the third. Can you explain why people during the war interpreted it primarily as a pro-war poem although it was often read later as an anti-war poem? Who is the speaker in this poem? What does the speaker want his listeners to do?

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.


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