Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Thanksgiving Poem

Anne Porter's poem, "A List of Praises," is a finely worked Thanksgiving poem especially if we consider that thanksgiving and praise are two sides of the same coin.

A List of Praises

Anne Porter

Give praise with psalms that tell the trees to sing,
Give praise with Gospel choirs in storefront churches,
Mad with the joy of the Sabbath,
Give praise with the babble of infants, who wake with the sun,
Give praise with children chanting their skip-rope rhymes,
A poetry not in books, a vagrant mischievous poetry
living wild on the Streets through generations of children.

Give praise with the sound of the milk-train far away
With its mutter of wheels and long-drawn-out sweet whistle
As it speeds through the fields of sleep at three in the morning,
Give praise with the immense and peaceful sigh
Of the wind in the pinewoods,
At night give praise with starry silences.

Give praise with the skirling of seagulls
And the rattle and flap of sails
And gongs of buoys rocked by the sea-swell
Out in the shipping-lanes beyond the harbor.
Give praise with the humpback whales,
Huge in the ocean they sing to one another.
Give praise with the rasp and sizzle of crickets, katydids and cicadas,
Give praise with hum of bees,
Give praise with the little peepers who live near water.
When they fill the marsh with a shimmer of bell-like cries
We know that the winter is over.

Give praise with mockingbirds, day's nightingales.
Hour by hour they sing in the crepe myrtle
And glossy tulip trees
On quiet side streets in southern towns.
Give praise with the rippling speech
Of the eider-duck and her ducklings
As they paddle their way downstream
In the red-gold morning
On Restiguche, their cold river,
Salmon river,
Wilderness river.

Give praise with the whitethroat sparrow.
Far, far from the cities,
Far even from the towns,
With piercing innocence
He sings in the spruce-tree tops,
Always four notes
And four notes only.

Give praise with water,
With storms of rain and thunder
And the small rains that sparkle as they dry,
And the faint floating ocean roar
That fills the seaside villages,
And the clear brooks that travel down the mountains

And with this poem, a leaf on the vast flood,
And with the angels in that other country.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Viet Cong Tax Collector

I’m carrying the radio for my squad leader, the PRC-25 known as a “prick 25.”
It’s a gray day as we stand in a dry rice paddy. The large row of high bushes with long thin leaves next to us is brown and dry. Clumps of brown dead rice stalks dot the baked and cracked paddies that were in recent months green, lush and filled with water. One of our platoons has sent out a patrol to reconnoiter the surrounding area.

The static squelch of my radio handset indicating a transmission breaks the relative quiet. I begin listening to the transmitted interaction. The leader of the recon patrol, a young sergeant, radios in; “We’ve got a VC tax collector here! He was walking down the road with an old M-1*. He’s an old skinny little guy and he keeps talking in Vietnamese, smiling, and bowing to us. Where shall we take him for questioning.” The voice, an officer on the other end of the transmission, says, “he’s dead.” The squad leader radios back, “you don’t understand; I have a prisoner here. I need to bring him in.” The voice on the other end that’s flat, showing little emotion, and yet malicious says, “I do understand. “He’s dead.” Finally, the squad leader calls back, pleading, “He’s a prisoner, according to the Geneva Convention he deserves protection, where shall I take him!” The officer sends the same reply, “he’s dead!”

I’m feelin’ sorry for the old man, picturing him in my mind, and I’m wishin,’ “I hope they don’t shoot the little guy.” I feel sorry for the patrol leader whose received tacit orders to commit a summary execution and think; “I sure wouldn’t want to live with that guilt if he kills the man.” In a few minutes, shots ring out and I’m continuing to hope, “they shot in the air, broke up the M-1, and let the guy go.” Then reality sets in and I realize that someone, likely the patrol leader, is standing with his weapon over the body of an old skinny Vietnamese man who wanted to live. Now, the man’s dead. There’s a hole in his head and I’m hatin’ the voice and the man who gave the order.

In writing this anecdote, I realize how much anger and hate are still present in me. Moreover, I realize how much I need to forgive.

*The M-1 is a World War II vintage American military rifle.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Common Good

Vincent Miller, in an article in the National Catholic Reporter, speaks of our country's loss of the humane and essential ideal of the "common good." Below is a short excerpt from his article.

"Our instincts for the common good have been dulled by an economic system that reduces us all to individuals. Gone are mutual aid societies, local credit unions, and even company pensions. We’re all on our own now, masters of shrinking 401k accounts. We turn to credit cards in rough times rather than sharing with family and neighbors. Standing alone with our [desire for] tax cuts, we are all going down the tubes together."*

*Vincent Miller. "Catholic 'common good' notions embedded in Obama politics." Nov. 1, 2008.