Uncle Johnny’s Flag, photo & all text ⓒ Irene O’Garden, 2014
I remember so many people with special love on Veteran’s Day: my father Don, my father-in-law Len, my brother Dan, Uncle Johnny and the countless others who offered the gift of their service. Today I want to introduce you to Eleanor, mother of Scott (my most long-playing friend) and his beloved sister Andee. Over the years, I was privileged to spend time with the remarkable Eleanor, enjoying her joyful fashion sense, eating her beautifully prepared food and witnessing firsthand her powerful love. Her stunning military funeral inspired the following poem.
(It is cast in a form I created a few years back: the “fulcrum poem,” in which meaning twists on repeated phrases. Since the ear loves repetition but the eye does not, I have placed the fulcrums in superscript. These words should be read twice. If you like puzzles, read the poem. If you’d rather listen, please click here: Sergeant Eleanor
SERGEANT ELEANOR IS LAID TO REST
In Which a Bird Appears.
Sergeant Eleanor is laid to rest
in fields of blooming yellow mustard eggs
in silver buckets later at the salad bar thoughts
of army women in the service Sergeant
Eleanor was happy. Fought for freedom
and was happy giving and receiving orders
of nuns almost army women in the forties served
a god-shaped army in peacetime
couldn’t use this soldier on did
Sergeant Eleanor: husband, baby. Twice.
Third man no better. No matter.
A daughter. A son. Lives to guard, honor
Sergeant Eleanor, who fought for freedom
when divorce drew fierce artillery
of shame as well in purplehearted sacrifice
of factory work of loneliness like flaying
bayonets stripped from barrels by the honor guard
at her grave looks on the veterans; warring
Sergeant Eleanor wore costume jewelry,
turquoise and magenta, fought on vodka,
cigarettes, bedtime stories, in combat
with doctors, bankers, teachers.
For these kids. That clear? Motherhood:
a hundred thousand acts of bravery.
And a helluva lemon meringue.
Sergeant Eleanor made herself goddam heard.
Three shots shock like broken eggs’ shells fly
from soldiers’ rifles lay a soldier
in the grave salute flag folded wings
Sergeant Eleanor’s daughter and son
open the car at the crossroads of dust shrieks
from a rust-ringed feathered throat
Kildeer at the right front tire,
fatherless her dusty nest a gravel patch.
Two speckled eggs warm with life.
Publication News: I am pleased to announce that an essay of mine appears in the Connecting: Celebrating the People and Places of The Hudson Highlands, a glorious, freshly-published, coffee-table-worthy book of sumptuous photographs and essays. (I was asked to write about the arts here.) There is a celebration and book-signing at Winter Hill on Thursday, November 20, from 6:00-8:00 pm. I’d be so happy to see you there.