Armistice Day, 2018
It’s bright and tidy, if a little lacking
in the amenities. And blessedly warm
after a slog through early-winter snow
from the Megabus, in a blue darkness falling
slantwise across the Midwest-campus flatness.
Two lamps, one chair. Thank God, a private bath;
a single bed made up with barracks strictness.
Spartan. That word’s associations flash
to what the place-name means: Memorial Union.
The bronze plaque in the entryway announced them,
the dead, in a hundred years of green patina
that salves the memory.
But the world’s still broken.
How do I mend it, staring from my window
high above campus, in the meager dusk?
The poetry I’m here to read mends nothing,
merely piecing the breakage into beauty.
I squint out to the foursquare, old-world order
(revival Romanesque in local stone)
where the last vestige of the day-class schedule
is a few student bodies bent to the wind.
Oblivious to a century’s brokenness,
they keep the quad’s straight paths, walled in by the snow,
their life plans, and the dead weight of their debt.
Shall I beg God to let them go on bending
in peace? To turn the pages of the Norton
untroubled, past our quarrel with the foe
and the Old Lie of dulce et decorum
in perfect ignorance of what it means,
"memorial union”? That’s what I almost pray for
this evening, as the carillon’s holy bells
summon the place to something not quite prayer,
clanging “Imagine” as a vespers hymn.