A Mixed Memorial

Weeping Angel - Cincinnati - Spring Grove Cemetery - David Ohmer / Foter.com / CC BY
If ever a prize for the holiday with the most mixed messages, Memorial Day would take an easy win. 

From barbecue picnics to Macy sales, to cemetery visits and festive parades, Memorial Day is a mixed bag of reverence, sorrow and start-of-summer-celebration. We offer thanks for selfless military service but gratitude comes with a heavy heart that recognizes every side loses something, someone. Freedom, yes, but always at a price.

Poet Emma Shaw Crane addresses this sort of mixed emotion: 

prayer for a soldier back from baghdad

you, my kindergarten best friend come
talking of nailing breathing targets
drunk/angry you tell me to SHUT UP
a lesson I inherited from my grandfather
we a family of marines: the few/the proud
I was three the first time he kicked me
I slammed eyes closed to the rug
rage is a battle scar
semper fi

this is distant war brought home
from Baghdad Okinawa Mosul Tarawa
we the emotional casualties
our childhood of long august afternoons
n apple branch forts:
collateral damage
what can i ask:

did you shatter Iraqi cheekbones?
did you hang
someone's father from
dislocated shoulders
in the screaming doorways
of Abu Ghraib?

at your goodbye barbeque before boot
camp you jumped me into the pool
for a moment in your arms:
before the impact/before the hit
my cheek to your collarbone
my eyes closed against your neck

I repeat this flash second of tenderness like
a rosary
my prayer for you/for the rainbow
you drew me on my seventh birthday
for the people you kill I will never meet
someone else's beloveds:
children blown apart playing marbles
like we used to
under a kitchen table

this is my prayer for my grandfather
his angry hands trembling/our relationship
for sweaty midnight nightmares of
Nagasaki after the bomb
a handful of medals/veterans' bake sales
children that fear him/ a black n white
photograph of boy men (the smiling sons
of anxious mothers)
ripped apart
in a war my grandfather will never return

war takes our men away from us
an invisible paperless draft
out of juvenile halls
trailer parks
principals' offices n
single parent poverty

our grandfathers/our cousins/our first
n our hometown high school kids
come home talking of
nailing breathing targets
bring nightmares to our kitchens our
our bedrooms n our streets

I'm praying in poems for you/my
kindergarten best friend
I just want you back alive/I just want you
back with your soul
I pray for the people you kill
mothers walking to buy milk
lean gentle young men like you once were
lovers tangled up in each other
children chasing chickens like we use to
n I pray for myself because
what does it mean to love the murderer?

— Emma Shaw Crane
from Time You Let Me In: 25 Poets Under 25
edited and introduced by Naomi Shihab Nye