The geese and the leaves, the last few weeks before winter conquers all have always been tinged with melancholy for me. Veterans Day commemorations conflate in my mind with the autumn Moratorium days during the Vietnam War when we marched by the thousands and read the names of the dead all through the night among the fallen leaves. We’ve moved on to other wars since; it seems sometimes we always will.
All day they’ve prowled the horizon — warbirds — F-35s
out of Burlington, Reaper drones out of Hancock Field.
Sometimes a distant rumble, sometimes a shining dot
at the head of a streak of vapor. I wonder who’s the target,
walking now unknowing underneath the crosshairs.
The winds war too, pushing warm sun ahead of cold rain.
Squadrons of geese assault the cloud battlements rising
south of town; their clarion cries carried over the miles
of forest and river saying, “We’re leaving, we’re leaving;
snow will bury the leaves that lie now where they’ve fallen.”
And all day more rise up, though flotillas pack the river:
Canada geese, snow geese, quitting gleaned cornfields
to fill in behind the throngs flown on ahead southward.
Cranes, swans, ducks, heron: all know it’s time to be away.
A starling murmuration twists above the new-baled hay.
Back at Bayside, at the end of the river trail, little flags fly
on the graves of veterans, crops grown up on battlefields
of this century and the last. Once World War II vets fired
salute, and boys like me crowded in to police up the brass,
though later I marched instead, naming aloud all the dead.
The vets who fire salute and I now share a graying age,
done with battle, done with labor, autumn cold in bone,
lucky really, to remain above the stones. The calling geese,
the fallen leaves, we’ve come to know in keener ways. Once
we’ve gone beneath the stones, stones alone get final say.