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 warbirds prowled the horizon – F-35s
from Burlington, Reaper drones from Hancock.
A distant rumble, or a shining dot at the head
of a streak of vapor. Who’s the target, walking
now unknowing underneath the crosshairs?
The winds war too, pushing sun, then cold rain.
Squadrons of geese assault cloud battlements
rising south of town; their clarion cries carried
over miles of forest and river say, “We’re leaving;
snow will bury leaves that lie now where the fell.”
All day more rise up; flotillas pack the river:
Canada geese, snow geese, quitting cornfields
to fill in behind the throngs flown ahead south.
Cranes, swans, ducks, heron: all know to be away.
A starling murmuration twists over new-baled hay.
At Bayside, at the end of the river trail, little flags fly
on veterans’ graves, crops grown up on battlefields
of this century and the last. Once World War II vets
fired salute, and boys like me crowded in for brass,
later I marched instead, naming aloud all of the dead.
The vets who now salute and I share a graying age,
done with battles, with labor, autumn cold in bone,
lucky really, to be above the stones. The calling geese,
the fallen leaves, now we know in keener ways. Once
we go beneath the stones, stones alone get final say.
Note: unpublished draft