From The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. In memory of David Hilderbrand.
Not the wreath woven from fresh flowers,
nor the photograph it rings. Not the calm
smile at the center. Not the messages
inscribed by the ones who loved you most.
Not your initials, nor the dates
marked in black lettering across the white
cross, planted behind the guard rail
at the edge of a Georgia highway—
the one perpetually filling with sunlight.
But birds….there should be birds.
Small and many. Birds that have just come
from the sea, which can’t be far. There should be
one for each year. They should descend in a rush
and surprise, and smother the small trees
growing in a line beyond the roadside
memorial. They should be white. And from
a distance, it would look like a line of crosses
trembling beneath a sky full of sadness, full of song.
Beyond scaffold enshrouded steeples,
sunlight weaves through leaf-thick oak trees
now filled with blossom and song, though war
saturates the brick and memory of wind
spinning with salt through summer air
that simmers beneath the blood streaked sun.
Red runs through ribbons of sun
across the skyline and steeples
lifting off tin sloped roofs into air
filled with flowering trees.
Always the tireless ocean wind
ripples the worn-out flags of war.
The names of the enemy change, but war
is the inscrutable language spoken beneath this sun.
The flag at half-mast, stiffens in the wind.
Funeral bells sound from the steeples.
In the cemetery, beneath the oak trees,
taps linger on the broken air.
The sounds of war will rumble in the wind.
As steeple bells call through the sun filled air,
birds nest in trees twisting toward heaven.