poetry quarterly

10th anniversary


Marilyn Nelson



Lost in blue stillness, I ride on a wave
of cumulous daydreams. We stand at ease,
whiling away our wait. Some birds call dubs
from the bordering trees. I check my watch.
They’re twenty minutes late: He must be loved.
Distant traffic. A breeze tickles the leaves.
Under the cloud scud, a rolling landscape
of white markers in perfectly spaced rows.
I’m brought back from surfing the sky’s sea-face
by crunching wheels and the call to attention.
We perform as drilled, precisely synchronized,
the ritual of warriors laying a comrade to rest.
The hearse delivers the flag-draped coffin
into the strict ballet of our white-gloved hands.
The riflemen fire a perfectly timed salute.
As the bugle plays the twenty-four notes of Taps,
I glance at the brown knot of the next-of-kin:
probably parents, siblings, his pregnant wife.
Pvt. Joseph Gonzales, of Tucson, was nineteen.
A roadside explosive device. We fold his flag
slowly into a triangle of stars
which the Sergeant presents, with the nation’s gratitude,
to the stunned child-bride-widow. The older man
stares into space. The older woman moans
Dios mio, Dios mio, Dios mio, ay Dios mio.


Among Marilyn Nelson’s books are Carver: A Life in Poems; Fortune's Bones; Miss Crandall's School For Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color (with Elizabeth Alexander); The Freedom Business; and A Wreath for Emmett Till. Her honors include two creative writing fellowships from the NEA, a Guggenheim fellowship, three National Book Award Finalist medals, the Poets' Prize, the Boston Globe/Hornbook Award, a Newbery Honor medal, two Coretta Scott King Honor medals, the Flora Stieglitz Straus Award, the Lion and Unicorn Award for Excellence in Poetry for Young Adults, the American Scandinavian Foundation Translation Award, and two Pushcart Prizes. Nelson is an emeritus professor at the University of Connecticut, the former Poet Laureate of  Connecticut, and founder/director of Soul Mountain Retreat.


Published in Volume 13, Number 1, Winter 2012.