When we came to the crossing she said
how would you describe that flag
and pointed to the foothills and I said
I would say
on fire. We rode the long way
past the lines of men
and the places they were coming from
and the places they were going to
and the places some were resting awhile
and some were resting
for a longer while. When we came out
at the top of the valley
the flag was so far below it looked just
like brushfire. And see how it catches
the trees around it I said
and some of the men also she added
and I nodded
and we made camp by seven and hobbled
the horses. That night there were screams
in the valley
and some were happy. Some don’t know
what’s coming she said
or I imagine
I was still asleep in my roll like the others.
I slept a long while.
And the flag under her saddle
sat warm and flat all night
and held its tiny breath until the sun rose.
The light arrived the light died
among idle boys waiting on their wind
of which I was one. All around boys arrived
and went, boys were returned
one by one
to heaven’s cold shoulder.
Excuse me I’m speaking I had to say to one,
I am a box of words. Thursday boxes arrived
and opened and then I was in a box traveling
to where a boy finishes himself.
Like all the foundering ships firing their guns
all at once
to call for aid. But there are so many ships
and so many guns,
it’s a sea full of stars to anyone on shore.
So we are dangerous
to no one else. Now it is Tuesday noontime
and I mean for everyone.
So when I say you see what I mean,
I mean that. If you lie here, it’s your wheel
and tiller, you stand by it
or fall into the blue trough. That’s sailing.
The blue comes, it sees you,
and then the blue is everywhere else and only
everywhere else. There’s a woman.
Only one thing tastes good
at a time, and the dark looks right indefinitely.
Then the corpses of thieves are doing business
in the dark on a dock
and it is at a distance the play before the play.
Soon everyone has
someone else’s life beneath their feet,
and is moving with metronomic grace between
two open doors,
and then lamplight accrues in a corner
where something as spotty as its memories
is awake and waiting
with a ball-peen hammer.
After that, it’s bloody bones for everyone.
You say it won’t be so
and that’s unso. We must do this thing again
with someone else’s body in the dark
and it hurts them.
Despair for us is a giant character that keeps
resolve in a hip pocket. I was with you
in a place we ought not to have gone
and it seemed we would both say love when
the light came back again—
to a place it ought not to have come—
and you reached for your side, and I for mine.
When we lit our fires at night it wasn’t much to see
people running. Someone said
quartermasters are the only middle men in the war,
and soon after a dozen or more escaped
through a black patch in the wood. In battle we say
we will fight you
alone in the gutters, but also up to our thighbones
in war mannequins
we will fight you. Sometimes it’s forgettable,
someone must remind us the seconds are running hot
in the deeper mines.
When we hear the dithering zargon of defenders
over the water, it gets the welterweights
gripping their nippled grenades. Some wave their hats
and are overawed. We forget positions. Someone said
everyone reaches the same sea,
but if galley-slaves gather to watch through oar-locks
what other benchmen
have had the courage to do, do they cheer for them,
and is it slavishly? We can survive against either wall
of the stockade
and still lose our middles to the diet.
When we were there, we leapt from our holes
into bigger ones, we were pushed back,
we did it again,
we were only imagining we could walk through fields
filled with your fine faces. The sound of your sighing
splitting old flames into new shapes. And like always,
the minor ones
would die, and we’d sit in the deep grass and watch it
Here she said
these are love poems about me.
He killed himself, you know.
No I didn’t. Still she said I think
I was in hospital, they told me.
They told me
I had a picture of us in Le Havre.
I was lovely. We
were lovely. He
was lovely. These are lovely also
Let go of my hands please. I wish
I could. Let me see that one.
the poem. This one took a year
to reach me,
he was stacked six deep by then.
I remember that. How could
you. I know how these things end.
Here she said
This is a threat. Yes, it’s a threat.
I don’t know
how a person could die that way.
You mean sending threats
to the woman you love. I mean
of asphyxiation and electrocution,
that’s the point
Of that one. I thought the point
is he’s dead. No the point is
we were in love. No the point is
a year’s a long time.
No the point is that no one
who’s been kissed can ever forget.
LOVE SONG FOR ANOTHER BOY
The war took me into a room
and raised me. It took me hard,
it could not live without me
but it did, it lived a long while
in a room by a knife
and a woman and a lake,
of course a woman because that’s how
A woman took me into a room
and held me, she did her war
cry and showed me
how on the far side of her
there would be the finest war
there had ever been. And it was. It was
it killed many men.
A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and the author of Northerners (New Issues/Western Michigan University Press, 2011), Seth Abramson is currently a doctoral student in English Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.