Remembrance Day= Devotions

Because it is Remembrance Day, also known as Veterans Day, Poppy Day or Armistice Day, I’m not going to school but will take a moment of silence to remember all those who have died in the line of duty. I run to my hero, Thomas Sankara, perhaps the only military fellow I recognize as being exemplary, ordinary, extraordinary and a true humble leader. But then there’s Amilcar Cabral, and the Ugandan soldiers who fought in the first and second world war, wars they did not truly understand, yet, fought bravely in the jungles of Burma teeming with typhoid, cholera, malaria, dysentery, scabies and dengue fever, in the bloody streets of Normandy and Stalingrad, in the cold mountains of Norway and the hot deserts of Libya, in the razor sharp coral reefs of Pacific islands, against enemies they didn’t know they had, on land, sea, air, soldiering on. Those who returned home; their sacrifices, blood, did they ever feel it was worth it?

My mind stretches beyond armed forces and and touches the poets, Christopher Okigbo, Steve Biko, Patrice Lumumba… who would begin exactly where they left off were they to return. In short, my remembrances are marred by disappointments, failed struggles, and a curiosity to know whether it’s ever worth it, something I’d like to believe and find comforting. I go through pictures of the countries honoring this day: Barbados, Canada, Australia, Kenya, India, Britain, Mauritius, USA, South Africa, Belgium, France, Poland, and several others. I see the wreaths, poppies, flags, parades. Although I believe in defending one’s shores gallantly, I can’t help but wonder whether this notion of armed forces as heroes isn’t taken too far. Whether we aren’t all heroes one way or another, even if some of us may never get to hold a gun, to march to the front line. Tina Turner’s, “We Don’t Need Another Hero” begins to play but is soon put out by Roy Arundhati talking about the Maoists who are defending the woods and land they’ve lived on for centuries, against armed forces of India and the corporate class that wants to mine. Joni Mitchell’s, “Yellow Taxi” song brings the message home: Paved paradise and put up a packing lot…

Maybe we need another day to remember all those killed by armed forces–the children, the women, those left behind. My mind is becoming a war zone, filled with voices. This isn’t supposed to be happening especially when I’m trying to have a moment of silence remembering the…my eyes fall on Devotions, Bruce Smith’s sixth collection of poems that I’ve been reading this month. That’s when things make sense. It occurs to me yesterday’s today’s and tomorrow’s remembrances are about Devotions. A mix of heroism, sacrifice and duty, yes, but above all, Devotion. We see it in soldiers, in the oppressed fighting still, in the poor continuing to hope and dream and act upon their dreams. We see it in mothers and fathers and children and weapons of resistance, poets, writers, we see it in people defending what belongs to them. Whether they live or die, it’s always worth it.

And so I’ll end with the poem: Devotion: Fly, which is the last in the collection of 58 poems, all titled Devotion. Devotion: Fly pays homage to the fly that’s witness to what goes on around us, at war, in peace, on the ceiling… ‘Fly worries everything while someone’s love and rage, someone’s beauty is worth dying for.’ May we devotedly remember and honor those who have died protecting us.


A fly like an envoy for the Lost Boys or a delegate sent to dicker with the dead.
Buzz wants out or in?  Does it descend from one who grazed the face
of Dickinson and whispered in her ear the middle octave key of F? 
Does it want nectar or the dead, and which am I?  Vectors for fugue
and spontaneous bruising. Vectors for pestilence and gods who call
for sacrifice.  Shit seraph, heaven worm, world eye, scholar bent over
the heated pages of the Coptic translating the words matter and heaven
in its three-week paradiso.  Fly worries everything.  Fly walks on the ceiling. 
Fly works its rosary, a discalced nun of doubt, our intercessionary,
while we are free to be evermore certain about our God and the war. 
Fly buzzes in the blown-open pages of the tiny novellas everyone carries
scattered like dreams in which we were all the characters.  Fly already at it,
its story, a second-hand story, before smoke and a steel-blue wash
over everything.  Looking up the way the myrmidons looked up
at the sun, skeptical, sweaty while they killed the ram and ewe,
strung the bow, lifted timbers.  It was their job to fight
for someone’s love and rage, someone’s beauty worth dying for.

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2 Responses to Remembrance Day= Devotions

  1. Thom H November 12, 2012 at 8:24 pm #

    Wonderful poem by Bruce Smith. Like it better in fact than Emily Dickinson’s ‘original’ which he rifts on. Since my own personal history differs considerably from yours, I can’t say that I share your heroes – meaning I don’t have the same connection on an emotive rather than just an intellectual level. As I get older, it becomes increasingly unclear to me what most wars are really about – and so why many of our current conflicts are in any sense necessary. I had answers when I was younger: now I only have sadness at the waste and futility. Kipling, the great poet laureate of the British Empire, and not one to shy away from glorifying military adventures, said of and after WWI:

    Common Form (1918)
    If any question why we died,
    Tell them because our fathers lied.

    A Dead Statesman (1924)
    I could not dig, I dared not rob,
    And so I lied to please the mob.
    Now all my lies are proved untrue,
    And I must face the men I slew.
    What tale will serve me here among
    Mine angry and defrauded young?

    That to me strikes much closer to home, the USA now, then perhaps it should.

    • MB November 12, 2012 at 8:43 pm #

      Most wars are senseless and empty, and folks die cheap deaths especially when they can’t even remember what they’re fighting for. I guess what I take away is how they first give themselves over to the ‘revolution’ when it’s just beginning, before it gets muddled and chaos sets in, then the unknowing, endless violence, death and confusion. Kipling is right. Thanks for the recall.

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