A Memorial Day Poem

I’ve been to Arlington National Cemetery three times in my life.  The first time was on a cold mid-December day.  While on a break from a conference, I boarded a Tourmobile. There were three of us on that bus, the driver, the tour guide and me.  I told the guide that I wanted to see the Tomb of the Unknown.  She looked at her watch and said I could just make the next changing of the guard.

There were four of us at the Tomb, the guard on duty, the relief guard, the officer of the guard and me in the stands with my camera.  As they started the solemn ritual, but my raised camera felt wrong and I lowered it.  Remaining standing, I watched as the guard was changed with a gentle snow falling, and a cold breeze starting.

I remained with the new guard as he walked his post for a few minutes before I retreated to the Tourmobile stop.

I wrote the following poem about that afternoon and it remains my only memory of Arlington as my camera remained in its case until I crossed the bridge back to the mall.

Twenty-one Guns

The tour bus rumbles past
the quiet monuments to the fallen.
Shutters click as the tour guide
speaks the litany of the shrine,
that once was the Lee estate.
Now it is that hallowed ground
where solders come for that long rest.

The Quick rumble passed the carved stones
of the Dead, that once placed
boots of war on their feet.
Their soles now silent.
Now day-trippers take aim and fire.
Cameras, not rifles.
Pictures, not prisoners taken.

The bus stops. The microphone is silent.
To the left a horse pulls a caisson carrying a flag-draped box
That contains a name who once walked.
The warrior sent at our command.
The sightseer sees and falls silent
And hears the echo of guns.
Three volleys and then the mournful notes.

Boys became men
And men became names
And names became graves
Gone is the sun,
Day is done.
God is Nigh.

About Andrew Reynolds

Born in California Did the school thing studying electronics, computers, release engineering and literary criticism. I work in the high tech world doing software release engineering Then I got prostate cancer Now I am a blogger and work in my wood shop doing scroll saw work and marquetry.
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26 Responses to A Memorial Day Poem

  1. Hi Andrew. War a constant loss of our heroes and for forever to their kin. Thank you for liking my poem The Lighthouse! Peace and Best Wishes. The Foureyed Poet.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Chris White says:

    This is indeed moving. A moment in time to stand with the fallen.Thank you.
    Kris.

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    • Andrew says:

      It was a moving experience for me. This poem has been the closest I’ve been able to come to expressing the feeling.

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  3. This is beautiful, deep, respectful and moving, Andrew; not only in its meaning but in the writing. There are so many great lines and the last verse is heart tugging, especially these lines:
    “Boys became men
    And men became names
    And names became graves”

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  4. Wonderful poetry Andrew. Thank you for sharing these words and your experience.

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  5. koehlerjoni says:

    I love the line, “Day trippers take aim and fire.” It says a lot about our media driven culture. I also agree with the decision to keep the camera down.

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    • Andrew says:

      While I love having some pictures, I often think our culture takes photos without thinking. Somethings can only be experienced when we’re fully present to the event, a camera in hand takes that away.

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      • koehlerjoni says:

        I completely agree. I never used to take pictures at all. Now that I’m learning to do so, I often wonder how stopping to take photos will affect my ability to stay in the moment.

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        • Andrew says:

          As in all things there is a balance. For example, sometimes when I hike I don’t bring the camera because this is a time for me to be fully present in the forest, but other times I want to share the experience with others and bring the camera gear along with the purpose of documenting this for others. And sometimes I do both, I’ll hike into someplace without taking a picture and on the way back retrace my steps taking photos of where I was. There’s a whole blog post of things to think about there. 😉

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  6. Well said. You caught everything. Thanks, Andrew.

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  7. jfwknifton says:

    A moving poem and a good decision about the camera!

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    • Andrew says:

      Thanks. Since that trip, I’ve always thought that they should ban camera there. It’s a sight people should experience in person.

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  8. A very nice play on the words of “Taps” at the end. I’m glad you chose to leave your camera in its case.

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    • Andrew says:

      Thanks, I looked up the words to Taps before I wrote the poem. The history of the words is interesting and worthy of another post. My version was based on the idea of doing it in 21 words, but still fit the melody of the music.

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  9. Harlon says:

    Powerful stuff! Harlon

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  10. davidprosser says:

    Full of emotion and respect Andrew.
    Hugs

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  11. Bill Curry says:

    Wow, Andrew! What a moving poem! I read it and vividly relived that day in 1967 when we buried a high school buddy at Arlington. He became a man, then a name, and his name became a grave, and today his name is on The Wall. Thanks for stirring the pot of memory. B

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    • Andrew says:

      Thanks for your kind words. On the same trip I also saw the Vietnam Wall. This was just after the wall was completed and before the crowds discovered it. I spent a long time at that wall, just me, the snow and the names. Both the Wall and Arlington are best experienced on cold lonely days.

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