Such is the way with monumental things:
to make us see and wonder.
The unreserved calm of the place
made us marvel at the world’s problems.
Across the post office lawn
cadets gathered in twos and threes,
each man with trousers pressed
and six gilded buttons riveted
in a field of grey. They greeted each
other with perfect Victorian courtesy,
and one with his head cocked in daydream,
cap pushed back at a boyish slant,
a yellow letter unfolded and waving
in his hand, asked himself,
as any one of us might,
“What do the words mean?”
The little tattoos of blue ink
ran across his page, a river
of pewter-bright clarity,
yet clarifying only the silence
he felt as he looked past us
toward the real river, a fishy, neglected,
luminous streak of blue, gull-raked,
and running wide as the Hudson’s base?
Not one of us, as I recall, could deny
the difficult note he heard.
To listen more than one speaks
is a gift despite its little miseries,
and what the cadet from his citadel
heard comes seldom in a life.
His nation like a Parthenon
seemed risen where even the miracle
of scruffy house-wrens find their lungs
fire-branded by the thin air.
And all afterwards that color-peak weekend,
our windshield carried with it
a dim sepia print of this scene
as though rendering the letter’s dispatch.
A hunk of scarlet foliage
electrified all around us
as we coasted down the new mown meadow
to spend the day cheering
a corps of plebes in their pickup scrimmage,
our thermos filling us
with its creamy, sedating gold
as the ageless players
clipped one another like silver knives
with such force and skill it seemed they
cut loose the very detritus of our lives.