For the Union Dead
Relinquunt Omnia Servare Rem Publicam.
The old South Boston Aquarium stands
in a Sahara of snow now. Its broken windows are boarded.
The bronze weathervane cod has lost half its scales.
The airy tanks are dry.
Once my nose crawled like a snail on the glass;
my hand tingled
to burst the bubbles
drifting from the noses of the cowed, compliant fish.
My hand draws back. I often sigh still
for the dark downward and vegetating kingdom
of the fish and reptile. One morning last March,
I pressed against the new barbed and galvanized
fence on the Boston Common. Behind their cage,
yellow dinosaur steamshovels were grunting
as they cropped up tons of mush and grass
to gouge their underworld garage.
Parking spaces luxuriate like civic
sandpiles in the heart of Boston.
A girdle of orange, Puritan-pumpkin colored girders
braces the tingling Statehouse,
shaking over the excavations, as it faces Colonel Shaw
and his bell-cheeked Negro infantry
on St. Gaudens’ shaking Civil War relief,
propped by a plank splint against the garage’s earthquake.
Two months after marching through Boston,
half the regiment was dead;
at the dedication,
William James could almost hear the bronze Negroes breathe.
Their monument sticks like a fishbone
in the city’s throat.
Its Colonel is as lean
as a compass-needle.
He has an angry wrenlike vigilance,
a greyhound’s gentle tautness;
he seems to wince at pleasure,
and suffocate for privacy.
He is out of bounds now. He rejoices in man’s lovely,
peculiar power to choose life and die–
when he leads his black soldiers to death,
he cannot bend his back.
On a thousand small town New England greens,
the old white churches hold their air
of sparse, sincere rebellion; frayed flags
quilt the graveyards of the Grand Army of the Republic.
The stone statues of the abstract Union Soldier
grow slimmer and younger each year–
wasp-waisted, they doze over muskets
and muse through their sideburns . . .
Shaw’s father wanted no monument
except the ditch,
where his son’s body was thrown
and lost with his “niggers.”
The ditch is nearer.
There are no statues for the last war here;
on Boylston Street, a commercial photograph
shows Hiroshima boiling
over a Mosler Safe, the “Rock of Ages”
that survived the blast. Space is nearer.
When I crouch to my television set,
the drained faces of Negro school-children rise like balloons.
is riding on his bubble,
for the blessèd break.
The Aquarium is gone. Everywhere,
giant finned cars nose forward like fish;
a savage servility
slides by on grease.
The blog is still here! I clicked on over, fully expecting a 414 page instead of the spooky ol’ banner.
Here are a few items of note, courtesy of the indefatigable Karey Perkins:
WALKER PERCY’S 100TH BIRTHDAY ANNIVERSARY
In honor of Walker Percy’s 100th Birthday Anniversary, proposals addressing any topic or area celebrating Walker Percy’s life, his fiction, or his non-fiction are welcome. Send 300-word abstracts, brief bio, and A/V requirements to Dr. Karey Perkins, University of South Carolina – Beaufort, at both email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org by June 7.
WALKER PERCY: A CENTENNIAL COMMEMORATION
In 1962 Walker Percy wrote, “Southern fiction, in one sense of the word, ran out its string at Faulkner’s death and has not known where to go since. It has been hung up on the myth, both the splendor of the myth and its decay, on the people who come after and who are haunted by the myth. But it has not known what to make of the people who come after that, who grew up in the South and who don’t even remember that there is anything to remember.” Percy’s observations are especially noteworthy on the 100 anniversary of his birth. Is what he said in 1962 proved to be validated since then—and has an awareness of “not remembering that here is anything to remember” actually embodied a typical paradox for which Percy is noted? The session invites papers on all aspects of Walker Percy’s writings, particularly as they enlarge the scope of Southern writing to other fields–literary, theological, and sociological. By June 9th, please send a 200-word abstract, brief bio, and A/V requirements to Benjamin Alexander, Franciscan University of Steubenville, at email@example.com.
WALKER PERCY’S UTOPIAS AND DYSTOPIAS
Much of Walker Percy’s fiction and non-fiction writing is social commentary. At least two novels – Love in the Ruins and The Thanatos Syndrome – may be called dystopian or post-apocalyptic. His numerous essays on race relations, on secular materialism, on misguided “self-help” books in a postmodern world seem to indicate that he suspected 20th century America was a dystopia itself. Additionally, Walker Percy’s personal life included social action in his local community and through the Catholic Church. Proposals addressing the SAMLA 88 theme “Utopia/Dystopia: Whose Paradise Is It?” in Walker Percy’s fiction, non-fiction, or life are welcome. Send 300-word abstracts, brief bio, and A/V requirements to Dr. Karey Perkins, University of South Carolina – Beaufort, at firstname.lastname@example.org by June 7.
See y’all in 2017!
… but here’s the beginning of an epic poem about the time a young man met the man himself:
November 22, 1989
The day I met Walker, the rain had fallen
in Louisiana sheets, and I’d left
my tent illicitly pitched in the Bogue Falaya
State Park, along with a bookish bottle
of Early Times I’d taken a few swigs off of
in the dark the night before as pine cones pitched
and fell outside as if in triadic morse code
from Flannery in heaven telling me grace was in
the river. And alligators, too, I reckoned.
I walked the cracked sidewalks of Covington, aimlessly,
dazed by the wonder of seeing vines sprouting
through the cracks in a sacramental vision,
a concelebration of the namer and the named,
and lept across the flashflood puddles
as I made my way towards no destination
but found myself in The Kumquat bookstore
to oggle shelves bursting with signed copies
of The Moviegoer, The Last Gentleman, Love in the Ruins, Lancelot,
The Second Coming, The Thanatos Syndrome, Lost
in the Cosmos, The Message in the Bottle, books
that had changed (and continue to change) my life.
Oh Walker (Oh Rory) I was twenty-four
and pining for a woman I was also
on the run from in triangular
despair (yet thanks in part to you I also
was aware, at least a little — a foothold —
of the despair, contrary to that Kierkegaardian
epigraph, precisely pitched though it is).
Oh Walker: so I bought a stack of books,
some for me and some for those I loved,
and left instructions with the keeper of
the store to have you encode, in your
physician’s scrawl, your cracked prescriptions
where the vines of love and truth might grow from bourbon
and ink, the cumulative bliss of limitation,
where you and I might clear a space for being.
Happy birthday, Bob.