Monday, June 6, 2016

First Song, a Poem by Gary Boelhower

The vitality of our Duluth poetry scene is becoming evident more than ever. The poetry event at Sacred Heart during Homegrown had an impressive crowd with 25 participating poets. Near the end of May we were enriched by a Poets of the North Country event during Dylan Fest that showed us again the strength of our maturing poetry community.

One of the poets who read in both events was Gary Boelhower, a professor of theology and religious studies at St. Scholastica who is also the author of several books including Mountain 10: Climbing the Labyrinth Within. At Dylan Fest he read "Listen to the Canary," echoing a number of Dylanesque themes, and I intended to share that here. But this weekend, after watching the film All Quiet On The Western Front, I decided to share the powerful poem he read during Homegrown, preceding it with the alphabet song.


The first song he learned in school held the pieces
to all the words in the world. As she tapped their lithe
bodies posted above the blackboard with her long pointer

he sang each one and catalogued the world by their names.
A is for apple, antler, aardvark. B is for boy, bat, baseball.
C is for cat, comb, cougar. D is for dog, door, daughter.

The whole world went like this. You could hitch them
together like cars on a train and they took in the big
universe one word at a time, nothing was left out.

At night in his room, he made lists from the dictionary.
He started with three words for each letter, then five,
ten, thirty, a hundred. Whenever he heard a new word
he put it in its proper column, it belonged to A or D or K.
Later there were states and their capitals,
all the bones, muscles and systems of the body;

but they all fit in one of the columns absolutely
and for sure. The lists were very long now,
some words hyphenated or with five sibilant syllables.

In history class, he learned the names of wars. Starting
with his own country and the revolution: A is for Augusta,
B is for Bunker Hill and Brandywine, C is for Concord,

Charleston, Camden; then marching through the years
of the Civil War: A is for Antietam, B is for Bull Run,
C is for Chattanooga, D is for Donelson,

F is for Fredericksburg, G is for Gettysburg,
H is for Harper’s Ferry; column by never ending column,
on to the World Wars: One: Antwerp, Belleau Wood,

Caporetto, Delville Wood, Es Sinn, Falluja, Gorizia
Hill 60, Isonzo, Jutland, Krithia, Lone Pine, Mughar Ridge,
Namur, Passchendaele, Ramadi, Scarborough, Tannenberg

Verdun, Wadi, Ypres, and WWII: Attu, Aleutian Islands,
Battle of the Bulge, Bismarck Sea, Christmas Island,
Crucifix Hill, Denmark Strait, Dragoon, El Alamein,

Operation Elephant, Fontenay, Guadalcanal, Halbe,
Iwo Jima, Imphal, Java, Java Sea, Kwajalein, Kiev,
Luzon, Litani River, Midway, Madagascar, Mindinao,

North Borneo, Netherlands, Odessa, Peleliu, Pearl Harbor,
Operation Queen, Rennell Island, Somaliland, Smolensk,
Saipan, Tinian, Taranto Harbor, Operation Torch,

Visayas, Operation Varsity, Wake Island, Warsaw Uprising.
Then, on to ancient lands and smaller countries, on every
continent, in every year, lines drawn and redrawn and redrawn,

small hills taken and lost on the same day, cities renamed, maps
reconfigured, blood from the beaches painting the lips of the waves,
the children’s song all grown up, fed by history

and the weeping stars and the weeping mothers.
As he filled notebooks with columns of wars and the names of each
fallen soldier in every uniform, and an X for each civilian

casualty: children, mothers, fathers, grandfathers and grandmothers,
he began to ask a question: where is the small gland that screams
for victory and land, the aberrant cyst in the anterior cingulated gyrus,

the trigger glyph in the right-handed double helix that keeps repeating
itself like the simplest song: ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ
Now I know my ABCs, next time won’t you sing with me.

* * * *

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