Guest poem submitted by Bill Cater:
(Poem #1875) Harry Wilmans
I was just turned twenty-one, And Henry Phipps, the Sunday-school superintendent, Made a speech in Bindle's Opera House. "The honor of the flag must be upheld," he said, "Whether it be assailed by a barbarous tribe of Tagalogs Or the greatest power in Europe." And we cheered and cheered the speech and the flag he waved As he spoke. And I went to the war in spite of my father, And followed the flag till I saw it raised By our camp in a rice field near Manila, And all of us cheered and cheered it. But there were flies and poisonous things; And there was the deadly water, And the cruel heat, And the sickening, putrid food; And the smell of the trench just back of the tents Where the soldiers went to empty themselves; And there were the whores who followed us, full of syphilis; And beastly acts between ourselves or alone, With bullying, hatred, degradation among us, And days of loathing and nights of fear To the hour of the charge through the steaming swamp, Following the flag, Till I fell with a scream, shot through the guts. Now there's a flag over me in Spoon River! A flag! A flag!
From the "Spoon River Anthology" I thought that this poem offered a more realistic take on the not-so-glorious experience of war and would be very appropriate to the week of Memorial Day. Having performed in the stage version of "Spoon River" a number of years ago, and worked backstage on another production many years earlier, I must credit Masters with helping to develop my interest in poetry. After all, how many poets have had their work transformed into a very successful stage production? Bill Cater. [Notes] "Spoon River Anthology" (1915), by Edgar Lee Masters, is a collection of unusual, short, free-form poems that collectively describe the life of the fictional small town of Spoon River, named after the real Spoon River that ran near Masters' hometown. The collection includes two hundred and twelve separate characters, all providing two-hundred forty-four soliloquies. Each poem is an epitaph of a dead citizen, delivered by the dead themselves. They speak about the sorts of things one might expect. Some recite their histories and turning points, others make observations of life from the outside, and petty ones complain of the treatment of their graves, while few tell how they really died. Speaking without reason to lie or fear of the consequences, they construct a picture of life in their town that's shorn of all facades. The interplay of various villagers -- e.g. a bright and successful man crediting his parents for all he's accomplished, and an old woman weeping because he is secretly her illegitimate child -- forms a gripping, if not pretty, whole. -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spoon_River_Anthology The entire anthology is available here: http://www.bartleby.com/84/