American Life in Poetry

In eighteen lines — one long sentence — James Doyle evokes two settings: an actual parade and a remembered one. By dissolving time and contrasting the scenes, the poet helps us recognize the power of memory and the subtle ways it can move us.

The City’s Oldest Known Survivor of the Great War

marches in uniform down the traffic stripe at the center of the street, counts time to the unseen web that has rearranged the air around him, his left hand stiff as a leather strap along his side, the other saluting right through the decades as if they weren’t there, as if everyone under ninety were pervasive fog the morning would dispel in its own good time, as if the high school band all flapping thighs and cuffs behind him were as ghostly as the tumbleweed on every road dead-ended in the present, all the ancient infantry shoulder right, through a skein of bone, presenting arms across the drift, nothing but empty graves now to round off another century, the sweet honey of the old cadence, the streets going by at attention, the banners glistening with dew, the wives and children blowing kisses.


James Doyle is the author of The Silk at Her Throat, Cedar Hill, 1999. Poem copyright James Doyle and reprinted by permission of the author. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, the Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry. Send comments to [email protected]

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