Maude Melissa Morningstar walked slowly down the street
in summer when cicadas sang in our small town.
Dressed pleasantly in plaid gingham, she thought the day
was quite as hot as she had ever known.
She made shade beneath her parasol, but all the while
she knew each summer day conceits a record of its own.
And so, without complaint she let her eyes beguile a smile
to see the daisies, pinks and other things that grew
from places where, by meant least, they were never sown.
She stopped to talk to folks she met along her walk
about their day, their pains and children, and the weather,
or events that promised them some consequence.
They called her Maude, Miz Morningstar, or Ma’am,
in voices that held love, kinship, or even reverence.
Their houses built of wood or stone
stood among the ancient elms and oaks
stretching from near the levee’s berm
to where the endless fields of wheat commence.
Maude had a name for nearly every child that grew in town
or lived on nearby farms. Maybe not their right name,
but something that reminded her what they might look like
or how they acted, or even from whom they came.
She knew them in the classes she taught in church on Sunday
or when she saw the with their folks at the show
or shopping, or on paths when she walked their way.
Children drew near to her just as she was drawn to them
because she lived the kind of life that simply made it so.
Her own son had left the town some time ago.
He grew up happy, a sturdy boy, a man of promise and hope.
Pictures in her mind remembered his last months at home,
tall as his father, tousled hair and skin like burnished gold,
he filled her with such pride and love that whatever fear of war she bore
lived silently beneath her faith and her myths of brave and bold.
And so, as other mothers in the town had done,
she placed a star behind the glass in her front door
and prayed each day that it would stay as long as he was gone.
But all he knew of life ended in the agony of war.
Charley died on Guam, sometime in July,
probably the twenty-first or twenty-second in ’44,
amid the heat of another summer,
the noise and acrid smell of fire and smoke and thunder.
Cacophonies of terror and the cries of vanquished men
who wanted to die and leave this hell,
their bodies ripped asunder by knives, grenades or guns,
some slowly, others quickly—the lucky ones.
But even those who might live to fight again
bore scars that would stay with them forever.
Maude saw him lying there among the fallen,
sometimes dead, sometimes dying.
But always, she heard his voice filled with fear.
So, she and his father grieved together until he died too
and left her there to grieve alone.
She talked to both of them now
as she walked, listening to the cicadas sing.
The blue star turned gold,
but stayed only briefly where it had hung.
She needed nothing to remind her of Charley,
neither flags, nor Congress, nor medals.
And with another war begun,
her pride, puny against her grief,
metamorphosed into anger.
These ripe old men, whose greed for oil, power,
and their insane obsession to mandate ideologies,
rode again with the Four Horsemen and the conspirators
of vengeance to crush another generation of the young.
This small town embrace by a broad river’s bend
passed through the sultry summer days missing
only those who would have been fathers, healers, teachers,
men who knew death before they knew life.
And when her walk was over, Maude passed into their shadows
answering Charley’s call to be with him
at last among the heroes.
Ceaseless wars now follow one another
like disasters in a line.
Good men are sent to struggle, suffer and die
while we, trapped in our rage
can only ponder why.