29 December 2008

Sandra McPherson

[from Sandra McPherson's A Visit to Civilization, Wesleyan, 2002]

Toy Soldier
          circa 1930

With the ethereal radio man,
his spinning wheel of fine wire,
and with the disheveled wounded,
who are legion, child, you play,
but your favorite is the warrior
whose hand is raised to smite
this gong with whatever
that musical utensil is called,
that weapon against gongs
that makes metal suffer
great shudders of urgent tone.
They swamp the jittery lull.
And see: As it would not be
in the symphony, the instrument
is shingled "Gas Alarm."

And when, child, you make
believe, the small gong swinging
in the current of your breath,
you imagine the performance,
whole round quavers ebbing,
and you know you should
envision the strangling mist.
But why, when you're safe?
The soldier hasn't struck it yet.
His mask's filtering eyes
match battered tin camp cups,
let him search the mud-green
blasted battle map, sigh in
no toxin. Toxin, tocsin,
you play with the names.

He is no toy Tchaikovsky,
but a child cannot know that yet.
The instant the alarmist's
duty becomes music,
it re-composes the world.
Except it save someone,
a whole symphony's
worth of men,
it sings without the slightest
resonance of the sublime.
Is there no sorrow with a toy?
Eventually there is,
but it may take year upon year
to reach that threshold
when the child amused
into manhood will volunteer.

A Visit to Civilization (Wesleyan Poetry)

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