(1948 / OVER 400 POEMS SERVED! !)

Gettysburg*

1.

We grew up taking America for granted,
America, land of plenty
of toys and TV and all-
you-can-eat fried chicken,

where every day at school
we pledged allegiance
to the flag on the wall,
'and to the Republic, for which it stands, '
which was not on the wall
and not so easy to see.

America, too, the family
that fed me well
and loved me as well
as it knew how.

2.

Many years
and follies later, and hopefully wiser,
we were taking another look
at where we'd come from,

and we started learning about Gettysburg,
which all of us knew was important,
though not all of us knew why.

Some of us saw the battle now
magically enacted through cinema,
God's favorite way these days
of showing us the vital past,

and some, in the cinema
of the mind's eye,
prompted by books or documents.

We found something many
had not reckoned on — that war
can sometimes be more than the wrong-headed choices
made by old men, not as smart or aware as we.

A battlefield can be a crucible
of ideas in collision,
on which God's judgments
are written forth in blood.

3.

'Those who dive
into the fire
find cool water.'
—Rumi


And so we came to Gettysburg,
got off the bus
and walked the roads in Remembrance.

We stood on Little Round Top
where Colonel Chamberlain,
his men all out of ammunition,
ordered them to charge down the hill
with bayonets fixed and a battle cry,
directly into enemy fire,
and carried the day on sheer courage.

We passed the fields where General Pickett
led his brigade on its brave, doomed mission,
marching straight toward the Yankee hellfire
raining down from the hill.

We walked the pleasant woods
where on such a walk that day,
the slightest rustle of a branch
could precede a stab of cold, sharp steel
or a blast of deadly fire.

One of our party closed his eyes,
and the sounds he heard
were like a unit marching,
with many feet in step.

And everywhere, the hills and thickets
that had seen heroic deeds
threw out a question:
'could you do that? '

inducing meditation
on sacrifice and ideals.

The ridges became
the walls of the crucible,
and our lives
were thrown into the mix,

and out of the mix came two visions.
One was a front line of battle,
the other a so-called time of peace.
The brave in both scenes were dying,
dying to limitation,
dying to self-centered living.
Only one scene was painted with blood,
but the dying in both was the same.

4.

After the battle,
two voices of prophets
stood out from the rest,
ringing exceptionally clear:

the voice of Abraham —
the second Abraham — his grief
for every fallen footsoldier
etched into his weary face

bespoke the sacred seal of union,
a seal of fire and blood.

And another, mighty voice
proclaimed in words of Holy Fire
the nature of such a battle
when witnessed by a higher Eye

by Max Reif

Comments (7)

Hi Max, Thanks so much for reaching out. The poems are a delight: I downloaded the whole lot :) ...I was thinking about how are we to chronicle our life and our friends familys generations timein our own lil way? and I got my answer here... Id since got carried away with the vague spiritual stuff, but its the fine details that really make life too. I used to read the Beats, the Ginsberg's interviews available in Penguin they were such an inspiration I was truly blown away. What gets chronicled nowadays? It seems newspapers and media have stopped doing this, so we got some really rootless peeps right now. Events of our national collective history... whatever happened to the canon of poets, a little nationalism, a sense of our historical identity? What are peoples frame of reference nowadays? ... kind regards, Zubyre
A very finely written tribute to a defining point in our history. In a way, the American Revolution proved who we were not. The Civil War emphatically proved who we are.
It's so easy to live the shallow life these days and forget the past that our present was built upon. This is an emotional and evocative epic Max, filled with wonderful wise observations along the way from 'And loved me as well / As it knew how' to 'Could you do that' of the heroism, and beyond. As a Brit I obviously can't feel this one as momentously as those descended from the participants or sharing in the destiny that followed, but it strikes home very effectively all the same. Another truly great piece of writing, and just as importantly, a clear and potent reminder! ! jim
The last two parts are quite mystic where two different kinds of vision evolves simultaneously and the departure of the braves are sardonic but it reflects the destructive accomplishments of the human nature that they had always proved to be from the beginning of the time and still had the same enthusiastic potentiality to repeat such beastly history again and again without being remorseful. The vision of the prophet descending to the earth reminds me of the return of Jesus or Imam Mehdi who are suppose to relieve the humanity from such inhumane activities for the very last time.
This is strong both in the form and the substance. I like this a lot Max, it is a powerful piece. That itis divided into movements is great: acceptance; questioning and disarray. The battle field where lives are lost is more than man pitted against an, it is a battle of ideas and this was so obvious in the Gettyburg battle. This sing of the principles of America and does not act as a negative critique, but rather as a reminder. It is this that gives the narrative its strength. I really like this Max. It is powerful without being 'in-yer-face' It is a great tribute to a battle worth fighting.
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