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burial at sea

Crisp in whites, eight men up, four on a side,
slow-step  the horizontal coffin
across the flat expanse of our carrier,
toward the edge.
The decks are quieted. Crews of  men
in oil-spotted work clothes give a wide perimeter.

The air hangs vacantly, with no women
present to stitch that familiar dense knot, that compact of grief.
There blooms no mass of creamy blossoms in plunging cascades.
No mingling odors waft from these.
Instead, it’s that of engine oil, lubricant, hydraulic fluid,
joint grease and jet fuel;
the very same that daily inhabit our pores
and blacken our nails.
We, the deck hands, pause to squint,
grease guns lowered by our sides.
One hand is up to shade the eyes
in the working stiff’s salute.
I’d  probably brushed against him once or twice,
in ship’s tight quarters,
a man among his mates, to whom this was his one request.

In silence, the bearers walk at the pace of a slowly beaten drum,
toward the vast blank slate of swallowing sea.
Sun’s late day rays descend, yet now appear to us as
golden  Jacob’s ladders reaching out of
the flickering water, up and through a scattering
of silver-rimmed clouds.
The coffin lies replete inside red, white, stripes,
and blue starred field against
all the varieties of silenced gray.
Recorded Taps now scratches at our ears.
Paused at the edge, the shrouded form
gets tipped, to plummet through the air
and burst the surface into a white flower.
Like the dissolution of the last few breaths,
a transparency of bubbles slowly trails off
behind our steady steaming wake.
The loose and empty flag is held aloft,
awaiting its disappearance
into the tight folds of its familiar trinity.

A Memorial Day poem. Prose and poetry may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

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