My friend Roland Flint (1934-2001) was outraged by the Persian Gulf War. He wrote a poem about it set at this very moment in the season -- late winter, early spring -- that still has shocking relevance today. The poem is simply called "Seasonal, 1991," and it appears in his outstanding final book, Easy (1999).
The last freezing rain of winter
or the first bona fide spring rain
pittering its intermittent music
on the roof and copper gutters
is what you wake to a few days
after the killing has almost
stopped, in the Gulf. It is a sound
filled with cleansing new shingles
wet and black, with crocuses,
and, just behind them, forsythia,
tulips, azaleas -- spring. But it doesn't
wash away last night's news, one
hundred and fifty thousand Iraqis dead,
mostly from our bombing: not
the Elite Guards, but less loyal
Muslims, Kurds, and Christian Assyrians,
driven out to and trapped on
the front lines of policies
for which they did not vote or elect
to die, these weeks black rain fell
down, in light or dark, day in,
night out, a bloody, percussive
anthem to our great victory over
Saddam and the inhuman poor.
Now, while the lisping patter
genially wakens our house in
a birdsung Maryland suburb,
in Baghdad a season of heat and winds
of cholera and typhus begins.
"Seasonal, 1991" is exemplary in the way it exhibits a strong double consciousness; the poet scrupulously observes the natural world outside his suburban Maryland home, even as he tries to wrap his mind around the human and political realities of what our country is doing halfway around the world.
Roland Flint taught at Georgetown University for almost 30 years, but he never forgot that he had grown up on a small potato farm in North Dakota, which taught him something about caring for the land, and something about hardship. Here is a poem that he wrote for his 57th birthday. The poem, a return to origins, is structured as a letter to his mother, but it now also takes on the retrospective shine of a self-elegy.
2-26-91 Well, mother, tomorrow night
I will be born, if this were 57
years ago, and you were 29.
Twenty-nine! How young you
would be to me now, mother!
A girl. Were you still
a girl at 29? -- having your
fourth baby, your first after
the miscarriage, me?
If I'm thinking of you more,
am I getting ready to be born
again or do I miss you
from reading Juan Rulfo,
who lets the dead
son and mother talk
the way we did so long,
a month before you died,
seven years, 5 months
and 8 days ago, almost 50
years after that night
we beat the doctor
by 25 minutes or so.
Remember? I don't, but
you remembered it to me.
Now I remember to you,
everything, the 40 watt bulb,
the winter, your holding me
aside till the doctor
came to cut the cord. (Roland Flint's poems "Seasonal, 1991" and "2-26-91" appear in his collection "Easy." Louisiana State University Press. Copyright © 1991, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 by Roland Flint.)