I want to be an elm tree standing tall in an overgrown grove,
perhaps in the ruins of a plantation, sanctified in golden evening,
leaning toward another elm tree; but poets make fun of trees in poems.
Or so I thought, until I read about a small group of soldiers
in World War One, having a smoke during a lull in battle
all of them tired and sick of carnage and bored. One asked
has anyone heard anything from the world outside this bloody field,
and one said Yes, and pulled out a copy of a magazine, and showed them
a poem that he had read there, about a tree, and rather liked.
Read it out loud, one of them said, there were about six of them,
standing in a circle around a small fire they had made,
and he read it, and they kinda liked it, and felt a little better.
I suppose they could have prayed instead, but God was also
a casualty of that war, or at least was missing-in-action
and presumed dead. Or perhaps He was a deserter.
One of the soldiers in this story seemed uneasy or embarrassed,
and someone asked him was wrong, did he hate the poem?
And the soldier answered, shyly scuffling his feet,
I am Joyce Kilmer, and I wrote that poem.
This was a nice surprise, and the soldiers were intrigued,
and asked the poet if he would read the poem to them,
if they could hear it in his voice, and he did. And then they were quiet,
and pleased, and ground out their cigarettes, and it was time
to go back to their trenches, their positions in the battle.
Only two of those men, and not the poet, survived that battle.
But they had had a moment of solace, of grace, in that imperfect,
sentimental poem, a poem made by a fool like me.
Richard Garcia is the author of The Other Odyssey, from Dream Horse Press, The Chair from BOA, and Porridge from Press 53. His poems appear in many journals, including The Ekphrastic Review, The Georgia Review, Poetry and Ploughshares, and anthologies, such as Best American Poetry and The Pushcart Prize Anthology.
The Ekphrastic Review
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