Sunday, November 11, 2012

Poppies and Dumplings

And there it is - nine days into Nablopomo we scuttled our own best efforts to achieve optimal success. (Failed)

But we're going to push forward here at Righteous Polka. Just because we're no longer in contention for a wreath of laurels - or jpg Badge of Completion - doesn't mean we give up. We have nothing if not a fighting - some might say combative - spirit.

Which brings us to today, Veterans Day in the U.S. and Remembrance Day in British Commonwealth countries.

A little background for the history-averse: On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month an agreement, The Armistice, was signed by The Allies and Germany, signaling the end of World War One.

"At 11 a.m. on 11th November 1918, the guns of the Western Front fell silent after more than four years continuous warfare.

Originally the day was known as Armistice Day but was renamed Remembrance Day after the Second World War." A war, you'll remember, also lost by Germany.

The strange thing is that I'm in Germany today, where St. Martin's Day (Martinstag/Martinmas) is celebrated on 11 November, and the focus is on goose and dumplings, not on poppies and wreathes and memorials.

And that feels surreal.

It isn't strange because I usually walk around with a paper poppy tucked into my coat lapel (Americans appreciate the tradition but don't follow it) or because I'm Outstandingly Patriotic.

It's the sitting here, with and among the descendants of the Other survivors and casualties of both World Wars. The soldiers whose military lives we watch, dramatized and reenacted on The History Channel.

Those Guys. The Bad Guys. Who, in reality, were not bad. The vast, vast majority of them were scared kids, following orders, just like our guys, The Good Guys.

Here I sit and watch children, grandchildren, great-great grandchildren go about their Sunday business presumably oblivious to the non-goose-related meaning of today and I wonder: When do they venerate their war dead? I have no idea. Just as they, probably, have no idea.

Yeah, completely surreal.

The City's Oldest Known Survivor of the Great War
By James Doyle
marches in uniform down the traffic stripe
at the center of the street, counts time
to the unseen web that has rearranged
the air around him, his left hand
stiff as a leather strap along his side,
the other saluting right through the decades
as if they weren't there, as if everyone under ninety
were pervasive fog the morning would dispel
in its own good time, as if the high school band
all flapping thighs and cuffs behind him
were as ghostly as the tumbleweed on every road
dead-ended in the present, all the ancient infantry
shoulder right, through a skein of bone, presenting arms
across the drift, nothing but empty graves now
to round off another century,
the sweet honey of the old cadence, the streets
going by at attention, the banners glistening with dew,
the wives and children blowing kisses.

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