Brian A. Salmons
There, there. Go back to sleep. You do not hear cannon-fire: fire-crackers! It is someone’s independence day, a haze of time to dissolve the year’s hurt, to ram it through a sieve. Sift pain from happiness. Sleep on welcome nights like this, and when it rains. I will remain at your bed’s side, your everlasting roof in hell. Clasp your arms around me, we’ll climb the purlins through the bays come high water. Sleep is the brother of death and they will not receive one another here, no skeleton army lies in ambush under your bed. But I hear them hissing out there, trying to sustain your dying nightmare in here.
…The Trojans will not for reproach of ours
Renounce the body. Blood must first be spilt.
Tongues in debate, but hands in war decide;
Deeds therefore now, not wordy vaunts, we need…*
The water has always felt too shallow. Boots kick a puddle dry, are we that insubstantial? You, my daughter, embody the harmony we dreamed of and marched for, the respect we tried to compel with shares and likes and, now, our reproach unheard, materiel. Another father warned another child: honored tradition holds black bodies as lesser. A tradition wildly ignored by the ignorant and feared by the fearsome and wide-eyed. Wisdom seems mere ephemera. I am battleworn, but remain awake to wrong and right. And I remain to fight, for you, an embodiment of better tradition; I remain to restore a magnificent discourse, for you, the opus of our voice. There, there. You sleep while I sit watch.
…illustrious Hector stretch’d his arms
Forth to his son, but with a scream, the child
Fell back into the bosom of his nurse,
His father’s aspect dreading, whose bright arms
He had attentive mark’d and shaggy crest
Playing tremendous o’er his helmet’s height…
Recollections shimmer on a watery surface the depth of dreaming. Were you scared those nights – you were still young – when you bolted, feet slapping the tiles, down the hall past the darkened doorways towards our bedroom and I – I knew your fears well even then – I arose, arms at ready, with resentment and fatigue playing tremendous over my love for you? Was my still, dark figure more dreadful, for a nightmarish second, than the stomping, gnashing monster that hated you? If fire’s loose feet barreled now as then, when Hector was someone and civil war meant horses and rifled muskets, I would sleep armed only for your trepid advance.
…Now marshall’d all beneath their several chiefs,
With deafening shouts, and with the clang of arms,
The host of Troy advanced. Such clang is heard
Along the skies, when from incessant showers
Escaping, and from winter’s cold, the cranes
Take wing, and over Ocean speed away…
Listen to the empty road. You do not hear the school buses laden with boxes, nor the nefarious taunts of a Crane-like army of monsters jeering from windows, the meanest eighth graders I ever saw. Your education is disfigured by fire. A flightless, solemn affair. The ibis still stab at beetles and snails in the front yard and walk away through what were once hedges. I could not tell you where the neighbor’s yard begins, or where the neighbors have gone. The cicadas still electrify the canopy at twilight, as unaware of the tumult below as when they were sleepy larvae unaware of the tumult above. What change can six years bring to dirt, to leaves, to children’s happy places? Go back to sleep. Dream of seasonal rebellion against tyrannical trespasses on decency, ambushes of awe-filled normalcy. Dream of a powder blue kitchen for your doll, a tiny hair dryer, cotton candy salon chair. Dream like before: war is only a nightmare.
…Awaking from thy dewy slumbers, hold
In firm remembrance all that thou hast heard.
So spake the Dream, and vanishing, him left
In false hopes occupied and musings vain…
It is someone else’s independence day. Marching across a nameless field, merely guests of freedom muddying the foyer, mere dreamers trampling the dream, and your dreams, they cannot see through the darkness. They cannot see what was there. Here is my daughter. There is her childhood. Here are my leaden feet. There are our innocent hands. There, there. I will remain at your bed’s side, hiding my great fear, holding your small hand, until the dream loosens your grip and tightens mine on the hilt of a promise.
(* all italicized passages from William Cowper’s 1791 translation of Homer’s The Iliad)