Upon The Burning Of A Flag

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American flags are retired by flame during a ceremony at the Windsor Fire Department on Windsor Road, Tuesday June 14, 2011. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2011


Once upon a time, or at least the distance in years feels that way, I wrote a poem that was published in a Quill Books vanity press titled Down Peaceful Paths, volume four, no less, and buried on page fifty-three. I remember receiving the acceptance letter and was so embarrassed. My mother rushed into my classroom and waived the envelope in the air shouting, “Stephen, Stephen! You’re published!”

The event probably did not happen that way. My mother probably has a different story. I thought I’d share the poem. I’ve edited slightly, but the thing is still sophomoric with sloppy meter, novice assonance, clumsy allusion. Even with the edits, it does not scan well.

So.

In in any case, here it is:

Upon The Burning Of A Flag

She stood.

Her torch lowered
as she watched the orange flame
burning in the distance.

Above her
a field of blue
dotted with myriad stars
glowing dim.

Below her
red and white fireworks
not fired that night.

In the distance
a bright orange flame,
the stripes burning
in disgrace.

And  yet.

She stood.

Torch lowered.

A tear from her eye.


I want to reiterate I am an American, with all of what that term entails–not just the myths do I embrace, but all of the messy history, the contradictions, the lying, the cheating, the enslavement, and genocide. Too often we fall short of our ideals and our purpose. We don’t have to be great, but we have to be better. My poem that I wrote my high school sophomore year and was lucky enough to have published for twenty dollars in 1990, not the greatest, but at least a shared sentiment. And I can do better by posting an Emma Lazarus:

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I life my lamp beside the golden door!”