Harry Brown Poems >>
The Drill

I WATCH them on the drill field, the awkward and the grave,
The slow to action and the easily incensed,
The tall plowboys, the pale clerks, the fast men with a dollar,
The frightened adolescents, and those whose eyes explode
Like bombs or, like exhausted coals, lie dead.

They wheel and turn. The eternal convolutions
Of close-order drill Right Flank or To the Rear
Hold them as though, somnambulists, they moved
In the imposing caverns of some recurring dream
Where the only escape is to awake. But the night is very long.

The feet march on through the heavy summer morning.
The bodies are anonymous in their cotton khaki clothes,
And the faces, too, are all of a piece. Concealed at last from life
Are the weak chin, the nose too large, the forehead rutted and worn,
And the eyes too small, and the lips too fleshy or thin.

For the moment the accounts are all settled, the goods have all been sold,
The last delivery made, the last essay sent to the printer,
The elevator gone on its last strict voyage, the truck turned the last corner,
The last issue of bonds taken up, the last class attended,
The last row planted, the last payment made on the house.

The platoon moves past me on the field of summer,
The gray dust rising from the grassless ground,
Each man with his rifle resting on his shoulder,
Each man with his bayonet slapping his thigh, each man
With his eyes fixed on the man ahead, the corporals counting cadence.

The platoon moves past me into the mists of summer
And disappears into the darkness of our time,
A body of men, none known, none recognized,
Crossing my road for a little space. They go
Into the sun and the summer and the waiting war.

Seen for an instant and gone. Yet I felt between us
A bond not of country but of faith and love,
And I thought of an old phrase: "Whither thou goest,
I will go." And it seemed that the summer morning
Spoke out in a voice like song, that the air was full of singing.

And something said, "They come and they go away,
The patient and the small. They go away into the sun,
Their names are forgotten and their few works also,
But when they go they take their weapons with them,
And they leave behind them houses heavy with honor."

And I thought: It is enough. As I stood in a field
In Virginia in deep summer, while all around me
The trees dipped and the grass rustled, I heard the sound
Of platoons of men marching toward the crouching future,
And the voices of our approaching generations.