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Whatever Happened to the Old Cross-Country Team?

 

Robert Kehew

 (Gettysburg Battlefield)

 

 

A clipping slid out of the slit envelope:
two bars of words and a smudged photo of
uniformed Franz. It bore the stirring phrase,
 “Officer orders fifteen tanks to hold fire.”

That’s my kind of valor – refusing to shoot
at a stray jeep filled with shit-scared newsmen
while oily fires blackened the Kuwait skies.
The action calls for a Kiplingesque treatment…
I’m glad he made it back so we can joke.
I would not have foreseen this, given the time
that we, sans coach, arranged our own practice
at sunrise in the green hills of Gettysburg,
frying up ham and eggs in Devil’s Den,
loping along a long line of cannon.
We’d just crammed back into the wagon when
a young buck shot in front of us! We pursued
until our wheels were whirring in the mud.
When I think back on the split second between
the whitetail sighting and the wheel wrenched left,
I can’t recall the voice of Franz urging
prudent restraint. (He was, in fact, driving.)

But this clipping…I take this change as a sign
that character’s not always destiny –
though sometimes it sure looks like destiny.
Take the way that Dennis started dragging
his sled through slush in second grade, laden with gifts
to share on Christmas Eve (somewhere I have
a dapper man composed of tiny clam-shells).
The red sled soon made way for the Torino…
even today he makes the rounds, Santa’s
beard shot with gray, less need for added paunch.

Some traits endure, but still it behooves us all
not to let our positions as marked out
on the Electric Maps of memory
daunt us. If Miss Purcell, for example,
took you aside, explained that you had no
real aptitude for language and refused
to let you in to sixth grade Spanish, that
should not deter you now from tackling French.
That was not our spirit as we looked out
from that stone tower raised to the fallen brave,
yelling our heads off as the sun came up –
youth and laughter bright on our faces, poised
to clatter down the steps, make Pickett’s Charge.

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