Monday, February 7, 2011

A Day in D.C.: Remembering Reagan

After the AWP conference wrapped, I walked up Garfield Street to the National Cathedral for church on Sunday. The sermon was on Christ's recognition of his followers as the salt & light of the earth.

Light can be such a strange thing. We need it to see, yet we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are the light of the earth, but Lucifer is "The Angel of Light." Context is a slippery coyote.

The National Cathedral is awesome. I'm especially fond of stained glass windows. Apocrypha has it that Blake once saw God looking back at him through a stained glass window. But the window that caught my attention was the in a cove dedicated to Robert E. Lee. Lincoln's famous commitment of "malice toward none," but it didn't work out well for the emancipated slaves who would be Jim Crowed for another century.
Love your enemies. It's a life practice to prepare us, I hope, for more.

So on this day in the National Cathedral, the centennial of Ronald Reagan's birthday, I thought about how often I disagreed with the policies of my former governor and president. From my perspective, whether it's al-Qaida, Sadam Hussein, illegal immigration or the financial crisis, the Reagan Administration was on the wrong side, be it military aid, the Mexico City Policy, wars in Central America or weakening anti-trust law. Mistakes will be made, and they are remembered for their consequences.

The Reagan Memorial Poem

Mr. President, given you medical history
the “Reagan Memorial” anything seemed in poor taste to me.
But after seeing your spirit float proudly along your freeways,
through so many schools and over your own aircraft carrier,
the jets taking off and disappearing like many facts,
I now bow to peer pressure and offer this memorial poem.

I saw your funeral inside the National Cathedral,
            the camera at a bird’s-eye angle
            the same as God must’ve had:
            ring of mourners around your casket,
            mise-en-scène as if by Busby Berkeley,
            the way you would’ve wanted it.
Your coffin sat to the bottom of the encircling crowd, so
your funeral looked like The Smiley Face gone serious and blind.

How appropriate, I thought, not the blindness,
but the respectful space around your coffin,
for it was there the ghosts began to drift:
the Iranians whom Iraq gassed with military aid
you initiated over Amnesty International’s cries. Listen,
we can still hear them weeping for Kurds, Kuwaitis and,
of course, our own.
How good of you to sit up in the casket and salute.

Then came the Nicaraguenses, some carrying
their diaphanous limbs lopped off by your contras.
In grace, they piled eyes, ears, breasts,
genitalia and tongues into your coffin.

The Salvadoreños wearing neutralized expressions
followed the Afghanis whom your freedom fighters liberated
from life and any happy pursuit not
allowed by a literal reading of the Koran.

Finally, the Guatamaltecos crowded
comfortably around your coffin;
they’d been practicing in mass graves at least
since you restored military aid in ‘81.
Did you recognize the ghost of Bishop Juan Gerardi?
You were deep in the delusions of Alzheimer’s in ‘98 when
a graduate of Fort Benning’s School of the Americas
bludgeoned Bishop Gerardi for counting Guatemala’s dead.
Genocide plus one.

How big of you not to make a fuss when
Gerardi helped you from your coffin and absolved you,
you not repenting and all that.

Your coffin loaded with broken bodies, the ghosts
glided beside you riding behind the caisson,
the nation honoring you in death as in life:
remembering nothing but good things:
how you held the picket line at the Warsaw shipyards,
how you stared down the Kremlin guards who took you hostage,
how you freed Tibet and
personally piloted the Dali Lama home on Air Force One.

It must have been at that moment of the procession,
you riding backwards yet comfortable in your old boots,
all of us suffering Sympathy Alzheimer’s,
that your mind was healed and
you understood you were on your way to heaven,
to spend eternity with the ghosts flowing beside you,
and that was when you began to cue the horse back
along the trail, so the bullets would revert to dollars,
the ink on the executive order flowing into the pen in your hand.
God bless that horse,
even with you sitting backwards in the saddle like that,
it wanted to obey your cues and turn from the grave,
but, alas, the soldier leading it had other orders. (Light in All Directions 83-85)

No comments:

Post a Comment