Flags are everywhere.
Tied to cars, stitched to clothes, strapped
to twisted girders, fanning the air
where silver needles have pierced
the steel ribs of an idea, tossing hope
to the teeth of gravity, cinching
the collar on world straining to breathe.
Men are lifting broken children from stones
in Beirut. A flop-eared mutt guards a human
foot in Bosnia. Stacked skulls peek
through lianas in Guatemala, while a fireman breathes
into the mouth of a dead infant in Oklahoma.
The cookies of mothers, pomengranites, musky sheets
of marriage beds, pistachios and birthday cakes
are drenched in oily smoke and iron slag. Everywhere,
electrons serve only their own will,
heavy metals float as ash. Gaps appear
in every skyline.Everywhere, flags
open their wings in the hearts
of people, flutter in the corner of my tv
while a man who thinks he is speaking,
barks, cracking the ribs of the hungry; pretending his lips
are not slick with marrow.The prep-school boys

are loose again. The palm-frond bars
are stocking up on brewskis, and gimme-hats.
Tegucicalpa, Khe San, El Mozote and Panama,
Baghdad, Kabul, Multan and Peshawar-the
syllables of their glory days clot the tongue,
stop the ears of history. The Class of '55
is lonesome for irridescenmce and the hum

of bottle-neck flies. Soot-stained
snapshots, an upturned chair, a hand in the dust
covered by a hankie---everywhere

people are weeping and afraid,
waving flags, cursing, plotting check and mate,
as if one smooth move might rid the world

of shadows. They are burying
Jews in Tel Aviv, lofting flag-wrapped martyrs
in Ramallah, cursing the mourners in New York.
Everywhere, there is emptiness, tattered space
where someone used to saunter
or warm their hands with hot chestnuts.
Each banner is a thousand deaths somewhere
else, each flag a sword, or swooning plane,
a caress-- somewhere else. Each snapping flag taps
a riddle in code: How can the heart of a people
be opened by a killer? Closed by a leader? Numbed
to sufferring as it weeps? The dead
in Chile are poems. The dead
in Nicaragua are palms and vines. The dead
in Yugoslavia are stacked in Brussels,
in Baghdad are irradiated dirt. The dead
in New York are dust, drifting onto the sills
and dashboards where the glass vaporized,
dancing in freshets of air that hiss like plaintive whispers,
startling those holding their breaths, alert
for the faintest of cries from the rubble.
And the hard man with the soft brown eyes
rests in the lavender shadows of poppies,
negotiating with the angel of Death
the requisite number of souls
to weave a flag grand enough
for Allah.

Peter Coyote

Autumn Equinox 2001

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