Memorial Day

It’s 1959, and I’m standing on a sidewalk
in Pleasantville, New York
holding a miniature American flag in my hand.

It’s really hot in the sun,
but I stand at attention like a good soldier
watching for dad to smile and wave as he passes by
in this home of the free, this land of the brave.

Dad’s with the village war veterans marching to the beat
of the fire department band sweeping down the street;
the horns blare, the drums pound, the cymbals crash,
and my consciousness cracks like shattered glass.

The band’s overtaken by soaring boys on bikes.
They’ve woven red white and blue crepe paper
into the spokes of their
spinning wheels
the tiny fluttering flags on their handle bars
make them look like fantastic
flying sparklers.

It’s so damn dazzling I have to look away,
down at my feet, and I’m starting to sway
from the concrete glare in my eyes;
I squint and I swoon and look up at the sky
where the light on the leaves of the sugar maple trees
reflects off the chrome of the cars on the street.

I’m breathless, I’m dizzy, I’m overdone.
The one thing I know, this isn’t fun.
“Don’t you ever let that flag touch the ground!”
Snaps a grouchy old man, twisting my arm up so it hurts.

Disapproving spectators stare;
I feel their looks in the depths of my soul.

What else could a ten year old boy do but slink away
and chuck that fuckin’ flag over the first privet hedge?
It was there and then that I knew that being
a good citizen was too much responsibility
for anyone as weak and as young as me.

To this day my favorite part of the Memorial Day Parade
is the sound of the street cleaner
pushing the dead flakes of confetti
into his pan and pouring them
with a funereal swoosh into his pail.

• From a Crow’s Dream, August 2, 2012

Douglas Valentine is the author of The CIA as Organized Crime and The Hotel Tacloban. His first book of poetry, A Crow's Dream (Oliver Open Press) was published in 2012. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Douglas, or visit Douglas's website.