Two days after Pearl Harbor, my mother Joan, aged 18, wrote this poem.
Dec 9 – 1941
Now it is come, we are as calm as we have never been.
We drink our coffee with still hands
And with grave eyes ask what is trump
Or whose lead now and carefully repair our rouge.
And read the Tribune and Thomas Aquinas
With equal imperturbability.
Once we were shifted by the sound of words
By great black headlines, by the screaming boy.
Now we are calm as we were calm in Troy
We are as silly as we ever were.
But now our silliness is bravery.
We are so shallow that the dying of a world
Cannot break through our consciousness
Or are so deep that it cannot.
That which we never quite believed has happened.
We touch inanely hands that never reach
And, like a wounded lion, the world
Lies down to die with dignity.
We are as calm as we were calm in Troy.
Joan felt that the incidents recounted in Homer’s The Iliad were ever fresh. What happened at Troy was happening at Pearl Harbor. Again and again throughout history there is death and destruction. Yet, through it all, some persevere.
One man who survived the Pearl Harbor attack has made it his life’s mission to have the unidentified corpses of military identified and laid to rest. An article by Curt Sanburn and John Corrales in The New York Times earlier this year tells how “[a] quest by [Ray] Emory, who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, for better grave markers helped strengthen the push to identify the battleship Oklahoma’s unknown sailors.”
This story tells how endeavors by one man may help heal open wounds decades after that assault over 70 years ago.
Remains that cannot be identified will receive a full military honors burial, [Lt. Col. Melinda F. Morgan, a director of public affairs for the Defense P.O.W./M.I.A. Accounting Agency,] said. Near the time of that burial, Colonel Morgan said the Defense P.O.W./M.I.A. Accounting Agency would determine what to do with remains without surviving or identifiable relatives.
For some families, the long wait may soon be over. Thomas Gray of Guilford, Conn., hopes to bury his second cousin, Edwin Hopkins, in a family plot in Keene, N.H., next spring.
“It was like an open wound,” Mr. Gray said of the time before Mr. Hopkins was identified earlier this year.
Never think that wounds cannot be healed. The laying to rest of the dead is a sacred duty by all cultures. Let us hope more victims can find a place to rest and that the hearts of their families can find consolation in that.
I love this poem and how it portrays so poignantly the human reaction and condition when it comes to grief and shock. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks so much! My mother wrote a lot of wonderful poetry and I’m editing a book of it!