Poems by Eugene McCarthy
THE MAPLE TREE
The maple tree that night
Without a wind or rain
Let go its leaves
Because its time had come.
Brown veined, spotted,
Like old hands, fluttering in blessing,
They fell upon my head
And shoulders, and then
Down to the quiet at my feet.
I stood, and stood
Until the tree was bare
And have told no one
But you that I was there.
MY LAI CONVERSATION
How old are you, small Vietnamese boy?
Six fingers. Six years.
Why did you carry water to the wounded soldier, now dead?
Your father was enemy of free world.
You also now are enemy of free world.
Who told you to carry water to your father?
Your mother is also enemy of free world.
You go into ditch with your mother.
American politician has said,
"It is better to kill you as a boy in the elephant grass of Vietnam
Than to have to kill you as a man in the rye grass in the USA."
It is easier to die
Where you know the names of the birds, the trees, and the grass
Than in a stranger country.
You will be number 128 in the body count for today.
High body count will make the Commander-in-Chief of free world much encouraged.
Good-bye, small six-year-old Vietnamese boy, enemy of free world.
We will take our corrugated steel
out of the land of thatched huts.
We will take our tanks
out of the land of the water buffalo.
We will take our napalm and flame throwers
out of the land that scarcely knows the use of matches.
We will take our helicopters
out of the land of colored birds and butterflies.
We will give back your villages and fields
your small and willing women.
We will leave you your small joys
and smaller troubles.
We will trust you to your gods,
some blind, some many-handed.
COURAGE AFTER SIXTY
Now it is certain.
There is no magic stone.
No secret to be found.
One must go
With the mind's winnowed learning.
No more than the child's handhold
On the willows bending over the lake,
On the sumac roots at the cliff edge.
Ignorance is checked,
The coat has been hung on the peg,
The cigar laid on the table edge,
The cue chosen and chalked,
The balls set for the final break.
All cards drawn,
All bets called.
The dice, warm as blood in the hand,
Shaken for the last cast.
The glove has been thrown to the ground,
The last choice of weapons made.
A book for one thought.
A poem for one line.
A line for one word.
"Broken things are powerful."
Things about to break are stronger still.
The last shot from the brittle bow is truest.
THE DEATH OF THE OLD PLYMOUTH ROCK HEN
It was tragic when her time came
After a lifetime of laying brown eggs
Among the white of leghorns.
Now, unattractive to the rooster,
Laying no more eggs,
Faking it on other hens' nests,
Caught in the act,
Taken to the woodpile
In the winter of execution.
A quick stroke of the axe,
One first and last upward cast
Of eyes that in life
Had looked only down,
Scanning the ground for seeds and worms
And for the shadow of the hawk.
Now those eyes are covered
By yellow lids,
Closing from the bottom up.
Decapitated, she did not act
Like a chicken with its head cut off.
No pirouettes, no somersaults,
No last indignity.
Like an English queen, she died.
On wings that had never known flight.
She flew, straight into the woodpile,
And there beat out slow death
While her curdled voice ran out in blood.
A scalding and a plucking of no purpose.
No goose feathers for a comforter.
No duck's down for a pillow.
No quill for a pen.
In the opened body, no entrail message for the haruspex.
Not one egg of promise in the oviduct.
In the gray gizzard, no diamond or emerald,
But only half-ground corn,
Sure evidence of unprofitability.
The breast and legs,
The wings and thighs,
The strong heart,
The pope's nose,
Fit only for chicken soup and stew.
And then in March, near winter's end,
When bloodied and feathered wood is used,
The odor of burnt offerings
Above the kitchen stove.