by Best Poem
My Republic of Suffering
At the Missing Soldiers’ Office
The general sits before an open ledger,
rubbing his forehead as he studies
with mounting perplexity the emerging marks
and stains. Although not at fault, the clerks
whisper nervously in the background.
No matter how many names they erase,
or how thoroughly, the ledgers always
fill up again by morning. Outside the windows
the public hurries past on other errands.
These days only dignitaries get to visit
the basement museum, where most discover
an interest in battle flags, officers’ dress swords,
and, of course, the shoe full of bones.
The neighborhood children watch
with almost scholarly interest
the apparatus being dismantled
for reassembly downriver.
If passing by at such moments,
it’s best to wear the obedient face
my grandfather conspicuouslly wore
throughout his weeks of interrogation.
Just think about something ordinary,
not these new conscripts cursing
and straining as they wrestle
the heavy blade onto a lumber wagon,
but, for example, the lighted shop windows
in the Victorian gloom of evening
or the firing squad back at the barracks
listening to the ball game on the radio.
Howie Good, a journalism professor at the State University of New York at New Paltz, is the author of four poetry chapbooks, Death of the Frog Prince (2004) and Heartland (2007) from FootHills Publishing, Strangers & Angels (2007) from Scintillating Publications, and the forthcoming The News at 11 from Right Hand Pointing.