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Charles Hughes: author of Cave Art shares a poem

He worked as a lawyer for thirty-three years before his retirement

  • After Many Years
  • “Best to react to sorrowful things in sorrow”—
  • The answer Peter, a new acquaintance, gave,
  • Quoting I don’t remember whom. Iced tea,
  • Brought out by Peter’s wife, the August sun
  • We sat in, his veiled answer, my blunt question—
  • I do remember after many years.
  • Today, a cardinal, male, all glossy red—
  • Except for matte black mask, tail feathers streaked
  • With sober gray—keeps jumping into sunlight,
  • From ground ten feet to tree branch, down again
  • In seconds—up, down, up—quick repetitions—
  • Flights luminous as dreams and memories.
  • A tragedy of war and violence,
  • Playing out and deepening as the decade aged;
  • Assassinations, one by one by one,
  • Extinguishing a hope that once had raged
  • Like fire and leaving memories to cope—
  • Think of the first-born stars now eons dead,
  • Whose cooled-down atoms course through human veins.
  • So much has happened since—a denouement
  • Resolving—unresolved—still tossing, blowing—
  • The air, part Hamlet’s indecision, part
  • Ophelia’s unbearable distress—
  • Everything set in motion toward some end,
  • Where tragedy and history coalesce.
  • The richest and most powerful increased
  • Their vigilance. The poor merely increased.
  • Prayers pushed and pushed for peace; God held his peace.
  • Wars fought by drones, smart missiles, and the poor
  • Comfortably became the status quo,
  • War’s anti-truth the standard inner life.
  • The stardust in our blood stuck to its task,
  • Supplying bodily need for iron, thus
  • Hinting at how a tragedy may be
  • (On rare and blessed occasions) taken in,
  • Assimilated, turned to other things.
  • That day in 1970, we talked
  • About the unchecked war, about the draft,
  • Which seemed a possibility for me,
  • About the fact of Peter’s C.O. status.
  • His age, grad school, and kindness said he knew,
  • When I did not. “What should I do?” I asked.
Charles Hughes

Charles Hughes is the author of the poetry collection Cave Art (Wiseblood Books 2014), and was a Walter E. Dakin Fellow at the 2016 Sewanee Writers’ Conference. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in the Alabama Literary Review, The Christian CenturyIron Horse Literary Review, Literary Matters, Measure, the Saint Katherine Review, the San Diego Reader, the Sewanee Theological Review, and elsewhere. He worked as a lawyer for thirty-three years before his retirement and lives with his wife in the Chicago area.

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  • After Many Years
  • “Best to react to sorrowful things in sorrow”—
  • The answer Peter, a new acquaintance, gave,
  • Quoting I don’t remember whom. Iced tea,
  • Brought out by Peter’s wife, the August sun
  • We sat in, his veiled answer, my blunt question—
  • I do remember after many years.
  • Today, a cardinal, male, all glossy red—
  • Except for matte black mask, tail feathers streaked
  • With sober gray—keeps jumping into sunlight,
  • From ground ten feet to tree branch, down again
  • In seconds—up, down, up—quick repetitions—
  • Flights luminous as dreams and memories.
  • A tragedy of war and violence,
  • Playing out and deepening as the decade aged;
  • Assassinations, one by one by one,
  • Extinguishing a hope that once had raged
  • Like fire and leaving memories to cope—
  • Think of the first-born stars now eons dead,
  • Whose cooled-down atoms course through human veins.
  • So much has happened since—a denouement
  • Resolving—unresolved—still tossing, blowing—
  • The air, part Hamlet’s indecision, part
  • Ophelia’s unbearable distress—
  • Everything set in motion toward some end,
  • Where tragedy and history coalesce.
  • The richest and most powerful increased
  • Their vigilance. The poor merely increased.
  • Prayers pushed and pushed for peace; God held his peace.
  • Wars fought by drones, smart missiles, and the poor
  • Comfortably became the status quo,
  • War’s anti-truth the standard inner life.
  • The stardust in our blood stuck to its task,
  • Supplying bodily need for iron, thus
  • Hinting at how a tragedy may be
  • (On rare and blessed occasions) taken in,
  • Assimilated, turned to other things.
  • That day in 1970, we talked
  • About the unchecked war, about the draft,
  • Which seemed a possibility for me,
  • About the fact of Peter’s C.O. status.
  • His age, grad school, and kindness said he knew,
  • When I did not. “What should I do?” I asked.
Charles Hughes

Charles Hughes is the author of the poetry collection Cave Art (Wiseblood Books 2014), and was a Walter E. Dakin Fellow at the 2016 Sewanee Writers’ Conference. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in the Alabama Literary Review, The Christian CenturyIron Horse Literary Review, Literary Matters, Measure, the Saint Katherine Review, the San Diego Reader, the Sewanee Theological Review, and elsewhere. He worked as a lawyer for thirty-three years before his retirement and lives with his wife in the Chicago area.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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