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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

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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