By Cindy Mindell-Wong
The first sound is bagpipes
That trip the switch and flick the Color Guard to pluck
Names and sighs and tears.
With Amazing Grace
The soldiers step slow and straight.
They got time,
The second sound is names
That fall loud, that strafe the ground from all around,
Like God at the mike,
Like the principal at high-school graduation.
The dead and the missing have full names.
War does that, you know, like all formal occasions:
It brings out the middle initial in all of us.
The third sound is shrouds,
Purple as a heart or as Jimi's haze,
Clutched and touched and held down hard
By defiant fingers tight with grief.
The second-hand of the Color Guard ticks to each numbered marker, stops,
The name drops, the purple skin peels:
Metal skeleton beneath,
Bare bones of a life: full name, birthday, deathday, high school.
Now defeated fingers caress cold brushed metal, public gravestones.
The last sound is flesh.
You've heard it all before:
Mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and wives and lovers and best friends
Come here to unbury the dead out loud and in full view.
I watch the woman in white,
Her senses narrowed down to the feel of purple
And the echo of one name
And the sight of the Color Guard-
Messenger and collector all at once.
They arrive, meet her eyes,
It is time.
The woman in white breathes in sharp, holds back, lifts the purple veil.
Her fierce eyes blear, her hushed hands hold her face.
The Color Guard ticks past.
When she goes from this place, the woman in white
Will lay yellow flowers at the base of metal marker number 2-0-8.
And she will drape the purple veil over the picture of her fallen, full-named brother
On the table by the sofa in her house.