Habeas Corpus
I guess I wasn’t paying attention in high school,
in the contemporary history class we all had to take
to get out – we called it “contemptible history” not
because we were impressed by the horror of the cold
war or even because we were listening, but just

that we were thinking of how we’d rather
be driving along the cracked and graveled country
roads, maybe smoking cigarettes, maybe forging
notes from doctors explaining that we absolutely could
not be in physics class today, deepest apologies,

and I’m quite certain that I took notes on history
in the margins of my journal, between counting
the minutes until the bell rang, the days until my life
began.  Maybe that’s why I didn’t understand 
that your war was fought by babyfaced boys–

the same kids who fell out of appletrees and broke
arms in your backyard, the same awkward confidence
I so fancied in the captain of the cross country team.
I didn’t read the paragraph in the history book
that said those young soldiers were no older, Molly,
						
than your own date to prom, the very same shysweet
boy who dropped his books walking you home
from third grade to protect you from the neighbor’s big dog.
History, in high school, is a word that means boring.
Though I was raised on lullabies from protest marches, 

I did not realize when you sang If I Had A Hammer
it was anything but a campfire song, quaint,
like the old days when there was war.  When you
had causes.  I didn’t see that the stars you gave me
became yours first when there might be enemy planes

in the cool Illinois sky.  Until now.  Now, each night
at moonrise I can see you lying on your back under a cold
war sky, searching for spy planes over Peoria.  You
are twelve, maybe, a member of the Junior Air Patrol.  Or
you are my age, college age, lying on your back in a hammock,

memorizing a sky full of stars and fire across the world
from your sisters and friends, too young to think
one day I’ll have a daughter, and I will share this sky
because who really believes they’ll have children
when they have only just gained the legal right to vote?

I have grown up singing about how many roads
a man must walk, but now I see you were all 
just as lost and full of dreams as these kids
who sit in my classes and say “what were they thinking?”
And “we’ll never make the same mistakes they did.”

All of this idealism, all of this aching for what the news
now calls our lost innocence, the instant soundbites and terrible
flames will be summed up in an hour long lecture, maybe
a video even, on “America at the Turn of the Millennium.”
One day I’ll have a daughter, and she will share this sky–

She will doodle in the margins of my life, and what now
occupies my morning paper will be another way for her
to say boring.  And she will be the center of her own world,
a baby like you were, babies all, so fragile in our confidence.
She will have a grandfather who went to Vietnam,

a generation of parents who promised it would be better this time,
and it will not be that we have broken our promises, 
really, but that she believed them in the first place.

10 October 2001

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