“Flag (After Vietnam)” (A Villanelle – Spoken)

“Flag” drawing by Diana Barco

As a child, I was a school patrol, charged with the raising and lowering of our school’s American flag each day.  This was actually a very solemn post which certainly required as much care as directing kids across streets.  There were strong rules back then about the handling of the flag; these were, of course, affected by the protest movements of the Sixties, but also (perhaps even more) by subsequent commercialism–i.e. using the flag as a pattern for everything from shower curtains to napkins.  Then came all the business with the lapel flag pin, where use of the flag became incredibly polarized (and almost co-opted by various political movements.)

After 9/11 – let’s say on September 12th–flags were briefly solemn images of unity, but  their use soon became (to my mind at least) very polarized again, and somewhat jingoistic, with flags even used as antenna decorations.  As an old school patrol trained to run to retrieve and safeguard the flag at the first sight of a raindrop, I found these frayed and faded car flags rather troubling.

At any rate, here’s the poem AND a taped reading.  I urge you to check out the tape.  A villanelle on the page can seem incredibly inane–this one in particular, because its pauses that do not conform at all with the line or stanza breaks.

And finally, Happy 4th of July all, especially to my beloved country.

(Click the title for the spoken poem.  And honestly – if you are pressed for time,  click rather than read on.)

Flag (After Vietnam) Recording

Flag (After Vietnam) 

There were rules.  You weren’t allowed to let it
touch the ground.  If it did, it should be burned
or buried.  You couldn’t just forget it,

pretend it hadn’t slipped (if stained, to wet it)–
our trusted God would see and you’d be spurned.
There were rules.  You weren’t allowed to let it

rip or fray.  To be flown at night upset its
regimen, as it were.  The darkness turned
it into something buried.  Don’t forget it,

leave out in the rain; you had to get it
(getting soaked yourself, your last concern).
There were rules. You weren’t allowed to let it

pass—even at the movies, we would fête it—
until the Sixties came, and their war churned
and buried much—you couldn’t just forget it,

pretend we hadn’t slipped.  The fall begat at
least two flags—one paraded, the other mourned—
but just one rule—you weren’t allowed to let it
be buried; we couldn’t just forget it.

The poem is from Going on Somewhere,  by Karin Gustafson, drawings by Diana Barco, cover by Jason Martin. 
Explore posts in the same categories: poetry, Uncategorized, villanelle

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9 Comments on ““Flag (After Vietnam)” (A Villanelle – Spoken)”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Love this.

  2. hedgewitch Says:

    Yes, the flag isn’t much of a symbol of unity any more–around here, some fly the Gadsden flag *above* the US and State flag…sad, wrong, and somehow not I think what their beloved and pretty much never read Founders had in mind. (I don’t find the enjambment at all a problem in this, btw–it looks pretty clean, and plain where the emphasis and meaning are.)

  3. ayala Says:

    A good capture! Happy 4th of July.

  4. sonofwalt Says:

    This is a fine Villanelle, and I like the enjambment. That’s one of the things that is fun about the forms, stretching them and trying new twists. I am still in awe of what Elizabeth Bishop did with the form in “One Art.”
    It sounded great, by the way.

  5. brian miller Says:

    sadly i think it is forgotten much around here…watched a boy scout troop lining the road yesterday with flags outside a house with one hanging from above the porch that was rather tattered and twisted…which i think bears just as much symbolism for us and where we are now….nice villanelle…i had no problem with your line breaks and felt it a nice modern piece…

  6. Mama Zen Says:

    I really love this.

  7. Sabio Lantz Says:

    Very nice — fantastic reading. I remember, as an Eagle Scout, the proper display, folding and care. Then Vietnam came, and I despised that same flag. Today, it is all fuzzy. But nothing is sacred any more.

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