The Vigil for Ben Linder

Ben Linder's family lived just up the street, and our children went to school together. In his twenties, Ben went to Nicaragua to work as an engineer in a volunteer group bringing electric power to villages. He was the first American killed by the American-government-supported "contras." 

That was twenty years ago. I reprint this poem now in memory of Ben and in sorrow that we must still hold vigils for young people sacrificed to the greed and folly of our government.

This rain among the candle flames
under the heavy
end of April evening
falls so softly on us
listening
that it dissolves us
like salt.

A child frets.
The grieving over names.
The same anger.
There are still far countries.

Mayday! they signal,
it’s sinking, crashing, it’s going
down now! Mayday!
But it used to mean
you went into the garden
early, that first morning,
to make a posy.
for a neighbor’s door,
or boldly offered —
“These are for your daughter! ”—
laughing, because she wasn’t up yet.
They were maybe twelve years old.
Afterwards
they went to different schools.

The bringing of light
is no simple matter.
The offering of flowers
is a work of generations.

Young men are scattered
like salt on a dry ground.
Not theirs, not theirs,
but ours
the brave children
who must learn the rules.

To bring light
to flower in a dark country
takes experts in illumination,
engineers of radiance.

Taken, taken and broken.

We are dim circles flickering
at nightfall in April in the rain
that quickens the odor of flowering trees
and the odor of stone.
Over us
is a dark government.

Circles of burning flames, of flowers,
of children learning light.
Circles of rain on stone and skin.
Turning and returning in shaken silence,
broken, unbroken.
Sorrow is the home country.

This poem appeared first as a broadside for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom in 1987, and was reprinted in my Going Out With Peacocks and Other Poems in 1994.