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Memorial Day


It’s 1959 and I’m standing on a sidewalk
In Pleasantville, New York,
Holding the American flag in my hand.
It’s really hot in the bright sunshine,
But I stand at attention like a good soldier,
Watching for my father, who smiles and waves as he passes by,
In this home of the free, and land of the brave.
He’s with the village war veterans, they’re marching to the beat
Of the Fire Department band sweeping down the street —
The horns blare, the drums pound, the cymbals crash,
And my consciousness cracks like shattered glass.

The band’s overtaken by soaring boys on bikes.
They’ve woven the spokes on their spinning wheels
With red white and blue crepe paper,
And the tiny fluttering flags on their handle bars
Make them look like fantastic flying sparklers.

It’s so damn dazzling, I have to look away,
Down at my feet, and I’m starting to sway
From the glare off the concrete in my eyes.
I squint and I swoon and look up at the sky
Where the light on the leaves of the sugar maple trees
Reflects off the chrome of the cars on the street
And I’m breathless, I’m dizzy, I’m overdone.
The one thing I know, this isn’t fun.

“Don’t you ever let that flag touch the ground!”
Snaps a grouchy old man, twisting my arm up so it hurts.
Aghast at my treachery, disapproving spectators stare.
I feel their looks in the depths of my soul.
What else could a ten year old boy do but slink away
And chuck that fuckin’ flag over the first privet hedge?

Yes, it was there and then that I knew that being
A good citizen was too much responsibility
For anyone as weak and as young as I.
To this day my favorite part of the Memorial Day Parade
Is the sound of the street cleaner
Pushing the red white and blue flakes of confetti
Into his pan and pouring them,
With a soft sweet silent swoosh, into his pail.


DOUGLAS VALENTINE is the author of The Hotel Tacloban, The Phoenix Program, and TDY. His fourth book, The Strength of the Wolf: The Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 1930-1968, which received the Choice Academic Excellence Award and is being published in Russia. The sequel, The Strength of the Pack, is being published by University Press of Kansas in 2008. For information about Mr. Valentine, and his books and articles, please visit his web sites at and



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