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July 15, 2001

The great geometrical winter constellations

Lift up over the Sierra Nevada,

I walk under the stars, my feet on the known round earth.

My eyes following the lights of an airplane,

Red and green, growling deep into the Hyades.

The note of the engine rises, shrill, faint,

Finally inaudible, and the lights go out

In the southeast haze beneath the feet of Orion.


As the sound departs I am chilled and grow sick

With the thought that has come over me. I see Spain

Under the black windy sky, the snow stirring faintly,

Glittering and moving over the pallid upland,

And men waiting, clutched with cold and huddled together,

As an unknown plane goes over them. It flies southeast

Into the haze above the lines of the enemy,

Sparks appear near the horizon under it.

After they have gone out the earth quivers

And the sound comes faintly. The men relax for a moment

And grow tense again as their own thoughts return to them.


I see the unwritten books, the unrecorded experiments,

The unpainted pictures, the interrupted lives,

Lowered into the graves with the red flags over them.

I see the quick gray brains broken and clotted with blood,

Lowered each in its own darkness, useless in the earth.

Alone on a hilltop in San Francisco suddenly

I am caught in a nightmare, the dead flesh

Mounting over half the world presses against me.


Then quietly at first and then rich and full-bodied,

I hear the voice of a young woman singing.

The emigrants on the corner are holding

A wake for their oldest child, a driverless truck

Broke away on the steep hill and killed him,

Voice after voice adds itself to the singing.

Orion moves westward across the meridian,

Rigel, Bellatrix, Betelgeuse, marching in order,

The great nebula glimmering in his loins.


From "Voices Against Tyranny: Writing of the Spanish Civil War--on the 50th Anniversary of the Event," edited by John Miller (Scribner: 228 pp., out of print)

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