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May 22, 2014

Memorial Days

For many people, Memorial Day weekend is a time of holiday, gatherings at the lake, outdoor barbecues, celebrating college or high school graduations. For many others, it is a more somber time. All Saints Day seems easier on the heart, occurring in the autumn as the year winds down. Remembering lost loved ones at the heart of springtime is fitting in a way, dedicating a beautiful time of year as a time of remembrance. At the same time, it is the height--and depth--of incongruity to look up into the spring sunshine and then down upon the graves of fallen soldiers. As I look back on only the last decade, I feel stunned--and sometimes shamed--into silence, thinking of the sacrifices our military and their family members make. And deaths of loved ones are not the only losses they suffer.  Their emotional, physical, spiritual and financial difficulties and challenges also often bring loss into their lives.

Although poet Michelle Hartman wrote this poem for her mom, it speaks universally to the experience of losing a loved one. Its title also speaks to what any military family member must feel when they receive the call that one of their own has fallen: Early Departure. Such deaths are always too early. Still, Michelle's poem reveals the secret to survival, a secret tucked in our hearts, our emotional and spiritual centers which remain actively connected to our loved ones. I can't explain how this works. I only know that it does.


Michelle Hartman

early departure

I reached a stopping point
in the melee of my life today
and called you
don’t remember now why
possibly to say I love you
as though it would be news
or maybe it was to regale you
with my latest bit of doggerel
new piece of gossip
but I’d forgotten
you’d left sooner than expected
leaving me with all those silly requests
often made by those
left behind on holiday
a souvenir from the gift shop
regional delicacy or salt water taffy
peanut brittle and maybe a shell
you also missed useless droppings of advice  
valuable only in the minds of timid homebodies
call when you get there
dress warmly
don’t talk to strangers
all wise but unadventurous
vexed at missed opportunities
looming loneliness
not to mention the inability
to reach travelers in that region
I dusted the box with your ashes
did as you instructed and
called you with my heart  


Poem copyright Michelle Hartman, all rights reserved.
Michelle Hartman is the editor of Red River Review and her latest poetry book, published by Lamar University Press, is Disenchanted and Disgruntled.

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