|a giant flag|
It arrived in eighty star-flecked crates
in a caravan of sixteen trucks
with eagles painted on the doors
and an Honor Guard of Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts
and the Veterans of All Wars
marched with them from the depot
to the fields past Table Mountain
where the FLAG would be assembled and displayed;
not allowed to touch the ground
rippling very slightly as the expert holders agitated it:
the largest GIANT FLAG that ever was
larger than a dozen football fields;
a cathedral, it was said, of fabric, rope, and blood and pride.
. . . .
Those who spent their lives amidst great flags
and multitudes of flags,
who wore flag pins, tattoos and flag insignia,
who loved the flags that flew at sports events
and auto sales and jumbo stores; who spent their time at
rallies where the flags were stacked in staggered tiers
that swept across great rows of uniforms; and thrilled to portraits
of the flag-draped faces of their leaders and their leader’s wives
who roared as drums accompanied
The Entrance of the Flags
even these, the oldest, flag-wise, flag-ennobled
townsfolk all agreed that this was special and unique
that their GIANT FLAG would dwarf all other flags
that ever waved or stretched or ever were
and that this day would not be soon forgotten.
. . .
With practiced skill
as quick as flight
the site was organized
and interlocking light
blue tarps staked down to form a shield
for there was danger here:
if a calamity occurred, if the GIANT FLAG should drop upon the ground
IT WOULD HAVE TO BE IMMEDIATELY DESTROYED –
but accidental, fleeting contact with a plastic sheet
would be acceptable.
A Council formed of nine retired Generals
the mayor and three clergymen agreed on this.
. . .
Eighty crates were spaced out on the tarps
and work began; starting from the center, stretching, holding, joining sections
spreading out the nation’s colors as the nation once had spread -
and almost from the start the strain began to show upon the expert holders
huge men, men who worked on farms and in the mills
biceps and shoulder muscles humped like bulls
heels dug in, leaning backwards
almost parallel to the ground
great forearms quivering to keep the GIANT FLAG
from touching even plastic: too proud to ask for help.
But help was needed, and as the FLAG dipped dangerously
the Volunteer Town Firemen, unasked, unspoken, rose as one
and squatted, skittered, duck-walked underneath the FLAG –
thick-bodied men who carried hose through burning buildings,
ducking low to breathe pure air, they were ideal for this task.
The FLAG continued growing, the holders spread more thinly now
and the Police Auxiliary slid under the rippling silk and canvas
as others grabbed the edges
the entire high school football team
and the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts
doctors and lawyers, housewives, store clerks, ministers,
factory workers, farmhands, a baker still smelling of cinnamon and yeast,
holding up the GIANT FLAG, keeping it unsullied, sacrosanct
and the word spread, and those beneath the flag all knew
and the few remaining on the sidelines understood
that underneath the flag the light that filtered through
and blended all the streams and shades and colors of the nation
was beautiful. And well worth any sacrifice.
. . .
At last, the FLAG was stretched, the holders screaming in triumphant pain
the multitudes beneath its silk and cotton span each sharing in the task
with crowd and fabric tensed and trembling
the signal was emitted to initiate the
Four silver jets came streaking over treetops, directly from the east
the sun behind them stark and white
a noise above, a roar and they were gone –
four contrails arcing gracefully like flowers in a vase
and visible for just a blink, a micro-second, when –
the ground erupted in a fire ball
that swallowed FLAG and fields, holders, volunteers, and spectators
that reached six thousand feet!
. . .
Intensive inquiries were launched, of course
investigations, hearings, testimony to Committees:
a chemical reaction, possibly; a compound in the tarpaulin
or glue that added strength to silk, released by heat beneath the FLAG
a static spark set off the gas
a bomb was buried in the grass
there was a man who saw a silver object falling from the final jet
the sunlight glinted as it tumbled, he was sure of that
and strangers camped near Table Mountain
in the weeks before the incident, were gone –
they had received a phone call, it was said, and disappeared
and whispers claimed no silver jets were sent to fly that day
no records of the pilots’ names
no documents, no trace
no reasons for the signal lights
some noticed in the hills.
The hearings carried on,
executives were called to testify, and experts in their fields
and what was first decided was to raise a monument:
a Study Group took over, and their meetings soon began.
Michael Cantor's poetry collection, Life in the Second Circle, was published by Able Muse Press in 2012, and a chapbook, The Performer, by Pudding House Press in 2007. His poetry has appeared in The Dark Horse, Raintown Review, Measure, Shit Creek Review, Chimaera, Umbrella, and many other journals and anthologies. Honors include the New England Poetry Club Gretchen Warren and Erika Mumford Awards.