Arlington West, Santa Barbara
Exactly three thousand white crosses
Symmetrically fixed in rows of forty-eight
Aligned at attention across a sandy beach
Vastly understate the reality.
Fleeting symbols of a Sunday afternoon,
Garnished with California seagulls, and a soft breeze
Coaxing tiny sailboats from the yacht harbor,
They shine in the sunlight, astonishing the tourists.
Passersby from LA and the Valley, gawking New Yorkers,
Aussies and Londoners, Dutchmen and Turks,
Gabblers in Farsi, Japanese, Hindi
And all varieties of Spanish pause to contemplate
The irresistible photo opportunity of Death.
As the digital cameras whiz, zip and flash,
Catching the poignant sight, disposing of its brief shock,
Children wonder if there are bodies in the sand,
Then, reassured and disappointed, are led off for an ice cream.
If there were three thousand deaths here
Instead of these chaste memorial place markers,
Three thousand rotted blood-soaked dismembered corpses
Of former American boys and girls from the small towns and barrios,
The squandered assets of bemedaled Generals
Riddled with bullets, blown to pieces, mouths agape
Strewn chaotically, catastrophically across an invasion beach
Of reality, crashed in our midst in a terrible tsunami
Flooding the beaches and the streets, dashed
Across our suburban lawns, stinking up the schoolyards,
Polluting the supermarkets, poisoning the churches,
Assaulting our ears, offending our nostrils, raping our eyes
With an obscene actuality not seen on TV
This atrocity dutifully unleashed on our orders well then,
Something would have to be done about it.
But as it is, the crosses and the grizzled veterans
Who tend them like a flowered garden of regret
Are the matter of a brief moment
For onlookers with other destinations,
And the ignorant carnage grinds on,
Eleven time zones away, receding
Into the forgetful future of a careless empire.