Remember

When Roland fought his victory
On the field of Roncevaux,
And Don John of Austria
Achieved his mighty blow,
And Martel’s iron hammer
Smote the Paynim horde,
The vanguards of a Christian Church,
They knew for what they warred.

But though the land and sea they swept
With chivalry’s dying breaths
The sky unblemished yet remained:
The air had not seen death.
But in Our Lord’s remembrance,
A thousand years had fled
Before the Paynim hosts would strike,
A second dragon’s head.

No knights, no Christendom saw they,
Only the West, corrupt.
They swore a bloody vow and bond
To meet where Mahound supped.
And in the sky at last they seized
The swords they lusted for,
To wield against the West’s strong towers;
The Paynims flew to war.

Strange thing! That in their flight,
Three of four would strike,
Flying but not fleeing,
Victory and death alike.
Three modern churches soared in flame:
Our country’s five-side shield,
Two monuments to commerce fell,
And then the fourth: a field.

For Roland’s spirit rose again
And held the common heart,
Again Don John of Austria
Would fight his valiant part.
For common men, uncommon souls
Their heritage reborn
Unarmed, unyielding, undismayed
They answered Roland’s horn.

And they the martyrs, for they took
That sword in their own breast.
They fought and died for others lives,
And joined in Roland’s geste.
The wailing of a stricken siren sounds
Flight 93 is mourned.
And yet we pause, in silent praise,
On this September morn.

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Running, Rowing

A sonnet. The rhythm breaks are deliberate.

I will not row my boat as though asleep,
Or gently drift with man’s unconscious tide.
My life is no dream, nor held so cheap:
I never had a dream in which I died.
Say rather: life is but a game, one played
Against the world, and pain, and dark, and death.
A victory is only a loss delayed:
A drowner’s lungs still hold a single breath.
I know I’ll lose one day. But laughter hides
Behind my teeth, prepared against defeat.
I do not cling. Death will not break my stride,
For home comes after game, and rest is sweet.
I will not grudge the match when death has won:
The race is ended soon, and then it’s run.