John Ciardi (1916–86), American poet and translator, was a gunner in the US Army Air Forces, serving aboard B-29 bombers in the Pacific theater of World War II. Following the war, Ciardi taught at the University of Kansas, Harvard University, and Rutgers University. This poem (1955) recalls the flag-draped coffin of an otherwise unidentified man named Arthur, and reflects on the relation between the man, the box, the flag, and the republic for which it stands.
A Box Comes Home ~ John Ciardi
I remember the United States of America
As a flag-draped box with Arthur in it
And six marines to bear it on their shoulders.
I wonder how someone once came to remember
The Empire of the East and the Empire of the West.
As an urn maybe delivered by chariot.
You could bring Germany back on a shield once
And France in a plume. England, I suppose,
Kept coming back a long time as a letter.
Once I saw Arthur dressed as the United States
of America. Now I see the United States
of America as Arthur in flag-sealed domino.
And I would pray more good of Arthur
Than I can wholly believe. I would pray
An agreement with the United States of America
To equal Arthur’s living as it equals his dying
At the red-taped grave in Woodmere
By the rain and oak leaves on the domino.
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