Before The Patriot Act

Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Very little tonight about Paul Revere.
On the 18th of April in ’75–
Hardly a person now alive
Would believe–a new message meant somebody’s here!

I’m serious: There was no texting, no phone,
And no messaging apps. Only snail mail, alone,
Of the methods by which we communicate now
Was around. You would unhitch your horse from your plow
And go visit–in person!–the person to whom
You had something to say; if you couldn’t somehow
Find a way to convey yourself right to the room
They were standing in, maybe you’d hire a guy
To deliver your note (and bring back the reply).

It’s difficult now to begin comprehending
The depth of the darkness when evening was ending
And moonglow alone shone a thin film of light
On the places still waiting for Ben Franklin’s kite
And the spark that it struck to be fanned to a flame
That was more revolutionary than the one
That Revere (and the friend whom the poem won’t name
When it’s written years later) that night had begun.
An IM back then meant direct line of sight
And a max of two characters! LOL, right?
It’s okay, say I’m lame. I think history’s fun!


Patriot’s Day (Observed)

On Patriot’s Day
Back in Arlington, Mass.,
We’d go out on the porch
To watch Paul Revere pass
(Or maybe his doctor friend–
Didn’t much matter)–
What thrills for a five-year-old!
Watching them clatter
On horseback across the bridge
Spanning the Mystic…
Making us work today’s
Simply sadistic.
A childhood in Arlington
Ought to exempt me;
(I still can recite that whole poem–
Don’t tempt me).
Today it’s too late
To stay home, but that’s fine.
The Commonwealth moves its day off,
I’ll move mine.

A Voice In The Darkness

On the 18th of April in ’75
I recited three poems, and ever since, I’ve
Been unable to let this date pass without verse:
Longfellow, Emerson, Lowell, and…worse.
And by worse, I mean me, which should go without saying,
But didn’t (and won’t, so just quit with the praying).

My mother had dangled a Savings Bond prize
If I could, before Patriot’s Day, memorize
The long Longfellow poem called “Paul Revere’s Ride”
And two other short verses. We’d once lived beside
A stone bridge on the Mystic in Arlington, Mass.,
Where each 18th of April we’d watch a man pass
By on horseback: “The British are coming!” he’d yell
As he passed the gas station. I knew the tale well
Of the silversmith’s ride and the lanterns held high
In the Old North Church tower, so naturally I
Agreed: Sure, I could learn a few poems by heart!
Not a problem! I (typically) waited to start
On the task until almost the day it was due,
But when Friday arrived, I recited it through
From the Listen my children… to …of Paul Revere,
And for 38 years in a row, now, I hear
Those same lines in my head like the English Mum’s moan
In the Lowell verse, keeping the past on its throne.

This year, the echo’s especially strong,
Something right in a world gone horribly wrong
Since the 15th of April, 2013,
Turned a marathon finish to something obscene.
The words of the poets restore what was mine
Before Monday, reminding me, It’ll be fine.
In my hour of darkness and peril and need,
I thank Longfellow, Mommy, and middle-school greed.


Listen, my children, and you shall– Here,
Give me that. You know beads don’t belong in your ear.
Now, settle. You ready? Okay, here we go.
Listen– What? Not right now. Lis– I said, No!
If you drink before bedtime you’ll just have to go.

He said to his friend, “If the British–“ What?
Who’s his friend? Well, it’s not in the poem, here, but
Since you ask, in real life, Revere’s friend was himself
Because he hung the lan– Put that back on the shelf!
No, we’re not reading that one. It’s Patriots’ Day
So we’re reading from Paul Revere’s Ride, now. Okay?
He said to his friend– What’s that? Fine, his name’s Billy.
He said– No, I’m not gonna do his voice “silly.”
Okay, if I do, will you listen? Alright.
Hoing a lointurn aloift in the boilfree ortch
Of the Oiled Noit Choich azza soignoil light–

I mean, loit– What? A lointurn? A lantern. A torch.
Like a flashlight, but older. You’d light it with matches.
Stop that! Look, your nose is all covered with scratches!
Should we trim your nails? Okay, fine, but don’t pick.
That a deal? Oh, don’t eat it! You’re making me sick!

Are we done for the night? Okay, really fast:
“The British are coming,” he yelled from his horse
To the people asleep in each village he passed,
So they got up and dressed– in one minute, of course–
And they met on the meadow called Lexington Green
Where they launched the first moon cow the planet had seen.

The End. What? The moon cow? You know, from the rhyme
We read last week? The one with the dish and the spoon?
That’s right, and the dog who just laughed all the time.
You remember the part with the cow and the moon?
A slingshot on Lexington Green they unfurled
And fired the herd shot ’round the world!
And they heard the cows moo, ‘ere they flew out of sight,
“Happy Patriots’ Day, and to all a good night!”