Monday, 31 May 1999.












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A Thought for Today

Live for those who didn’t. We will all see each other in the next life soon enough.



When I was a child we called this Decoration Day. It was that special day of the year we took flowers and flags to veterans cemeteries and soldiers fields to decorate the graves and monuments of those who had fallen in defense of their country. Our Country. Almost nothing has changed but the name of the holiday –almost. What has changed is the number of graves of mostly young men who died so that we can live and pursue the ideals of freedom.

Today is also the 180th Birthday of the good great poet Walt Whitman. Whitman wrote better than anyone about the American experience, he even dressed the wounds of Union soldiers in tent hospitals.

Today’s poems and random thoughts are from my 1980 book “The Power Bright & Shining.” It has the following dedication.

“ . . . the genius of the United States is not best or most in its ambassadors or authors or colleges or churches or parlors, not even in its newspapers or inventors . . . but always most in the common people. “

-Walt Whitman

from the original edition of “Leaves of Grass, published in 1855

Parading the Colors

Red should not always stand for blood
not even that spilled by our fathers
                       and our sons
in the great parade of wars with numbers
        three ?
Red is a sunset color
a painted desert dye
the color of the Arizona plains
and at certain times, the West Virginia sky.

Pride and purity may use the color white.
But snow-topped Colorado mountains,
ice across the Great Lakes in December
and Alaska every day of winter time
                     claimed the color first.
Not to mention that long strand of sandy Utah
and every Massachusetts / California beach.

So many uniform are blue
that we forgot the Truckee and the Mississippi
blue sky ocean to ocean,
                      blue ocean sky to sky.
Atlantic and Pacific have always been not green
                                                          but blue.

I know my history lesson,
                           I learned it well
that this nation to become a nation
ran forward into battle shouting freedom!
And often bore the tattered tri-color
                                          home again
for men to mend
               and start another battle new.

I am aware
that flagmakers make new fortunes
every Veterans / Decoration Day,
and broken bodies bathed in canvas
                      and the stars and stripes
have slid off ten thousand ships
                    maybe twenty thousand more,
to rest upon the bottom of the mother sea.
Excelsior at Iwo Jima.
                        Bully at Bull Run.
A step for man and mankind
                             murmured on the moon
Peace with honor... somewhere.

Mothers of dead sons have pride. Me too.
But I would rather paint my colors
                          on a bright balloon -
children then would wave at me
and chase my shadow.

Old men who sit at tables making wars
don’t do so in my name again.
It has taken me two hundred years
to come down to this place.
I have earned the right to see red, white, and blue
not on a battered standard borne in battle
                         but on my brother’s face.

I love my flag.
To me it stands for love
kindness even to my enemy
and most of all, for brotherhood.

It’s doubtful that your family doesn’t contain the memory of one dead soldier, father, brother, friend. Whether it does or doesn’t, a nice project for today might be to take a small bouquet of flowers to your local veteran’s cemetery and place it on an undecorated grave.

RM 5/30/99 Some material previously unpublished.

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notable birthdays Cilla Black o Todd Bridges o Allan Carr o Rachel Carson o John Cheever o Isadora Duncan o Joseph Feinnes o Lou Gossett, Jr. o Dashiell Hammett o Wild Bill Hickock o Julia Ward Howe o Hubert Humphrey o Cynthia Karpa o Henry Kissinger o Teddy Kollek o Christopher Lee o Jeremy Mayfield o Lee Ann Meriwether o Vincent Price o Harold Rome o Sig Sakowicz o Sam Snead o Cornelius Vanderbilt, Sr. o Herman Wouk
Rod's random thoughts What’s right with America are those who go on righting all our wrongs.

Kindness to your country and yourself comes easily and is done with ease. To hurt something you love is difficult and takes no imagination.

Honesty goes in and out of fashion with politics and policies the citizen is not aware of. But in the end, no few men change the country – it still belongs to us.


A handshake
Is my pledge of allegiance.
My anthem
is my brother’s shoulder.
My flag is the smile
on every face
stopping long enough
to return my own.
We’ve come down the road
                          a long way
but there are miles
as yet unwalked
as yet unpaved.

-from “The Power Bright & Shining,” 1980

© 1974, 1980, 1999, 2001 by Stanyan Music Group & Rod McKuen. All Rights Reserved
Birthday research by Wade Alexander o Poetry from the collection of Jay Hagan o Coordinated by Melinda Smith
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