Steve Williams


The Iraqi flag is red, white and black and at the heart are three green stars
and the words "God is great."

Five bundles of white flags are placed in my hands.
I was walking by and the organizers asked me to help--
there were too many to put in the ground.
I carry them like firewood, away from the body.
I stick each wire a footprint apart--
some go in easy, some hit a rock or root.
My back is sore.
I have to surrender a moment to these five bundles of white flags.

Nobody walks on the grass. Six blocks of wedding white,
or death white in the Far East. Each flag is five Iraqi.
The rank and file of them conjure the stones of Arlington--
half of these are children.
nobody walks on the grass.
Of flags, Malachi Ritscher had little use.
Four days before the last election,
he burned his body as a beacon to protest mass murder in Iraq.
Nobody stopped their car, no newspaper reported on his death
until five days later.
Some get the stars and stripes
forever on their coffins--Malachi did not.
Nor did he escape the cunning use of flags.
I have finished my part of building these white caps
on fresh green grass. Here is a tank-sized footprint
of red banners--these 800 bits of fabric are the American dead.
All colors are children.
But, where are the flags for the 67 Afghan women
who set themselves on fire in Herat province
to protest forced marriages, domestic mutilations,
prison terms for running away. How can I say
I've finished my part?
To fly a flag of Buddhists is what he wanted.
Nine monks were killed in Saigon
for raising their banner next to the Vietnamese flag.
Thich Quang Duc sat on a Saigon street in 1963
and didn't move out of the lotus position as he charred and shriveled.
They rescued his heart, called it sacred.
It did not burn.
All he wanted was to fly a flag.
Of the red, white and green only the green is growing.
I have run out of lives. I want to put more out there
for my grandparents, my step-mother--
for everyone like them, who died in their bed.
I go back to the van, ask for more of the red.

Steve is in the middle of a career change and has recently graduated from PSU with a degree in Psychology. Together with Constance they are the co-chairs for the Portland unit of the Oregon Poetry Association (OPA), the Figures of Speech Reading Series and a monthly critique group that meets at In Other Words and is open to the public. He has had work published in various journals including Stirring, Scratch, The Rose and Thorn, and Word Riot. He has a chapbook, "Skin Stretched Around the Hollow" published by Rattlesnake Press in 2007. Together with Contance, he is working on a pilot project to bring creative writing classes to senior centers in the area.

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