Saturday, May 5, 2012

Threes

Threes by Carl Sandburg
I was a boy when I heard three red words
a thousand Frenchmen died in the streets
for: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity--I asked
why men die for words.

I was older; men with mustaches, sideburns,
lilacs, told me the high golden words are:
Mother, Home, and Heaven--other older men with
face decorations said: God, Duty, Immortality
--they sang these threes slow from deep lungs.

Years ticked off their say-so on the great clocks
of doom and damnation, soup, and nuts: meteors flashed
their say-so: and out of great Russia came three
dusky syllables workmen took guns and went out to die
for: Bread, Peace, Land.

And I met a marine of the U.S.A., 
a leatherneck with a girl on his knee 

for a memory in ports circling the earth and he said: 
Tell me how to say three things and I always get by--
gimme a plate of ham and eggs--how much--and--do you love me, kid? 

My older son is awakening to poetry, and so, I have revisited some well known ones with him. Recently, I re-read "Threes".  And I have to wonder: what would be the threes of this age?  What would be the threes of myself?
  From the poem, I'm drawn to "Peace", "Liberty", "Home", "Duty", and "Equality", but I can certainly see the leatherneck's point of view. Three is a good number, easy to remember groups of three, and not nearly so rigid as the relationship between pairs. Would my threes be my reality or my dreams?  Would they reflect a need or my deepest hope?  I don't know.

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