Memorial Day, for Beginners

In 1971, Memorial Day was established by an Act of Congress (Do they really deserve a capital? Letter, I mean.) although Decoration Day has been observed since the Civil War. I remember reading this news in an actual newspaper when I was sixteen.

A yearly day to remember all the people we miss personally and nationally always seemed like a good idea to me, and I have made a practice of spending time on that day, surrounded by good books and music, thinking about those who once walked the Earth and do no more and why.

Throughout my life, I’ve discovered many favorite authors of poetry, but of all, the one who has had the most influence on me is Lew Welch.

On May 23, 1971--and isn’t that odd?--Lew disappeared into the woods of the San Juan Ridge in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. His body was never found. His body of work remains, however. Like any writer, Lew was flawed in ways that might raise substantial hue and cry today, and his work clearly reveals that, primarily because his poems are a triumph of clarity.

Still, if you haven’t read his Hermit Poems or Courses or magnificent The Song Mt. Tamalpais Sings, which includes the spectacular, central ecological ode of American poetry, “The Song of the Turkey Buzzard,” you will benefit greatly from seeing how much poetry can fit in a surprisingly small number of words.

On Memorial Day, I will once more contemplate and re-read the dead, especially Lew’s Ring of Bone, his collected works.

Yes, the dead are dead, and the dead are gone, but we’re still here. Let's make that count. My memorial to those gone yet recalled will be living and living well to honor the gift of this moment.

Hey, Lew, I got your feather!



Lew Welch

[I Saw Myself]


I saw myself
a ring of bone
in the clear stream
of all of it

and vowed,
always to be open to it
that all of it
might flow through

and then heard
“ring of bone” where
ring is what a

bell does

Eric Shaffer