Volume 31, Number 1

Blood-Red Dreams

O lang, lang may the maidens sit
With their gold combs in their hair,
All waiting for their own dear loves,
For them they'll see nae mair.

—“The Ballad of Sir Patrick Spens”

An email said someone named Salvatore
from our high school has his name on
the Vietnam Veterans’ Wall, a man just
twenty on his ‘incident date.’ I wondered

if he was the son of my old barber Salvy,
who, before I left for college, offered to sell
me a blue Corvette, the car of my dreams,
mumbling, ‘My boy’s over in Viet Nam.’

The email linked a song about the wall,
where mourners left teddy bears and school rings,
and I thought of the old ballad of a king,
safe in his castle drinking his blood-red wine,

who sends his sailors out on the winter seas.
When their ship founders, they try to stanch
the leaks with their silken cloth, but soon
they’re bobbing among their hats and beds.

What a strange salve a song is, I thought,
to anchor the details of sorrow, rings
and hats and golden combs, for a few
minutes in the bright flow of now.

So let Salvy’s boy come home on a spring day,
savor the sight of his ocean-blue Corvette,
jump in, gun it a few times, then pick up
his girlfriend, and let them go out just for joy,

with Sal tapping his fingers to the machine-gun
beat of an anthem for the young, while his love’s
honey-brown hair and silken scarf flutter in the wind
like banners of delight. Let him live past twenty.

—James Schneider