Commentary: Armistice Day v Veterans Day, Fred Marchant


go little stream of words flow down from the misery work in and under the rubble around
us and find those who managed to come back alive relief starting to mingle with disgust
how it rises that disgust like bile how the heart starts to feel soft and puffy as a blister
about to burst how the self still dizzy has now turned into a screen gone snowy hissing
like the TV the way it used to after the news the flag and the anthem go on little stream
of words and whisper that your name still means that it is good enough to carry you over


come home to die among
the beech and the shadblow

            my native land–
            after you friend–
            I’m just here for


a looksee at where I got born
my hooked jaw, orange flesh

            now flaking off
            run its course on
            these rocks here


this pool where the water feels right
the sun-angles, bear-shadows, old

            water-smooth stones
            where the afterlife–
            if so–just might–be


            faith in ruins no
                                                                                                recognizable form
            no platform just
                                                                                                floats near a dock
            the bending eddy
                                                                                                in the green pond
            pollen dusting
                                                                                                and spawn under 

            a long-legged
                                                                                                strider walking
            on water step
                                                                                                by delicate step

Armistice Day v Veterans Day Thoughts

We all that know that the power to name something is to some extent the power to define the boundaries of meaning for the thing named. Words matter. They carry with them a charge of meaning that is always to some extent explicit and to some other significant extent just below the surface.

What is an armistice? It is the decision among warring parties to stop killing each other. As a word and as a concept it is not necessarily limited to the specific armistice that ended World War I. As has been argued by Veterans for Peace and other groups over the last few years, a celebration of the concept of armistice itself would be an inclusive affirmation of peace, and the decency and greater human possibilities that peace fosters. November 11 could be an Armistice Day in that sense.

Moreover, the idea of turning November 11 into a day in which one affirms peace does not mean we forget veterans. A veteran is someone who has been a soldier. A veteran is someone who has come home from the war. To rename Veterans Day as Armistice Day would not be to turn away from veterans and their needs. An Armistice Day celebration in honor of the end of every war would acknowledge the meaning of their service to others. For who but the veteran knows more what it means when the killing stops? Who else knows more about the lives that have been lost in the wars that we have fought?

Fred Marchant
Arlington, MA
November 1, 2019

Fred Marchant is the author of, most recently, Said Not Said (2017), a Massachusetts Book Awards “Honored Book”. Earlier books include The Looking House, Full Moon Boat, and House on Water, House in Air. His first book,Tipping Point, won the 1993 Washington Prize. Marchant has translated Vietnamese poets Tran Dang Khoa and Vo Que, and edited Another World Instead: The Early Poems of William Stafford, featuring Stafford’s writing as a  World War II  conscientious objector. In 1970, while serving on Okinawa during the Vietnam War, Marchant himself was one of the first officers to be honorably discharged from the United States Marine Corps as a conscientious objector. An emeritus professor of English, he is the founding director of the Suffolk University Poetry Center in Boston. He has won the May Sarton Award from the New England Poetry Club, given to poets “whose work is an inspiration to other writers.”