A. Conrad Neumann


 Why are soldiers’ helmets padded now?
 Why are they soft appearing?
 Is it to dispel fear rather than create it?
 Helmets of history had sharp horns,
 elaborate spikes.
 There were shallow helmets
 like inverted barbers’ bowls
 splattered with mud and blood
 that once lined trenches.
 There were helmets with flanges
 down the back to protect the neck
 from flying shrapnel shards.
 There were the smooth domes of the doughboys,
 row on row or huddled in foxholes,
 writing the next line of history.
 Now bayonets are sheathed,
 smart bombs prowl the night,
 while the helmets, padded, camouflaged,
 pass by guardedly in large vehicles
 or gather in muted groups,
 cautioning softly that they mean no harm,
 there is no need to fear.
 We are not killers.
 Go about your business
 as if we were not here.


 Acushnett, Woonsocket, Scituate,
 French and Indian footprints,
 fire pits and cellar holes,
 spring houses, stables,
 shipyards on cove fingers
 clawed by glacial ice,
 cranberries in marsh ponds,
 millworks and brickyards,
 looming factory skeletons
 once alive with slapping belts,
 and a din with iron and steam
 inherited the cityscape
 of New Bedford, Fall River, Pawtucket,
 and now are silent as computer chips.

 From the empty eyes of factories,
 a shift of pigeons pours,
 black flapping vees
 against the orange sky.
 Parkway postcards from the past
 shuffle in the mind’s eye,
 squinting into oncoming headlights,
 trail of tail lights,
 rectilinear skyline,
 bridge rails flicking by.
 The breath of things familiar
 in the hustle of the here and now
 tell me in irony
 I have at last,
 and at least,
 attained . . . Providence.