Poetry by Philip M. Williams

Appomattox StatueThe Muse:   K M
APPOMATTOX Old Town, Alexandria
A single Confederate soldier standing. Inscribed below:
"They died in the consciousness of duty faithfully performed."

> Read the author's explanation of the concept for the poem

Acela Express

Noble man, upon your plinth emplaced,
Duty discharged, Alexandria’s pride,
Mourning at this cross-road shames no race.
The brave respect the brave, no mind their side.
You stand at ease, in form a soldier true.
You are the song, " When Johnny comes marching home
Again! Hurrah!" Both sang : The Grey. The Blue.
Oh honored sir, no longer free to roam,
For now, great trucks drum by, and cars resound
A mort, for you the dead. Brake lights blink red.
Please praise our boys on both side's guarded round.
Alas! In faithful performance of duty they bled.
The soils of Appomattox serve their fact:
In death our bones run white, our blood runs black.

Pass along Prince Street.
It intersects South Washington.
Tread the ancient bricks, and meet
Those many varnished building fronts.

Robust they are from loving care.
Built long before the Civil War,
As fine a street as anywhere,
Elegant in sweet repair.

Arriving at the Metro Line
We see upon the grassy bank
Hectic clouds of tulips fine,
Yellow, blue, and brilliant red.

These gorgeous friends of early spring
All wave and bow, and curtsey too,
For truly gentle love they bring.
Blooms bend and sway with every breeze.

Step aboard the Metro train
Where passengers enwrap their thoughts
Within the wackity long refrain
Of linked and noisy railway cars.


Oh great and crowded gathering place,
Off we stream to Union Station.
All bump and run and josh apace.
For North and South and East and West.

Take a train to Boston. Dash
Right aboard Acela Express.
Depart the Union. Super fast!
Stainless steel! It is the best!

For shame! Those run-down rickety rails,
Rusty switches, rickety bridges,
Shabby stations, screwed up trackway.
Forsooth, there's nothing good no more.

Crawl, thou train, your way from town.
Speed up somewhat, but creep again
And ease around a curve. Slow down
For sure, to cross that worn out span.

Since eighteen sixty three, our land
Has no blown bridge, nor trashed rails.
Distant is war's wrath of man.
Our superficial peace prevails.

Relax aboard this ten car train
Where time obeys relativity's warp
From speed outside, to rest obtained,
So thus we may our souls unwrap.

When youth takes in the passing scene,
The view outside, an active stream
Aboard becomes a passive dream.
Are souls within not what they seem?

The greatest charm of nascent youth
Is their ever curious strain.
They ask and ask. They search for truth.
What part of truth does youth retain,

If, passing through the buffet car,
They light upon a single chair
Wherein there sits a stranger rare,
Gone in thought, with lonely stare?

"Why sittest thou there,
Funny man, Funny man?
Why starest thou there?"

"I look for love.
For love I look."

"Where lookest thou for love,
Funny man, Funny man?"

Only youngsters pass their time
Asking him the curious "why?"
To probe the world, the waking mind
Seeks for answers, strives to try.

"In the attic,
When I was a boy."

"And in the attic?
In the attic?"

"Superman! DC Comics.
I'd sneak up and read."

"And in the Comics?
In the Comics?"

"His creed:
Truth, Justice, and
The American Way."

"Why hide and go seek
Truth, Justice,and
The American Way?"

"I love my country."

"These buildings we pass
Are all run down, Funny man,
Funny man. All run down.
Best close your eyes."

"I see the graffiti, the graffiti.
I see the broken windows,
The broken windows.
I see the fallen brickwork,
The fallen brickwork."

"Then why search for love?"

"I joined the Reserves,
The MP's.
I love my country"

"So that is it?
Why you joined ,
Funny man, Funny man?"

"To serve Truth, Justice,
The American Way."

"These junk yards we pass
Have broken cars, Funny man,
Funny man. Lots of trash.
Best close your eyes."

"I dare not.
I dare not."

"You look old, Funny man,
Funny man. Look old."
"I'm not old, not old.
I'm an Apprentice."

"What kind,
Funny man, Funny man?
What kind, what kind?

"The Torturer's Apprentice,
Torturer's Apprentice."

"What do you see, funny man?
What do you see?"

"I can not say.
I can not say."

"Who are you, Funny man?
Who are you?"

How the young interrogate,
Powerless to deviate.

"I'm Soldier Boy."

"I must leave you now,
Soldier Boy.
Leave you now."

"Okay. All right."

"I'll return later,
Soldier Boy."

"Okay. All right."


The great New Jersey marsh is just
In sight. Baltimore is long
Past gone. The "Philly!" call is left
Behind. The marsh is now our song.

Fast driving rain does beat down hard
The new green shoots to flat defeat.
Within the warm and comfy car
It's hard to think that's where we are.

Dappled sunlight is replaced
With earthy tones of black and brown.
We plug along in solemn pace
Riding on a man made dike.

The long enduring salty bog
Embraces well its lonely hills,
Yet grants our train its leave to slog
Past roadways wandering aimlessly.

Tracks weigh the marsh relentlessly.
This wild and natural landscape drear
Is pierced with poles hung drunkenly
With misconstructed 'lectric wires.

Soldier Boy, within his chair,
Can't help but think of skinny wires
Hard clipped upon wet bodies bare,
Of tortured human victims rare.

"Soldier Boy, Soldier Boy.
Those tears running down,
Are those tears?"

"It's the rain outside.
It's the rain."

"Why tears, Soldier Boy?
Why tears?"

"We'd wire them up
And hose them down,
Hose them down."

"Why hose them down?
Why hose them down?"

"Wash off the filth.
To wash the filth."

"Why wash the filth?
Why wash it?"

"Its only justice.
Simple justice."

"We'd hear their moans
And curse them roundly,
Curse them roundly."

"Why curse them roundly,
Curse them roundly?"

"They made us evil.
Made us evil."

"How make you evil? "

"We'd blindfold them first,
Blindfold them first.
Then stand them
naked on a pail.
We'd wire them up
And 'lectrify,
And hose them down,
Hose their naked bodies down."

"That's how they made us evil.
That's how they made us."

"Why stand them on a pail?
Why stand them on a pail?
Why wire them up?
Why wire them up?
Why 'lectrify?
Why blindfold them?
Why blindfold them?"

"To seek from them the truth.
We need to know.
Need to Know."

"What Need to Know?
Why Need to Know?"

"Don't know.
Ask the Vice President.
I get confused."


"He came.
They said He would...
The Grand Man Himself."

"The Vice President of the
United States? You must
Be very important."

"Very Important.
Enhanced Interrogation
Preserves his Way Of Life."

Enhanced Interrogation?"

"He said it was a dirty job.
A trial to be done.
He praised us."


"It preserves our Way
Of Life."

"Our Way Of Life?"

"No. His Way Of Life.
We're too small for a
Way Of Life."

"Oh.. Are you sure
It was Him?"

A proper fete for Him.
The Grand Inquisitor.
Full of pep.
No tall pointed hat."

"How dressed up?
How dressed up?"

"A kind of fancy flack jacket.
The Gold braid and medals,
They saluted him.
All clean clothes.
Pressed and starched.
No tall pointed hat."

"You were there?"

"In the back."

"Why were you there?

"We were his Apprentices.

"His Apprentices?"

"He addressed us.
We did his work.
He thanked us."


"We preserved
His Way of Life,"

"What's Enhanced Interrogation?"

"We'd 'lectrify,
Then hose them down.
No blood.
No fecal matter.
And therefore;
No torture."


"Extracting information. "

"What information?"

"No need to know, he said.
"No Need to Know."

"Why hose their
Naked bodies down?
Why hose them down?"

"We purify them.
Endless washing.
Endless washing."

"What's fecal matter?"

"Number one,
Number two."


"I gotta leave you now,
Soldier Boy."

"Okay. All right."
" It's New York.
I promised
I'd be in my seat,
In my seat."

"Okay. All right."

"I'll be back,
Soldier Boy,
My Soldier Boy.
I'm going to Boston ! "


Slowly, slowly crawls the train
Into the ground beneath the marsh,
As fetid water fills the drain
And circles pathways to the sump.

Acela enters New York's depths.
Below the Hudson, tunneling straight,
It gracefully sways, and grinds to its rest.
Laden with force and ponderous weight.

Seated alone in buffet car,
Now changing crowd that jams the isle,
Recalls to him that jail placed far,
That V. P. feast, Abu Ghraib.

He sat behind the FBI,
The CIA, who smirked and chirped,
And boldly cawed the black crow cry.
Completely un-awed of proper respect.

"Haw! Haw! Haw! The chief's some rube!
Torture gives us nothing true.
Useless intel. Dumb and crude,
Ignore the cries of them burnt guys!"

"The coward's way", he heard them say.
To hurt and hurt for nothing new.
Filled with fear, no true way,
They mask their fear and make like brave."

He started up, full of strife.
"Damme their eyes! Punch them out!
"Our good cause! We're in the right!
"Truth and justice is our fight!"

And yet, and yet. The feast's no cure.
What if deceit? A lie, a lie?
Gold braid and medals, they'er so sure.
What if our leaders are impure?

What? find out. Why? find out.
Record their words? Record their moans?
What th'heck is that about?
We know we know, and yet we don't.

Our leaders dread not knowing the known?
Tortured they are, by future fear?
Classic fear? The future's unknown?
Make us pay to show up brave?

Pulled down by his fellows, and brought to the light.
"We work in the dark. They do not know right.
"We have our good duty. Its not in their sight.
"We follow the orders. Our captains' delight."

What is he now? Where does he go?
What does he do? Hearing the haw! haw!
Stymied! Stuck in his seat. Swung to and fro.
The food makes him quake. He barfs on the plate.

They push him aside. Call him drunk.
Shame to the unit. Get out you skunk!
Spilled on his blouse. Left in a funk.
Drips on his chin. Darkness all rowdy.

Lost! Lost! Wandering moon.
Gone! Gone! Ennobling dream.
Spin! Spin! Encompassing room.
Drained! Drained! High end and purpose


Acela glides softly under that Mall
Genteel Park Ave, gracious reign.
Reverently hauling, bowing to all.
Unseen above, unnoticed below.

"Soldier Boy, Soldier Boy,
Thy head has drooped down."

"I'm all right. I'm okay"

"Thy head is low."

"I'm all right. I'm okay"

"Why so low,
Soldier Boy,
My Soldier Boy?"

"I had a dream.
Not good."

He recalled again those
Dooming words.

"The intel we get is all no good.
Far less than truth! Real empty noise!
This mindless search is worse than the 'hood.
The torture is crap! Those filthy boys."

"Why so sad, Soldier Boy,
My Soldier Boy?"

"We wash down the feces.
We wash down the blood.
We wash their naked bodies down."

"Does not sound good,
Soldier Boy."

"They are the pure.
I was different that night."

How changed, Soldier Boy?"

"I was the filth.
I stopped changing my clothes."

"I let my urine dry on my clothes.
I let my feces stiffen my clothes.
No longer I shaved.
No longer I washed."

"Oh my! Soldier Boy.
Oh my!"

"I performed all my duty
Dressed in my filth."

"What did they do?
Soldier Boy, those
Well dressed men?"

"They did not notice.
I work in the dark.
I like my smell.
The smell is so stark."

"From school, I walked home
Soldier Boy, my Soldier Boy.
Not so long ago.
I needed to go, to go.
A long way from home."

"That is hard when
Cannot control."

"I was ashamed,
Soldier Boy.
I loaded my underthings.
Tears it did bring."

'It was an accident.
No need for tears."

"Were you, too, shamed,
Soldier Boy, my
Soldier Boy?"

"Ashamed of my duty.
My feces a comfort
While washing their naked
Bodies down."

For sure, his rosy malodorous scent
Came to the notice of brothers in trial.
Somehow, his goodness made them resent
Earthy grotesqueries he did present.

Off to the office he promptly was sent.
"You're foul and disgusting. Soldier! Stand up."
"Yes sir. My duty with faith I perform."
"Perform, Hell! You completely corrupt."

"Ten days in cell, will straighten you out.
Not so to question our proper command!.
When you feel sane, give us a shout."
"Sir: conscious of duty, in faith I perform."

"Soldier Boy,
What happened next?"

"I saluted the captain and pissed in my pants.
He smelled my smell, like a hound in the hunt.
The widening stain, it ranted his rants.
Apoplectic he grew, called for the guard.

"Oh Soldier Boy,
What did you do?"

"I sat in the cell.
Officers came.
Not fit for duty.
Psychologically damaged.
Awarded a section eight,
Or something."

"But you're here,
Soldier Boy, my
Soldier Boy."

"The VA they help me.
To Boston I ride the train.
The VA they help me.
To DC I ride the train."

Ascending up, First Class arrives.
Harlem! fabled suburb of jazz.
Sun drenched light brightens her skies.
Park Ave Bridge drops down her deck.

"Soldier Boy,
Where are we now?"

"The Harlem River,
The Harlem River."

"This bridge looks old,
Soldier Boy."

"Not so old."

"That rumbling noise:
Doom, Doom, Doom, Doom.
Does it bother you?"


"All that rust.
Is it safe?"

"Safe enough.
No one cares, much.
It's our
Way of Life."

Acela splits the urban decay
Of outside New York with burnished tracks.
Tenement tears, with hopes dismayed,
Forlorn factories, exhausted tracts.

Useless space, unkind to dreams.
Fly-passed storage, sprayed with art.
She glides along, in spiffy streams
Of connected pace, of moneyed grace.

Out of romance, flags do wave
On wasted ground. Medieval
Hill. A field of bunting brave
Displays to seers on the train.

Tournament tents of red and green
And yellow too. This grief filled view
Within the weeds, almost unseen,
Does tear the heart of those who dream.

"Soldier Boy,
What is that?"

"Shelter. Shelter
For the homeless."

"What is that, Soldier Boy,
What is that?"

"A camp.
A camp."

"What is it?
What is it?"

Relentless questions.
Restless youth.
They need to know.
Need to Know.

"It's pretty, Soldier Boy.
It's pretty."

"Lonely people.
They despair."

"How despair?
How despair?"

"Desperate eyes,
Desperate arms.
Desperate lives.
Desperate hair."


"I was there.

"What happened, Soldier Boy?
What happened?"

"They found me.
They saved me.
They got me out."

"Who got you out?"

"You cannot interrogate me
'bout that."

"Why not?"

"Don't know."

"Soldier Boy,
Soldier Boy,
Look at the highway
Running beside us."

"I see it.
I see it."

"Soldier Boy, Soldier Boy,
Why do all trucks run white,
All cars run black?"

"Don't know."

"Don't know why I cannot
Ask you that,
Or, don't know
Why all trucks run white?
All cars run black?"

"I see the cars, running
On the highway,
Beside us.
Some are white,
Some are blue,
Some are grey,
Some are red."

"Look, Soldier Boy, look.
That white is not white white.
That blue is not blue blue.
That red is not red.
The grey is not grey.
The cars mostly run black."

"Okay, All right.
The colors run dark.
It's the dirt I guess."

"Why do all trucks
Run white?"

"Not all trucks run white."

"But look, Soldier Boy,
That truck's stainless steel,
That's white.
That one has a picture,
But the truck is white.
That's an empty truck.
That's white."

"Okay, all right.
All trucks run white.
All cars run black."

Agree! Subject
Of Interrogation!
The Blue! The Grey!
The White! The Black!

"Soldier Boy,
Another camp."

"I see it."

"Are there people
iIn those homeless camps?
Are there people?"

"Lonely people.
Lots of lonely people."

"Where are the lonely people?
Lonely people?"

"Outside, scrounging."

"Do they like it in their camp?
Do they like bright colors?"

"The bright colors they like.
Independence in poverty.
Their Way of Life."


All along the Connecticut edge,
The rocky heights, the restless seas
Drift, to sea grown, secluded sedge
With silent coves and secret bays.

Revealing to the seated eye
A private life, unknown to all
Outside the track of the speeding ride.
Let curtain fall? Should we pry?

Open land. Forested hills.
Winding creeks. Winter boatyards.
Before they're seen, towns are filled
With the life of hoped for "Way".

"Soldier Boy,
Why do they save your seat?"

"Save my seat?"

"I watch them when you're gone.
They save your seat."

"How save my seat?
How save it?"

"They sit. They clean it."

"How clean it?"

"They wipe it down,
Your table too.
They sit, till you return."

"Why do they sit
And await me?"

"To save your seat.
No one can sit,
Till you return."


"Why do they save your seat?
Why do they save it?"

"Don't know."

"Did they save your seat in the camp?"

"They got me out.
They got me."

"Why get you out?

"Not safe, they said.
No torturer is safe."

"Why not safe?
Why not safe?"

"Don't know."

"Who said not safe?
Who said it?"

"The V.A.
They search the camps.
They search."

"Why do they search?
Why search?"

"To save us.
The wacky ones."

"Why save you?
Why save you?"

"Don't know."

"Don't know why they save you,
! Or,
Don't know why they search?"

"Don't know."

"Because they love you?
Because they love you?"

"Don't ask that."

"Why not?"

"I don't measure up.
They can't love me.
I don't measure up."

"But Soldier Boy,
My Soldier Boy."


"Why save your seat?
Why get you out?
If you don't measure up?"

"Don't know."

"They must love you,
Soldier Boy.
They must love you."

"They can't love me.
I'm, filth."

"But Soldier Boy,
You stopped."

"I did not stop.
I performed my duty.
I hurt and hurt
For pleasure of hurt.
I hurt and hurt
For nothing new"

"But Soldier Boy,
You turned.
Did you not turn?"

"A little bit.
I turned. I turned."

"They must love you.
A little bit.
They must."

"How can they
Love me?
How can they?
I'm filth. I'm filth."

"Don't know,
Soldier Boy.
Don't know.
They save your seat.
You cannot pay.
They say you paid."

"You saw that?
I think they're mistaken."

"All others they pay.
They say you paid.
I hear them. I hear them."

"They must love you
A little bit.
They must love you."


Approaching Boston, straight-line angle
Sets new track-way from the shore.
Leaping lines for trains newfangled
Express in speed a blurred extreme.

Does time itself rewrap the heart
In multi skins of surface steel?
Is time now spreading far apart,
So past and now do force repeal?

Just now, the truth the heart conceals
Becomes re-wrapped. Restless crowds
Pack 'em up. Stow ideals
In luggage smart. Fine hair arrayed.

We pause at Back Bay stop awhile.
Debarking few await the streaky
Sliding Acela's silky Express
To hear The Grand Inquisitor,

Who's proud to serve the material end.
Who's glad to brag the dirty side.
A message to the G I's send:
"There is no gain for loving ride."

"I'm leaving now, Soldier Boy.

"My parents are calling,
Soldier Boy, My Soldier Boy."

"Okay, all right."

"I'll never forget you,
Soldier Boy. You are My
Soldier Boy, Soldier Boy,".

"Okay. All right."

Standing on the Back Bay platform,
Waiting for the shrouded streak
To chase its date at Boston Station,
One child waves at passing windows.

"Love you, Soldier Boy. Love you.
I'll remember, Soldier Boy.
"I'll not forget. I love you
Soldier Boy. Not to forget."

Standing on the Back Bay Platform,
Watching all the dust and debris,
Caught in vortex, grunge unformed,
Young heart waves to smiling past.


Parade along down Dartmouth Street
From the Back Bay station height.
Pause before the BPL.
Engage the near-by Richardson site.

Copley Square, framed post the War,
With our country now united,
These new buildings, builders saw,
Expressed the healing to our lives.

Library, source of knowledge deep,
Stores the past for literate crowds.
Trinity Church, in faith to keep,
Greets face to face with liturgy.

Serene Renaissance, its face well grounded
Upon the earth, does gravely gaze
At dancing arches, turrets rounded,
Spires all reaching Heaven's delight.

Known all known, guarded firmly
Does not itself insure all good.
Choirs of angels singing sweetly,
Vibrate hearts in Romanesque wood.

The street's warm bricks, enrolled in walks,
Echo on abutting structures.
Inner etudes, well tuned talks,
Reserved thoughts. No caprice here.

Let monied wealth, preserved and hidden,
Descend upon the finest way
In all of Boston. Fame unbidden
Sweeps the streets of broad Comm Ave.

Central isle with columned trees,
Welcomes us each with equal grace.
Rich or poor, or age it frees
From need to own their garden keys.

Proud, egalitarian "Way"
Marks our path with effigies.
Granite, bronze, basalt portray
Noble figures. Boston's past.

Best of all, in early spring,
Slender magnolia's boughs do keep
A yearly need of life to bring
From buds so fair, blossoms rare.

Lonely beauty, brilliant sight,
Evanescent darts of fleeting love
In red and white. A tender flight
From sky to earth. Petals drifting

Soon lay down a silken trail
Of flowered blooms for all to tread.
The stodgy with us now sets sail
In romance free, on carpet frail.

Pause at Boston Public Garden.
Good George Washington rides his steed.
Blessing us with moral seed.
First to greet us, first to lead.

Flowers here are now his troops.
Beloved garden marks his realm.
Proud in rank, crown to roots.
Order colors! Tulips salute!

Mark the Swan Boats cleaving waters.
View the fleet from ornate bridge.
See the families pause and saunter.
Watch lovers curl on winding paths.

Cross the road to Boston Common
Where there, we see a world of play.
Free from trees that block the hillside.
Bathed in fun all ages stay.

Loving , leaping, joy in seeking
Tumbling ball, or shouting out.
Carefree chasing, frisbee tweaking,
Any odd thing, a game in glee.

March alone to hill's high summit.
Take pensive path, next Beacon Street,
Favored by the thoughtful crowd.
There, the marble structure meet.

Highest point. Honored site.
Next our Statehouse, golden domed.
Inscribed our men in black and white.
Graven letters, strong in names.

Inscribed below:

"Together they gave to the Nation and the World undying proof that Americans of African descent possessĀ  the pride, courage and devotion of the patriot soldier."

Shaw Memorial

In pride you soldiers march and march along.
All sing: " When Johnny comes marching home again!
Hurrah!" Each side sings that marching song
Of home, with hope and fame the bright refrain.
Sixty-three true men named "Fifty-Fourth"
Died, in backing their good Colonel Shaw.
Brothers in arms. entombed together perforce.
High praise to all when personal heroes fall.
For now great trucks drum by, and cars resound
A mort for you, the dead. Brake lights blink red.
Please praise our boys on both side's guarded round.
Alas! In faithful performance of duty they bled.
Oh love, immemorial life marks the path we tread.
Seeking truth, let's hope for glory ahead.

  List of Poems:

Songs of war

1. Song, on reading Hitchens' Good Time for War
2. Alexander

3. Acela Express
Birthday Songs
1. Birthday Girl
2. Travel

Stairs in and around Harvard College
1. Stadium Sonnet
2. Gund Hall Stairs
3. Harvard Coop Stairs (Tree of Knowledge)

Odd Songs
1. Piss Tish
2. Poison Ivy Blues
3. The Boston Room

Peace and Love
1. Sea of Love
2. Distant Moon
3. Anti Faustian Pact
4. It is an Honor

5. My Tin House
Old Age
1. To Jack
1. In Memoriam
2. The Judge


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