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poetry Abe & Jack, Milt, Moe, Dave...

Marking re-dedication of the San Francisco monument to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade on Saturday 9/12/20, poet Peter Neil Carroll reflects on his friendship with the US veterans who fought fascism in the Spanish Civil War.

Abe & Jack, Milt, Moe, Dave…

By Peter Neil Carroll

They were not my family. They distrusted

strangers. I could only approach them slowly,

these Americans who had volunteered

to fight fascists in the Spanish Civil War.

They lost, bad guys won—they bore failure 

like primal sin or first love that comes and

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goes, never leaves. In their homes they kept

fetishes—Guernica prints, Spanish brandy.

Their loyalties were born of danger and death.

They invited me not eagerly, but lacking

choice, if they wished to outlive themselves. 

Each craved to be last of the Lincoln Brigade.

I became expert at funerals and obituaries. Death

beds I avoided but sometimes compassion exceeded

common sense. I cared for them, for Abe & Jack,

Milt, Moe, Dave, Eddie, Marian, the three Bills.

I miss them. They were history, they were legend.

Their example led me to enter intimately into life’s

calamities—to seek a role, a small role, or merely

the hope of a role—to speak against injustice.

Not victory but the promise amplified their cause,

living with purpose. Without their voices now,

it takes arrogance for me to claim a historic role,

though silence means insignificance, defeat.

Peter Neil Carroll has written widely about the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, including poetry in his sixth collection: Something is Bound to Break (Main Street Rag). He is also the author of The Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade: Americans in the Spanish Civil War (Stanford).