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Signs of the Times

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I. Hymn 6-6-6

a rondeau

Hymn 6-6-6 on high display—
The devil’s number where we pray
Before the Lord—is that a thing?
Is Jesus Christ no longer King?
Must Satan now be met halfway?

It’s never been more than today
That “all like sheep have gone astray”
And shepherds lead their flocks to sing
Hymn 6-6-6.

The church shows all its deep decay
As blindly all the sheep obey
Their wolflike herders’ Hellward swing
Away from God’s protective Wing
And all the church musicians play
Hymn 6-6-6.

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Poet’s note: “All like sheep, etc.:” Isaiah 53:6

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II. The Tattered Flag

a pantoum

The flag goes flapping in the breeze
Its thirteen threadbare strips with fringe,
Degenerating in disease—
The very vision makes me cringe!

Its thirteen threadbare strips with fringe,
The union is in disarray—
The very vision makes me cringe!
Have they no shame in this display?

The union is in disarray—
Fifty unraveling stars of white.
Have they no shame in this display?
Old Glory’s now a dismal sight!

Fifty unraveling stars of white,
Degenerating in disease—
Old Glory’s now a dismal sight
As it goes flapping in the breeze.

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Poet’s note: Union: the rectangle containing 50 stars on an American flag, symbolizing national unity.

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Signs of a Broken Home

“The bigger the issue, the smaller you write.
Remember that.  You don’t write about the
horrors of war.  No.  You write about a kid’s
burnt socks lying on the road.” —Richard Price

At the foot of the dumpster lay signs on the ground,
But I wonder why these were there lying around.

I would never have guessed that there someone had laid
The sign: “Home is where all the best memories are made.”

And a heartbreaking counterpoint next to it lay:
“We create our tomorrow by dreaming today.”

There are people who write of the horrors of war,
But a child’s burnt socks on a road will say more.

At the foot of the dumpster lay signs on the ground,
But I wonder why these were there lying around.

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Joshua C. Frank works in the field of statistics and lives near Austin, Texas. His poetry has also been published in the Asahi Haikuist Network.


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27 Responses

  1. Russel Winick

    Fine work Joshua – all three. “Signs of a Broken Home” is haunting and special.

    Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Russel. I also found those same signs haunting; that’s why I had to write about them.

      Reply
  2. Roy Eugene Peterson

    All three poems are poignant portrayals of our deteriorating religious, patriotic and social scenes. Church congregations have certainly lost their way with leadership gone astray. Our flag as symbol of our country certainly deserves a better fate. Meanwhile, truth, justice, and freedom are like the burnt socks, as those of us who wore them are left to languish by the trash bins!

    Reply
  3. Brian A Yapko

    Each of these poems individually is very special, Josh, but they are even more compelling as a set. You’ve crafted a trio of poetic angst concerning the state of churches, patriotism, societal collapse. It is wonderful how you were able to take these real-world photographs (your own, I believe?) and use them as the springboard for some very strong and poignant observations. Hymn 666 is particularly chilling to me, in part because of the image and in part because you’ve used a rondeau form in a truly original way. You offer a nod to a traditional form but pull it in a new highly critical direction and the actual use of numbers rather than words gives it a real punch that would have been missing had you written out Hymn Six-six-six. Great work!

    Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Brian! Yes, these are my photographs. The church is where I used to go every Sunday in California before I moved to Texas, and the dumpster is within walking distance of my house. Had I not been in the car at the time, I would have been able to get a picture of the flag as well. I kept the numbers because that’s how it was shown on the hymn board, and I added hyphens to make it clear how to read it (“six six six” as opposed to “six hundred and sixty-six”); I’m glad you like the effect.

      This use of the rondeau form isn’t really anything new; you may recall John McCrae’s anti-war rondeau “In Flanders Fields,” the most famous English-language rondeau.

      Reply
  4. Norma Pain

    Joshua, your three poems under ‘Signs of the Times’, are very chilling, especially “Hymm 6-6-6”. I enjoyed all of them. If only they didn’t need to be written. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Norma. I, too, would greatly prefer that these—indeed, most of my poems—didn’t need to be written. But these things do have to be pointed out to the world, and so I keep writing them.

      Reply
  5. Margaret Coats

    Josh, I’m glad to see you got competent poems out of these subjects. The fact that you see the signs can be troublesome when it means people have lost competence in dealing with significant issues. Hotels don’t have 13th floors because they are competent enough not to worry superstitions guests. I will call out the Benedictine monks of Collegeville, Minnesota, for publishing the Collegeville Hymnal (1990) with Latin Mass VIII (the Mass of the Angels, most popular of Latin Masses) at #666. We occasionally use it, but just tell singers who don’t have it memorized that Mass VIII is “the very last thing in the hymnal.” Collegeville does have more Latin than most hymnals, but something was wrong with the mischievous monk who let the 666 numbering pass. More troublesome is that Americans no longer learn to burn or bury flags in bad repair. Properly retiring them takes more trouble than throwing them in the trash. As for the “happy home” signs, there are too many of them around to worry about some being discarded. My neighbors have even gotten rid of dated BLM signs!

    Reply
    • Monika Cooper

      That must have been the hymnal in use in our old church. Someone had torn off the corner with the numbers in one copy. In another copy, someone had amended the number to 777!

      Also weird (and possibly non-coincidental) is that the Feast of the Sacred Heart is on page 666 in the LOTH prayer book.

      Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Margaret. I find it galling that many people, even Christians, have more trouble with the number 13 than the number 666. No Christian church would display a swastika within its walls, because it symbolizes the Nazi Party (in fact, it was adopted by the Nazis because it was originally an eastern symbol of good luck). Yet Satan is the source of all evil, and “Christians” are happy to display his symbol. Meanwhile, as you point out, Americans no longer learn the rules for respectful disposal of worn flags—and it’s especially important for Americans because our national flag has so many seams. (I rarely see that degree of wear on Texas flags, for example.)

      When I saw those happy-home signs by the dumpster, my first thought was the quote I ended up using as the epigraph. I wondered what happened to make someone throw them away and knew it couldn’t have been good.

      Reply
  6. Joseph S. Salemi

    All these poems show excellent workmanship, and an acute perception of the very visible ways in which our real-world situation is deteriorating. The decay of religion, patriotism, and domesticity is neatly represented.

    If it weren’t for its apocalyptic resonances, the number 666 in a hymnal would be of no significance. I agree with Margaret — it was some snotty little Vatican-II monk at Collegeville who deliberately arranged that enumeration out of malice.

    As for a torn and worn out flag, it certainly should be disposed of with respect. Note, however, that a flag which has been ripped and shot in battle has a powerful emotional value for Americans, and our national anthem speaks of such a flag over Fort McHenry.

    Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Joe. That you consider these “excellent workmanship” means a lot.

      A flag ripped and shot in battle is a very different thing from a flag worn and torn through neglect. It says a lot that our country has gone from the one to the other in two hundred years (“The Star-Spangled Banner” was about the War of 1812), and that our national anthem is now only heard at baseball games, and even then, only as an instrumental recording.

      Still, despite everything that’s wrong with the country today, I always stop if I’m walking, remove my hat if I’m wearing one, put my right hand over my heart, and bow my head for the duration of the anthem.

      Reply
  7. Monika Cooper

    Powerful poems with passion behind them.

    “The Tattered Flag” is eerie to me because I’ve been pondering similar images and even written about them. I have two American flag lunes (similar to haiku but with a 5/3/5 syllable count) with parallels to your poem. If you’d like to read them, let me know in a comment (here or on my poems next door) and I’ll post them in reply.

    Really all three of these are eerie . . .

    Reply
    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Please post them, Ms Cooper. Why not here? I’d like to see more of your work.

      Reply
      • Monika Cooper

        1.

        the stars of the flag
        drift away —
        fireflies pulsing comms

        2.

        our punished flag hangs
        from a fence
        gaps between the stripes

      • Monika Cooper

        Thank you for your interest in my work! If any one is wondering why the lowercase letters, see Brian Yapko’s “How To Write Contemporary Poetry.” In short, they seem to suit the form.

    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Monika.

      Texas flies many American flags (and Texas flags alongside them), but isn’t always the best about replacing them when they’re worn. I found it heartbreaking to see one so worn; I saw it as a metaphor for “the republic for which it stands”—certainly no longer “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

      I like your flag lunes! I think it would be a great idea to write some other flag poems and submit these to Evan along with them.

      Reply
      • Monika Cooper

        I thought with your flag poem that we might be neighbors looking at some of the same scenes but I’m far from Texas now. Maybe the tattered flag is a national phenomenon these days. Glad you liked the lunes.

  8. Julian D. Woodruff

    Very clearly observed, Joshua. The ruins observed by W. Percy in the 60s, 70s, and 80s are very much on the increase, and love, as the word can be taken seriously, correspondingly less so.

    Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Julian. Who is W. Percy? I looked him up, but the results showed nothing like your description.

      Reply
  9. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Josh, the rondeau and pantoum are up there with my favorite forms, and you have used them to powerful ends to convey messages that will resonate with many today. All three poems use repetition to excellent effect. The poems work beautifully alone, but together they pack a potent punch in highlighting the decline of all our culture once stood for… love of God, love of our homeland, and love and respect for the family are all in their dying throes. Your poems say this with flair and a wistful passion I hope is contagious. Now is our time to stand up and speak out, before all we hold dear is lost… and you have spoken out with poetic aplomb! Thank you and well done!

    Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Susan! I’m always happy to see your comments. I hope these poems do resonate with many people.

      You’ve summarized perfectly why I had to write these: “the decline of all our culture once stood for… love of God, love of our homeland, and love and respect for the family are all in their dying throes.” I find it hard not to envy countries where this is not the case. Without these key ingredients, a country is itself in its dying throes. Watching one’s country die is like watching a loved one die a slow, painful death.

      Reply
  10. Patricia Allred

    Awesome writes, Joshua. The 666 was my favorite…
    Many are blind in our society as to the issues you address. Which saddens me. It’s as if they were blind? Sin is du jour right now,
    But then, it has been since m@n began. And there is no country without sin.
    False prophets are still adored, even though their followers celebrate the death of any member of the Judeao Christian culture. They pay their holy followers to kill us. They celebrated 9/11 and all the feats,AOC, would not face up to who it it,
    “ somebody did something to someone!”Know your enemy, Joshua,
    Patricia

    Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Patricia. We speak of their blindness as if they were all innocent victims of circumstance. In reality, many have deliberately blinded themselves.

      False prophets are adored because they flatter the passions and encourage people to follow their lusts. True prophets are hated because they say, like Jesus, to deny yourself, pick up your cross every day of your life, and follow Him. Many people these days will believe literally anything rather than deny themselves in the slightest.

      Reply
  11. Janice Canerdy

    These skillfully-written poems are indeed descriptive of the signs of the times,
    when not just the flag described is tattered, but the unity of the land in which it waves.

    Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Janice. When I saw that flag, I had the exact thought you had, hence the poem.

      Reply

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