(24 November 1993) after Henry Holcomb Bennett
As a boy scout, I learned to care for them, how to fold them into triangles, never letting them touch the ground, tucking the last flap neatly into the fold. Each deference was a consideration like knocking on wood or blessing a sneeze learned more from my mother’s superstitions than from my father’s military discipline. Although it seemed a little silly, no harm could be done in each curious observance. The more ceremonial etiquettes didn’t appeal to me; I could never remember whether, hung flat, the field of stars should be displayed on the left or on the right. And as for the proscribed disposal— I couldn’t bear to burn one, even when moth-eaten, torn, or stained— even with only 48 stars to mark a crest of imperial expansion that caused both pride and pain— destroyer of peoples, defender of principles. During high school, with a room of my own, I flagrantly hung a flag over a closet door; I appreciated its bright colors. I covered my night stand with a flag, a kind of sacred cloth, and, on it, my collection of dusty things, a candle on the lid of my Circus peanut can, an altar for my writing and my books. After college, moving from place to place, I folded them neatly into triangles and modestly laid them in a cardboard box that I opened, year after year, in garage after garage, only to remember the smell of the past burning slowly, the white stripes and stars turning brown, the hope, the pride, glory, honor, blindness, cruelty, hatred, shame, ready to be unfolded, but laid aside, and I, their quiet keeper.