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The Lowering

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The flag is folded
lengthwise, and lengthwise again,
folding toward the open edge,
so that the union of stars on the blue
field remains outward in full view;
a triangular folding is then begun
at the striped end,
by bringing the corner of the folded edge
to the open edge;
the outer point, turned inward along the open edge,
forms the next triangular fold:
the folding continued so, until the end is reached,
the final corner tucked between
the folds of the blue union,
the form of the folded flag is found to resemble that
of a 3-cornered pouch, or thick cocked hat.

Take this flag, John Glenn, instead of a friend;
instead of a brother, Edward Kennedy, take this flag;
instead of a father, Joe Kennedy, take this flag;
this flag instead of a husband, Ethel Kennedy, take this flag;
this 9-times-folded red-white-striped, star-spotted-blue flag,
tucked and pocketed neatly,
Nation, instead of a leader, take this folded flag.
Robert Kennedy, coffin without coverlet,
beside this hole in the grass,
beside your brother, John Kennedy,
in the grass,
take, instead of a country,
this folded flag;
Robert Kennedy, take this
hole in the grass.

Notes:
Arlington Cemetery
June 8, 1968
May Swenson, “The Lowering” from New and Selected Things Taking Place (Boston: Atlantic/Little Brown, 1978). Copyright © 1978 by May Swenson. Reprinted with the permission of The Literary Estate of May Swenson.
Source: New and Selected Things Taking Place (Little Brown and Company, 1978)
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The Lowering

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