Poetry Feature: Abe & Jack, Milt, Moe, Dave…

May 2, 2020

The Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Photo Richard Bermack.

Abe & Jack, Milt, Moe, Dave…


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

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 published six volumes of poetry and many books of history, memoir, and non-fiction. His most recent collections of poetry are Something is Bound to Break (Main Street Rag, 2019), An Elegy for Lovers (Main Street Rag, 2017) and The Truth Lies on Earth (Turning Point, 2017). Earlier collections include Fracking Dakota: Poems for a Wounded Land (Turning Point Press, 2015) and A Child Turns Back to Wave: Poetry of Lost Places (Hollywood, CA: The Poetry Press, 2012), which won the Prize Americana from the Institute for the Study of American Popular Culture.