Elegy for a Wounded Summer

The summer began with such promise. Where did it go? And what hope can we see in the future?

COMMENTARY

The following poem grew out of a wistful sense that the summer of 2021 has been burdened by so many sad or disturbing events in the United States and the world. The elegy is both for summer, with its wounded innocence, and for the sorry—but perhaps redeemable—state of the world. The poem was written before the tragic deaths of 13 brave US service members in Afghanistan, to whom the poem is dedicated.

Elegy for a Wounded Summer

Summer came tangled in hope and plague.

June brought respite from viral death,

brought back life to the cafes and theaters, our breath

coming easy for the first time in months. Yet a vague

unease swept over us like the wake

of some ghost ship lost at sea, its breadth

so great we couldn’t swim free, or gauge our depth,

or fathom what course to take.


July brought east a bleak procession of storms.

Out west, wind-whipped wildfire

torched the parched earth.

In early August, we heard auguries and warnings,

portents and prophecies of earthly doom.

The planet, we were told, is burning up. Fumes

from the California fires reached us each morning,

clouding the eastern sky. And the Taliban, swarming

from Kandahar and Lashkar Gah, loomed

like an ancient plague.


By mid-August, the Delta strain had sliced

through the hapless, unvaccinated poor,

the neglectful or misinformed; the easily sacrificed.

We heard auguries and warnings, advice

to prepare for another insurrection, to secure

the Capitol from another mob. We heard obscure

rumors, portents and prophecies.


A house divided against itself cannot stand,

Lincoln and the gospel once proclaimed.

We struggled through restless nights,

wondering where to cast our blame.


Late August, and summer’s ebb. Haiti suffered earthquake,

then torrential rain, burying houses in rivers of mud.

Some say the world will end in fire, some say in flood.

I say, in ignorance that buries us in our own mistakes.

Kabul fell without a fight. The thousands we’ll forsake

will haunt us in our sleep, their blood

a widening stain upon our nationhood,

Our betrayal their only wake.


Soon, the leaves will turn against unfaithful summer,

and vagrant geese will make their southern flight.

June will be a ghostly memory of yearning and pain.

Then let us keep faith with one another

in a world of broken vows and encroaching night,

and hope for healing summer to come around again.

Dr Pies is professor emeritus of psychiatry and lecturer on bioethics and humanities, SUNY Upstate Medical University; clinical professor of psychiatry, Tufts University School of Medicine; and Editor in Chief emeritus of Psychiatric TimesTM (2007-2010). He is the author of The Levtov Trilogy and Just Take it One Miserable Day at a Time.