Malcolm M. Sedam Poetry Memorial: Between Wars

Between Wars

The following poem, “Declaration,” introduces Mr. Sedam’s first published collection titled Between Wars.


I believe
In fact I know it is so
That the time for acting has come
And I must play all of the parts;
Cast in this trauma of lines
The danger of saying too much
Yet I fear more
That silence or soliloquy
That deadens the soul,
So I grow more and less
Baptized with fire
Searching for a purpose
In pleasure and pain
Moving always toward the unknown —
I will be lover — poet — warrior —
Warmer — wiser — dead
But on this stage all truth is shown
And now I know why I was born
Neither too young nor too old
Just right for this war.

“Death Song” opens the main body of text in Mr. Sedam’s Between Wars.


The sun will shine in the sky forever . . .
   I emptied my guns while I bled —
The earth will grow new grass forever . . .
   I plunged to the ground in flames —
Mr. Fugi will rise from the plain forever . . .
   Let my bones rest on her side.


Watching the imperial call
Draining away his will
The thing I remember most:
The incredible blue of his eyes,
More than the blood-soaked shirt
More than the shell-torn isle
More than the greater war
In our last words:
“You’ll see a better day, “ I started;
He smiled and was gone.


How fantastic is war
But more the military mind,
That epitome of pride
That turns the Spartan mill
And grinds everything
Into a grey nothing . . .
Remembering how we looked
As a measureless mass
And knew we no longer existed.

(Years Later)

It was a long time ago
                      it seems
The gilded daisy of plane with props
The heights
And damned desire to live —
                        almost as if
The training tales were true
The stimulus of danger
The belonging
Flying for something greater —
                       It’s strange
The things you think about
God . . . Mt. Fugi
And Dave Sherrin
High wide and blown from his glory.


I stand arrayed
As if for one last flight
Giving everything
Even my thoughts
Of that spectacular place and time;
I saw a vision
Eternal as Fugi
Framed in the eyes of man
Then I remember
A swift and violent scene
A flaming plane
Disintegrating . . .
Against the perfect whiteness
I was forced to believe
That there were no gods.


Into eternity
The legend fell
As the Japanese morning
Disappeared into the hills,
With the look of eagles
Discovered ourselves skyward
Taught beyond our will —
In the advent of blood
We formed the incongruous ring
Of our childhood days,
We were the smallest things
Bare understandings
Circling a stranger god —
The old apprehension
Turned on the honor point,
Throttles forward
Our endurance
Shuddered under the weight —
Toward that unknown fastness
The sun lined our cry
With the last whisper of spring,
We were old at twenty-three —
It was a good day to die.


And it came to pass
In those days, that he returned
And they recognized him not
But thought he was a traveler
And inquired of his ways;
And said unto them:
“I am looking for Prester John,
There must be a Christian here somewhere.”


Trusting His promise:
Unto thy seed will I give this land;
I went on and on believing
That my descendants would be, many
Like the sands among the sea,
That He would make of me a great nation;
I sired a son when I was very old,
Proved I had magical powers
Perhaps so great I challenged even His,
For jealously He asked me for this son;
My will divined the purpose of the Rod,
No man would kill his son for any God,
And knowing well His promise I had blessed
I thought it time to put Him to a test —
And so with Isaac I traveled to that place
And took along a ram
Just in case . . .


When that burst of flak
Tore off your wing
And sent you spinning through the sky,
You looked just like a maple seed
Floating into the water
On a bright May day.

I’m sorry you were chosen
To remind me of Spring.

(For Keith Weyland)

Toward the strange white night
We thought of deliverance from the terror of choice,
The difference
The splendor of our scheme
We could not sleep and refuse tomorrow’s voice;
We thrust the unknown
With outstretched wings, a naked bond between
And then a distant light when we had come alive —
A flame burst over the harsh beauty of the sea
And Keith was gone.


Being of sound mind and body
(And quite tired of it all)
Do hereby give, devise and bequeath
To Adam and Eve and family
One restored garden
With a snake-proof fence.


When I die
Grant me the infinite peace which comes only
From thoroughly confounding my aggravators;
Mask me in a grin,
Then place me in an upright position
With my face pointing toward the East
And my hand extended with thumb at nose,
Respectfully of course,
And if perchance it is decreed
I took more from this world than I gave,
Display me . . . and charge admission.


I have walked the hills for years
And have never seen a burning bush
Though I have seen a few miracles,
So call me a pantheist if you will,
For I know it makes you feel better
To know that I believe in something;

You think that you hear the grass grow,
But Genesis and Spinoza told me nothing —
I saw it!  The mosquito drinking may blood,
The oriole weaving its basket nest,
And I rose from the reflective trees,
Lemming-like swimming in the sky,
Until I filtered into the plan
Of orderly defeat and exquisite show;

I breathed the thin pure air
And suffocated from the strange loneliness.


Once out of the Garden
Let us beguile ourselves
And dwell in simple things,
This liberation,
The tree beyond the knowledge
A pleasure in finding
The smallest caring
Swift brilliance
Run and flow
Where life came as it must
With a promise
Of rhythm in body and soul —
Bring forth the child
That we may have miracles
A poem again in our keeping
That from the earth grows immortal.


Who had never learned patience
Rose from the cloistered walls
Became the searchers
Creation born
Became the sufferers
Torn from the fact of the sun;
Would they believe
What you and I have known:
We dare and fell from grace
But we have flown.

(Painting an Easter Storm)

A crucified beam
Slants from the moon-gate
Over the drift of death

Blue . . . is water

The mist merges
A stormed excitement
With the low hills

Green . . . is land

The naked trees
Shed their limbs
In the wetted wood

Yellow . . . is light

New lines of urge
Rise to the call
Of the winds

Red . . . is life

Huge doors
Open the sky
To the returning sun

Clear . . . is time.


I have resolved my quarrel with the snake
And I will accept him a one of God’s creatures
But with the bit of a small boy that is left in me,
You may expect that I will from year to year,
Throw a few rocks in His direction.


I remember the first time I saw him
Walking along the life’s enormous weight,
His memory bore a mark troubled and dark
As if he had been punished by the Sun;
Out of the dread night, I heard him cry;
“Murderer, I am a murderer!”
But I knew not of theses words,
Only the sound of his loneliness
That his separation was death;
“Who are you?” he asked unknowing
That want had begotten me
“And where did you come from?”
And I could not answer him
But offered him my warmth —

Then silently along the earthly footpath
Creation’s ghost returned
Infinitely old, eternally new
Spawned from the myriad cells
That matched our difference,
And finally he closed his eyes
And saw the magic of existence

The woman that God had not explained;
At dawn
His affirmation turned from the bitter wind
And together we walked into a promised land
Where life gave unto life
And we were born.


Perhaps you will understand
Your place in the new order
Now that you realize
That we have created you
In our own image;

Let us say
That you were kicked upstairs
And there you all stay
Until we call upon you
To lead our bloody schemes.


Hear me now
All those who bow
The plight I will explain
It was like this:  In time
I stood against the wind
And called his name,
In faith he came
And in faith he fell
But he knew —
Only God was naive.

Proprietor and Sole owner

Originally we were a family concern
A monopoly of sorts
Dealers in asses and goats
And backed by the highest O. T. Agency;
Grandfather founded the firm own principles:
Never trust nobody, not even relatives
But father forgot and so did I
Lost out in a take-over bid
When Mother voted her stock;
You remember that brother of mine
The one with hairy schemes,
Went right up to the top
Until the crash caught up with him
But let me tell you about that:
In time I wrestled for control,
Lost again, threw in with him
And let him run it by the Book;
I was the junior partner, a very minor sort
But through my Philistine friends
I learned the art of selling short;
Then opportunity came
Jakie told me about this scheme
The hairiest one of all
Something about a ladder
To a golden street, a steal . . .
I said, “Brother, it’s a deal!
At last we’re seeing eye for eye”;
I even waived the matter,
How and when to cut the pie,
What matter . . . I held the ladder.

(For Mary, One of my Students)

When I proclaim the world is flat
And that I’m searching for an edge
I am only rounding a vision for you;
I stand, a son of man, not God
And I could be called Paul as well as Peter:
I speak for our sons and daughters
And had I known, it should be thus explained:
That we have all failed in our historical sense,
There was manipulation at the manger
Saul died on the way to Damascus
And Simon was wholly afraid;
Only from that shipwreck of faith
Did l learn to walk upon the water
So what matter, then, you call me in this place
A heretic, to give the cup and cross
For I accept, knowing
I can live through a long series of deaths
Believing in your all-essential good
And would not change your world in any way
Except to lead you gently into spring.


Poetry is a human trait
We fall into it
Stroke a few lines
Then peter out.

(For W. H. Auden)

From the mountains of choice
I asked the sage
The nature of my plight,
He replied:  Leap!
And I cried:  Unwise!
He knew I had no wings
Yet I complied,
And in time I found
He had had tricked me into flight.

(Who sits on the front row)

I cannot fail
To see in you unmistakable goodness
When you ask:
“Why don’t you write nice poetry”
And regretfully
I’ve seen the world this way
And worse —
Perhaps, though, there’s a hope —
Your innocence tells me
I should not fail
To write that nice poem . . . tomorrow.


. . . and I came
With the storm
And let you take me
High and against the sun
To create in you
An immortality
From the first clouds
All lost worlds
Of bright togethers
In warring winds
And flaming sounds —
Then I
The emptied one
Fell down in the sky
Unforgiven by time.


Where the river starts
From the snow forgotten
I float motionless
At the moon-beak—
An intensity rises
A blood theme
In a summer swirl —
The day comes
Bringing only
A promise of the hills
I too shall create!


When was it when
We were condemned
To be free and lost
To our instincts
How it is how
we are severed
And sewn shut
With abstracts
Where it was where
We were given
To choose and lose
In the grandeur of want?


        in the intricate maze
        in the evening web
        in the jeweled dew
        the spider will be here soon
But that
        flies have all the fun.


Where in the earth’s conscience
Can we justify ourselves?
Our day has wandered away
The mysterious night is here
Out of this memory of breaking strings
We will save nothing —
Then who shall we blame
New or never
Knowing that someday we’ll say goodbye
Like . . . tomorrow.


“With malice toward none
And charity for some
And a big tube of ointment
For Clement Vallandidgham
Who was singed
When we burned off the brush
To smoke out the copperheads.”


In this state
Bleeding inside himself
He stares at the hostess
             who smiles
Oblivious of her own nakedness —
Her siren song
Salt for his would
He could quench this thirst
             in other lands
And he would if he could
             but he can’t;
Propriety tells him to drink
             and he does,
Quicker than the psychiatrist
              and cheaper too,

He retires
Mourning the alcoholic way
And tomorrow
He submission is recorded
As allowable expense.


In Conservia
My friend sits wondering
What will become of us all,
Truth is dead
The world is Red
And all’s been said
And more’s been done than said
                 all wrong —

The election confirmed
That decadence had wormed
It way into the nations’s soul
And on the while
His role
                 is dead —

It died way back there
In Conservia
Where my friend sits awaiting
               the end —


                   now —


(On Her Seventh Birthday)

This side of her
When trees are bare
And distance sharpens the cold
Into a clear necessity
A turning goodbye
As time reveals her role —
What calmness
Lies behind the voice
When she asks,
“Why are we walking his road?”


We have come to the end which is not the end
And age and resolve have solved nothing,
Our monstrous child towers over us
And we cannot love what we create;
What will stand in the place of death
But grand endurance that cannot sing
and if we stop who waits to listen
It worlds that go too soon unsung;
Born again and again to weep bitterly
Sharing the dreadful joy of another sun
Where love kills love in the cauldron of want
And we who are dead, survive.


Of this I have seen
The sober quality of a woman’s hand
Waving good-bye
The delicate sheen covering of love
And the possibilities of me —

Of this I have known
This calmness of that beauty
Offset a gloomy past
And I stood smiling naive as a child
Thinking there would be another time.

E = MC2

Surmounting all obstacles
Our affinity, concealed,
Awakened and opened its eyes
To be born
To be revealed anew,
Transmutation in the greatest fire —
Ah!  Love should leave a memory,
Yet, after all that
We parted as perfect strangers.


. . . and it come again
Irresistibly drawn
From the white darkness
An intense recoil
Of lithe life leaping
In a sea of green
And a raven-haired
Image of eternity
Straining the end
Of the crazy cord.


Caught in the glow of the moon
An apparition crosses the sky,
Then and again in the wind,
A father’s far-a-way cry —
An unexplainable sadness
Comes from the night beyond
A terror mysteriously formed
And then I slowly remember
A lonely boy running away.


The eleventh hour of hypnotic touch
Not from my memory
But in an inverted dream —
What pleasure it was, this torment
And what possible salvation for me
Except at that time
Between sleeping and waking
Life was wonderfully good.


When in a transient dream
The clouds opened
Creating a sun
And I discovered myself —
To see beyond
I climbed higher
Asking only for time
But when I found that place
Its origin was emptiness.

(Who sits on the back row)

So I’ll admit
That you as a solid football player
Should never be caught standing on the your toes
With your head sticking up through a cloud,
But do not so loudly proclaim
That you’ll have none of my game,
I know it was you
Who wrote that poetry on the rest room walls.


If I say anything of my youth
I will say
I was small for my size
And got the Hell kicked out of me
Purposely —
It was essential
To be ugly
To be welcome.


Somewhat invested with beauty
She nevertheless replies:
“I’m dreadfully pregnant,”
But I am envious —
She can do something
That I can’t do.


A singular light
Across the snow-field plain,
The distance to there . . .
The cold.


Life comes upon him
As though the day
Were guilty by decree
And I his honored guest
Too long in earth’s repose
Fly away with him.


The sun
Cold eye of morning,
Its invitation to spring
Declined —
When was it
When the flowers last grew here?


 I crept into being
Faintly purple
Found myself a spring
And touched the shyness of the sun
On a sudden path
I ran
Until time had lost its meaning.


The world
A rimless zero
I perceive
And beyond that —


In an otherwise cloudless sky
I saw a strange formation —
I am tempted to start
A new religion.


At first
When the seed opened
I found nothing
But time and the subtle essence
Produced a flower
From the dream silence
A distant drum throbbed
And in a summer mood
I was born;
Was it real?
I yielded the pillow
And in the red moon
I saw the gods depart —
It is quiet once more.


When the warm winds came
I walked the willow edge
Searching . . . listening . . .
Though her footfall was soundless
Her reflection was real —
I looked into the stream
And watched it flow uphill.


At last
We forget
We forget
A saving grace allowed to us
And yet
The memory
A thousand winds beget —
Perpetual loneliness.


For a moment
The crystalled fog captures the sun
And wantonly the trees smile again
After a warm tinge of conscience
They cry their jewels away.


The knowledge before
And the knowledge after
The wind voice calls
As the great door closes —
I would move mountains
And burn utterly away.


Time and proximity
Created the image
With an unlikeness
To any realness
And it stood motionless
While the flowers
Formed from the shadows
Of a spring song;

Time and propriety
Weighted its wings
With the incense
Of summer mysteries
But it grew restless
In the growing storm
Wondering and searching
Autumn prophecies;

Time and anxiety
Tangled and taut
Tested it magic
To tangible touch
And it broke with a kiss —
And she ran away
Scattering the pieces
In the dying wind.


From symbols of love
I grew
A tangle of eyes and feet
And could I have stayed there
I would have been secure,
But I insisted on a room with a view —
One yank
And I came from darkness,
One smack
And I felt tomorrow
And falling backwards,
I cried an eternity.


I have noticed that
We are both impeccably dressed,
But that you prefer
To make your appearance
In black and white,
While I prefer
A variety of colors.
This difference, I believe,
Stems from the fabric
Of our hair shirts;
Yours seems to scratch you
While mine only tickles.

(This poem was firsts published in the Ball State Teachers College FORUM, Spring, 1963.)


On the days that I saw clearly
In the quandary of time’s coming,
My intellect strayed and I could not escape;
I drank intoxicating myths
But I created no gods,
And then the leaves fell from the tree
And I recognized you as the new ghost of the sun;

Though I sensed the contradiction
I was afraid to wait
While time came circling the seasons
And I was renewed in its flight
So I have written you into being
And if this divine seed should fail,
So be it, for I was saved
When I gave the miracle a chance.


On a snow-night
With the autumn of things
A linden grove
In the purple lea of time
The heart leaves
With her beauty, knowing
That snow inevitably covers
The nature of things
And I never knew her —
Then why do I grieve?


Let it be said
Then say no more of this —
Too late we remembered
How we had come
Or when we had found
This meadow land;
The why is lost
Here where the hill fell down,
This is the relation
The first and last
The only one
An all we’ll ever need.

~ finis~

Publication Status of Mr. Sedam’s Between Wars

Because Mr. Sedam’s Between Wars was published by a now defunct press, acquiring copies takes some searching.  However, with a little luck, one can still find copies offered through various sellers on Amazon or Abe Books, for example, Amazon now features two copies of Between Wars, reasonably priced at $15 and $15.89. Please check back to this site or on Amazon for updates on this book’s availability.


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