The Banner and the Patriot

new flag_0980On the road before me walked a man. His wind-flattened hair was the color of dust and his eyes were all but sunned shut. He wore on one foot a shoe from which their emerged a single, crooked toe, and on the other he wore nothing at all and there was very little recognizable in the colorful mass that his leg dragged forth. Ragged, legless pants clapped hard in the wind like a dying motor, but he held a constant pace. All about his figure there were burned raw and pink lesions like shining genitals sweating and scabbing and bleeding in constant, silent violation. From his crevassed lips hung a stone dry tongue like a sick worm in squirming flight from a waterless hole which heaved visibly as if it might, by some ancient trick, extract moisture from the air that held none.

Nothing about him was so remarkable, though, as that flag which he bore over his shoulders singing wild in the wind like a poem too pure for words or an image too perfect and refined to commit to stillness. Although there was dirt on the man and dirt in the wind, none clung to that surreal fabric. No tears. No thinning. He clutched two of its corners in one hand over his chest and held fast so that the lines from all the shifting folds converged taut and still over his heart as if all the color and the glory were there contained or there conceived.

As he passed, he did not turn his head or speak or slow. He only lifted the hand that did not hold the flag and pointed a gnarled finger ahead at some indefinite space above the horizon where there was no reason at all.

The road was long and straight, and I watched him walk the length of it. He seemed transfigured by the haze and by the distance. His bloodied tracks browned over and dried in the dirt. His limping gait grew less pronounced with every step until at one point it was corrected. His pink and stinging, nightmarish hide vanished slowly into the glorious play of red and white and blue that like a river roared behind him in an endless cascade. Soon it was those stripes alone, and those unfettered stars, that moved unmanned, and shining flew –onward, ever onward.

I looked back the way he had come and then again the way he had gone. I took no step in either direction, but stood rather in anxious indecision for the rest of the day until by the cold falling of a moonless night I was forced to choose. And so I moved, sightless through the starred dark, in dire pursuit of those few stars that I could no longer see.

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