Waning Moon - March 20, 2003

In Memoriam Carl J. Young

by Karl Young, Jr.


On March 20, 2003, the day after the full moon and the first day of spring, my father's spleen and gallbladder ruptured, kicking in a raging case of peritonitis. The Doctors gave him a one in seven hundred chance of survival. On the same day, the U.S. began the bombing of Baghdad, initiating the Iraq War. Due to his advanced age, my father had difficulty understanding why the U.S. had attacked Iraq. Had he been in better health, he would have opposed it as strongly as he had the previous war in Vietnam. The odds the doctor gave probably consisted of made-up numbers to express improbability. He beat the odds, dying on January 15th, 2007. I put up a memorial web site to him at carlyoungmemorial.net shortly after his death. As the memorial explains, the thesis he wrote for his theology degree was titled "The Christian Basis for Pacifism," but he was the first minister from his seminary to enlist as a chaplain when the U.S. entered World War II. He believed that his job was to look to the spiritual well-being of those who needed it, not those who agreed with him. He changed his mind as the war progressed, and lost all reservations when his tour of duty assigned him to the care of survivors of the concentration camp at Dacchau. He was not an absolutist in his opposition to war, but had no sympathy for it except as a last resort under such circumstances as the Holocaust.

In 1980, I had planned a series of poems painted on large panels. The basic imaging would be simplified views of Lake Michigan, seen from the parks of Milwaukee, with a horizon line dividing lake and sky at the middle of each panel. I had been co-founder of Milwaukee's Water Street Arts Center, and was Vice-President and co-founder of its heir, Woodland Pattern. A one-man show of mine had been one of the first at the new location on Locust Street, and its proportions determined the height of the panels. The texts would be painted in letters whose size would be small enough so readers would have to stand so close to each panel that they could not see all of it at once, and would have to begin reading by tilting their heads back and looking up, then bow to the horizon as they read down the panel, incorporating their own body language into reading the text. The series did not go beyond some sketches in the planning stage.

My custom in the late winter - early spring of 2003 was to drive along the shore of Lake Michigan, looking at the ever-changing colors of the sky and water. On the night of March 20, expecting my father to be dead within a day or two, I began composition of the text for this poem while driving along the lake shore at night. Moonlight on waves suggested white letters on the water portion of the panel. The nature of scrolling in computer usage reminded me of the panels I had contemplated painted two decades before. The reader may not bow to nature in this piece, but still cannot see the whole picture at once, a type of metaphor for the nature of war. I sent copies of the piece to friends via email after my father's temporary reprieve. The war still continues after his death.