By Jennifer Footman, Caledon, ON
In this battle three thousand, six hundred
of our men died. Eleven thousand were injured.
For you I bring these oaks
to shade your bright bones.
Their roots, deep in Canadian dust,
will mingle with a familiar grit,
wrap round your fertile soil
and enrich the French air.
The Celts believed the oak to hold the essence of wisdom,
a noble and enduring tree.
For each of you I see crowns of these leaves
turning you royal, lifting you from that cold earth
to sit in friendly shade;
each leaf a part of you, veins, spine and flesh.
Seven thousand grandmothers
had spent evenings, knitting needles clicking
as they worked fine wool into booties
and bonnets and pretty lacy dresses
to keep their expected grandchildren warm.
Seven thousand breasts
had filled and cracked to feed the hunger
of these demanding baby boys. Butterfly hands
brushed blue veins in ownership of silver orbs.
Three thousand, six hundred woman had changed
a very Everest of dirty diapers
through night feeds and croup and the red-
faced anger of teething.
Three thousand, six hundred women had nursed their boys,
their little baby boys
through whooping-cough and measles and chicken pox;
they held their hands during those times
when the world was only the holes left by moths.
Thousands of children are not born
and grandchildren scratch clouds looking for lives,
and mothers have no graves tended,
and fathers rot their flesh into sterile earth.
My children know no wars, know of no enemies
other than the ones they create. I sit in the glow
of grandchildren and thank you for giving me life.
I beg each oak to be as strong
as the thanks we give you every day we live