“The Haskell Marching Band” & “Passive Voice”
The Haskell Marching Band
In the basement of Haskell Indian School,
she was one of the girls standing assembly style
pressing flour into pie tins.
Long hours at the school’s foundry made him crepuscular.
Accustomed to seeing his shadow in waxy pre-dawn light,
he would pause near the basement bakery’s vent,
warmth blossoming around his ankles as he placed his boots in the slush
and stomped out a tune that she’d recognize
from the last night’s band rehearsal.
After graduation, they married:
the band had to find
the quartet a new flutist.
Thirteen summers of work release—
eighteen-hour days and humid hayloft nights
allowed him to buy his trumpet from the music instructor.
The flute stayed behind.
I use a trick to teach students
how to avoid passive voice.
Circle the verbs.
Imagine inserting “by zombies”
after each one.
Have the words been claimed
by the flesh-hungry undead?
If so, passive voice.
I wonder if these
sixth graders will recollect,
on summer vacation,
as they stretch their legs
on the way home
from Yellowstone or Yosemite
and the byway’s historical marker
beckons them to the
site of an Indian village—
Where trouble was brewing.
Where, after further hostilities, the army was directed to enter.
Where the village was razed after the skirmish occurred.
Where most were women and children.
Riveted bramble of passive verbs
etched in wood—
breaking up from the dry ground
to pinch the meat
of their young red tongues.