Salute

A POEM IN THREE ACTS

ACT ONE
(In which the motif is established)

The night after my nephew’s
graduation from Marine
bootcamp (I don’t think they
call it bootcamp) we went

to dinner on Coronado 
Island, seven of us, him in 
the dress uniform he had
spent two hours ironing

because the Marine Hymn
was my hummed ear worm
and every time I turned the
corner of the hotel suite

tromping the shores of
Tripoli, I would see him
and the iron both standing
at attention.  I would laugh

and say, “You really don’t
have to do that,” and he would
say, “Oh, but I do,” and he would
return to ironing until I

would again forget. Finally
pressed, white belt cinched,
white hat and gloves, red
piping, single chevron

on his sleeve, shoes shined
like Easter Sunday, the rest
of us dressed in pride and 
family.  And then that man 

came by our table to say,
“Thank you for your service
to our country,” and we 
were proud. 

ACT TWO
(In which complexities arise)

At our college graduation, 
the president asks for
different types of graduates
to stand - the first in their

family to go to college,
honors, 4.0s, youngest,
oldest, parents-slash-children,
husbands-slash-wives, siblings,

and military veterans, and
every year the vets get
a rousing ovation, the biggest
commencement applause,

and I wonder why it isn’t
the 4.0s or the firsts. This 
is a college after all.  Frankly,
most of us are pacifists. 

Well, the humanities folks
anyway. The parents and 
friends and aunts and uncles
in the audience for our

rural community college
graduation are the ones who
weren’t the first in their family
to go to college, and they

vigorously applaud when
the vets stand, and they yell 
and whistle like the war 
was just won.

ACT THREE
(In which some justice is served)

The yang of the nation
gets ample pomp and
circumstance, plenty of
praise and glory, deserved I

won’t argue, but more so than 
others? Not everyone can soldier, 
but everyone can serve, and
so I offer a salute. 

To the College Professor,
Sherpa of Curiosity, 
Whetstone, Lighthouse, On-Ramp,
Thank you for your service to our country.

To the Bartender,
Purveyor of Magical Elixirs,
Physician, Therapist, Vaudevillian,
Thank you for your service to our country.

To the Lawn Guy,
Rider of the Mechanical Machete,
Weed-Eater, Tree-Trimmer, Suburban Olmsted,

To the Musician and Actor,
Teller of Our Stories,
Drumbeat, Mirror, Catharsis Channel,

To the Delivery Driver,
Foot Soldier of Capitalism,
Dog-Treater, Bringer of Joy, Supply Chain Coda,
Thank you for your service to our country.

To the Farmer,
Maître d’ of the World,
Fence-Mender, Earth Mother, First Cause,

To the Building Contractor and the
Insurance Seller and the Nurse and the
Preschool Teacher and the Social 
Worker and the Mechanic and the 

Writer and the Lawyer, yes, even the
Lawyer, and the Undocumented Farm
Worker and the Bus Driver and the
Convenience Store Clerk and the guy

who stands in the middle of the 
road to stop and start the traffic
that has been reduced to one
lane because of construction,

Thank you for your service to our country. 


© 2020 Deb Moore, All Rights Reserved

How to Make An English Professor Cuss

I jumped in to help 
on our college Facebook 
page. A mother posted 
concern about her daughters, 

two of them, who don’t
like online learning,
though pandemic
college can’t be fully

face-to-face, not just
yet, and I thought I 
typed “daughters,”
but I typed “daughter,”

and some man jumped
on the thread and said,
“Daughter are? And you’re 
an English professor?

I’m not surprised.”  And
all 23 years of my career
reared up behind me 
and begged to be allowed

to respond.  They wanted
to say, “You want to go
head-to-head on grammar,
fuckbucket?  Because I’m 

down for that, you inbred
single-celled shitgibbon.”
But I was on the college
page, so I took a couple

of deep breaths and wrote,
“Thanks for the catch!” (Note
the exclamation point. It makes 
it friendlier. It’s how women

are socialized to appear
less aggressive. I would
love to see a study that
compares exclamation

point usage between women
and men, though I don’t 
really need official data.)
As I breathed through my

response, I thought 
about how common
snark has become, toxic
thrusts and parries, and

how people will throw
schoolyard taunts at
others without any 
knowledge of who

they really are.  And
I wondered how this
man would feel if I 
questioned him in a

snide manner about his
life’s work. And then I
wondered if I had ever done
just that to someone. It’s 

possible, though I don’t
recall details. So I looked
in the mirror and let that 
man go. 


© 2020 Deb Moore, All Rights Reserved

Ruth

(For George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, 
Philando Castile, Eric Garner, and the countless others.) 
 
I want to tell their stories, 
remind the world  
how they were 
murdered by the system,  
but when I try, all 
I can think of is 
Ruth. 
 
The whitest white and the 
blackest black are found 
in churches and their 
affiliated colleges.  
I remember three Black 
people in the entire school 
my freshman year,  
and one was my 
assigned roommate, 
Ruth.  
 
I was 18. Twelve hundred 
miles from home.  Everything 
seemed strange, but Ruth seemed 
strangest of all.  I was homesick. 
I was sheltered. I was incapable 
of seeing beyond a self I barely 
knew, and I devised a way  
(it wasn’t hard) to get reassigned,  
moved away from  
Ruth.   
 
Every justification 
I can offer (and I’ve made 
a long list over the years) 
drips with privilege. 
Poor white girl far 
from home, feels 
uncomfortable, and every 
administrative cog in a  
great machine lurches  
into action to set things  
right for her.  

I was unawake,  
but aware enough to be 
embarrassed.   
Every time I saw Ruth,  
she gave a sincere smile,  
and she waved  
and she said hi, 
and she acted like 
nothing had happened, 
and I would feel  
the disgrace 
anew.     
 
I silently bore the shame 
of my inadequacy. 
It was my secret.  
 
Years later, I 
finished two degrees 
at an HBCU across  
town, “the Black school.”   
I learned the  
greater part of all  
I know from Black  
scholars.  I got smart 
enough to shut up 
and listen, to observe, 
and to learn. 
 
Then I began teaching 
at my alma mater, 
and to my knowledge, 
not one of the Black  
students in my classes 
ever asked to be reassigned,  
moved away from  
me.   
 
In order to share the 
Story of Tamir and 
Alton and Ahmaud, 
I have to start with  
Ruth, and I have to 
understand that the 
same system that  
killed them is the one 
that found a new 
roommate for 
me.  
 
If I could find Ruth, I would  
fall to my knees and 
beg her forgiveness. 
And the Ruth I remember 
would give it, I have 
no doubt.   
I have looked for 
her and I have hoped 
for a chance to 
be absolved. 
 
It has not arrived, 
and I’m glad it hasn’t,  
for I need to stay 
unpardoned, 
unacquitted.   
That is the energy 
that fuels me now. 
Ruth owes me  
nothing.  I owe her 
a lifetime of fighting 
the unpardonable.   
 
I don’t equate  
my actions with a boot 
in the neck, but I have  
come to accept they 
are siblings. 
Were they not, Eric and  
Philando and Michael  
would not have  
told me from the grave 
that I have to start  
with the story of 
Ruth.  



© 2020 Deb Moore, All Rights Reserved