I was general of myself in my dream.
The soldiers lined up on the quadrangle,
year by year, each in his period dress.
The little ones, of course, in diapers
and hand-me-downs, could barely keep still,
bawling and crawling, tottering, falling down.
It was a long line, stretching into gray beards.
The younger ones didn’t seem to get it,
laughing and joking, at ease when I passed,
waiting for dismissal, not at attention.
Some lowered their eyes, as if ashamed.
Others stared through me with their concerns.
One had a glare that made me self-conscious.
These were my recruits, whom I had trained
and commandeered for my year-long missions.
Survivors in my dream: all had come back.
But I knew in my head they had perished
accomplishing their life-saving tasks—
the taciturn boy in his cowboy hat,
the bearded hippie wearing leather pants,
the young father in creased khakis and tie.
The oldest man at the end, with goatee
and fleece vest, tried his best to stand straight.
These were my heroes, who deserved purple hearts.
But I am the one wearing their medals,
the decorated general, who salutes
as he departs.
Delaney retired from 35 years at Princeton University Library, where he was curator of historic maps and leader of modern manuscripts processing. He moved to Port Townsend, Washington, this year, and published ‘Waypoint,’ a book of poems, this month. He writes that his poem ‘came to me in a dream, much as it is described!’ while he was back in Princeton for his wife’s high school reunion.