Little Flags


Prague, Czechoslovakia,

early 1978.

A displaced professor,

imprisoned during that brief flame

smothered by tanks ten years before,

shovels a filthy furnace

while awareness sleeps.


Thirtieth anniversary

of communist ascent.

His neighbors celebrate

by flying from their balconies

bright patriotic flags,

while he stokes demanding flames.


His wife awakens five children

to wait in the chilled room

for him to hobble home at Dawn.

They sip weary coffee,

while she complains.


"They came again last night,

demanded we fly their flags;

threatened that unless we comply,

you'll lose your job, this place,

our children their school.

I know we fight this stifling reign,

but little flags, are they so huge,

that our children's lives

should be jeopardized?"


Rising suddenly,

he starts to explode, 

catches himself.

Slowly, he sits again,

in trembling control.

Looking away, he explains:

Their threats but stretch the strength of our beliefs.

Think strategy!  Should we concede one thing,

however small, they'll mark us among the weak,

ask for more, still more, until our protest sinks

to words.

                    But principle denies this act

more strongly.  Who are we to fix a future

glued to surrender--a callous country lacking

liberty, where young have no hope but to endure?

In post-war years, we used to rail about

our parents' draining courage, their compromise.

We didn't hate those few who shouted out,

even when answering echoes made us cry.


In our children's world, how then will we explain

we quit for them, when for them no rights remain?