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—for Joan Baisley

I memorized the Roman Catholic service
in English, post Vatican II.
How could I not after so many repetitions?
But I was never much for saluting.
       I was in China when Mao died, met Soviet 
       trainees who constantly looked over their shoulders.
       There were officials who performed pantomimes
       of trust in a reality of distrust.
Listening is important, especially in foreign
environments. The Party could change its mind.
No one would understand why.
So just keep your mouth shut.
       There was an official in oil and gas.
       He wore an awful Mao suit from two dye lots,
       like he crawled out of a mission barrel.
       He worked on a semi-submersible offshore rig.
Be careful around earnest people. 
They tend to be so into whatever 
they’re campaigning on
that they stop listening.
       He always spoke Chinese— fast Chinese.
       He never spoke English, never slipped.
       That took incredible discipline.
       I’m sure he spoke English. 
How could people be so faithful, 
practice nearly the same thing, and not 
be doing the right thing?
I was never much for saluting.

©2022 by Peter Buck