These days we collectively mourn those we have sacrificed on the holy altar of our ignorance. There was a time when we limited war to one per generation, but we now wage them in clusters, it being easier to deal with the interminable periods of boredom where we have nothing to do but imagine peace.
He lies on the steam grate under a thin blanket and plastic garbage bags, sleeping soundly lulled by vibrations of a passing car, back to the Ellipse and grand white house, oblivious to footfalls of tourists and joggers. Steam seeps upward through his tattered clothes, he is back in-country, lying at the fringe of the jungle, awash in sounds, neat cast up from furnace earth, cutting through fatigues and the heavy canvas and steel toes of the boots, into skin, to pool on muscles held taut, twitching at the first heard whoop of chopper blades or stirring of branches and flora in still summer air which hangs, a shroud. Sun rises slowly, bathing the obelisk in a faint peach glow, he rolls, crushing the fading, wrinkled photo of three boys lost, from a different world, standing in beer soaked mirth, leaning on rifles. One night, trees oozed forth shadows, black angels, and his hand resting in a pool of blood and viscera with whom he had roamed the bars of Saigon and Bangkok, invincible knights before their armor turned to rust.
Autumn dropped by this morning, a wholly unwelcome visitor, and although her visit was short, it was a foreboding for which we were not yet ready, not that we ever are. The gulls along the river discussed this at length, and even the two Red Tailed Hawks high overhead, swooped in agreement. We simply turned up our collars and walked a bit faster, knowing the heat would soon return, but that the foretaste of winter would linger on our tongues far longer than we would desire.
As the plane slowly descends the cemetery appears through a break in the clouds. The headstones are arrayed in neatly ordered geometries, unknown to those who lie beneath, and those who water the always verdant lawns.
Mausoleums cluster in a small village, from which no one ever moves, and rest comes easily to those who lie within.
Catherine Camden is quite dead, so secure in her peace that her parting has faded and all that remains is her name, and that too, will soon be gone as she was, slowly devoured by the winds. The white swans on the Thames pay her no notice.
“I don’t want to” is hardly a sagacious way to run a country and “just because” probably didn’t work when you were a child, why would you think adults would accept it now? And when we all expressed our displeasure, disdain and contempt, which part of “no” did you have trouble grasping, Mr. President? The apple may not fall far from the tree, but let it sit on the ground long enough and the worms will have it. Ambrose Bierce said diplomacy is lying for one’s country, Mr. President, not lying to it.
First appeared in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press, 2008.