It is just that sort of summer day when the sparse clouds crawl ever more slowly across the city, peering down, as if wishing they could end their journey, knowing this won’t happen. On the fields of Falkirk and Culloden Moor stained with the blood of ancestors who, only now, claim me as one of them, allow me to wear the tartan, the clouds build and flee without ever pausing to peer down on the carnage below. They want only to move on, continue the passage, give endless chase to the sun, certain they will fail and fall, only to take up the chase again onward into eternity.
Krevchinsky froze his ass off on the Siberian plain. The gray concrete box was traded for concrete gray skies, the whistle of the truncheon gives way to winter’s blasts. It was in many ways easier when the beatings came neatly marking the days dividing days between pain and exhaustion, all under the watchful eye of the meek incandescent sun dangling from the ceiling. In the camp day and night are reflections of an unseen clock, seasons slide from discontent to depression. The prison of the body is finite built block on block, the prison of the soul is vast, empty, dissipating life.
First appeared in HazMat Review, Vol. 1, No. 2 (1996) and later in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 30, Nos. 1-2 (2006).
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.
Somewhere in here there is a hidden irony, not irony really, but a close enough approximation. We are creatures of softness, we relish textures that yield to our touch, would rather be swaddled than armored, vastly prefer the kitten or puppy to the armadillo or porcupine. It’s all about softness really. And despite this primal desire for pillows and down filled duvets, when it comes to measuring value we’re all about corners and hardness, about solidifying our financial position. And while we crave bills and coins, our ultimate measure of success are those crystals formed over eons, made hard by pressure and time, for those are the jewels of our existence.
When they asked him what did you do during the war he said “I just stood guard.” When they asked him where he said “A station, just a station, like most others, I just stood guard.” When they asked him did you see the trains carrying the bodies crammed into cattle cars he said “I saw many trains, it was just a station, but mostly I looked at the sky, wishing for the sun, but mostly it was gray and there was smoke from the chimneys.” When they asked him why did you wear the lightening bolts he said “I was a ski instructor but I broke my leg so I stood at the station, just a station like most others.” When they asked him did he know of the ovens he said “They made bread which we ate each night when there were no potatoes.” When they asked him about the Jews he said “I knew no Jews; there were none in the town where I stood guard at a station, just a station like most others.” When they asked him what he did after the war he said “I prayed, just prayed for my sins, sins like those of so many others.”
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.