I have yet to wander the medieval battlefields of Europe and it increasingly seems I never will. I have visited my share of castles in Ireland and Scotland, but the acoustics there are not good, and I did not hear the anguished cry of soldiers falling in battle,
I have seen rivers, quiet now, where the blood of the vanquished must have flowed in this war and that, for Europe is a place of wars, the perpetual gameboard for the greedy and those who imagine themselves emperors.
I come from a distant place, where three wars on its soil was deemed sufficient, but who will freely give others the wars they have grown altogether too used to fighting, and we gladly offer up our sons to aid in the combat so long as we only receive their bodies in the dark of night.
And perhaps that is our failing, for we know war well, but we keep ourselves clean, and marvel at the destruction we will never know first hand.
We marched for hours, going nowhere really, but nowhere was the point of the marching so we achieved the goal the Air Force set. We didn’t even think it odd that they made us shave our heads, so we’d all look like fools, there was a war on and we were in the military, so we had already proven that point. We were the smarter ones, as it turned out, enlistees who’d spend our time on bases getting the pilots ready to fly into the danger we knew we had so carefully avoided, and for us the greatest risk appeared daily in the mess hall.
First published in As You Were, the Military Review, Vol. 13, 2020
I admit I am an odd duck, odder for not being a duck at all. But the expression has a certain je ne sais quoi to it, as does that expression and I am all about language. All that is a long round about way of acknowledging that I have always wanted to use the word antiphonal in my writing. I’m not terribly religious, and what faith I had has long been shaken by a world gone mad. Or at least a country gone mad. And even when I had some faith, I subscribed to the syllogism that religions music was to music, as military food was to food. We won’t even mention military music, that is an abject oxymoron.
Christ and his disciples walk slowly through the lobby en route to the bar, discussing the evil of war and blind obedience. They push three tables together and slowly drain the pitchers of Bud draft, laughing over the sound of the Karaoke. As the evening draws itself into night, he boasts in Aramaic that he has translated more than half of the Bhagavat Gita, although he much prefers the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Satan, he suspects aloud, is still trying fruitlessly to finish Spinoza’s Ethics, but without improved understanding the old devil is doomed to failure. As the night draws on, the hooker hovers ever closer, and for a moment he wonders if she would moan as she feigned orgasm. He lights another Camel and crumples the empty pack and throws it, knowing it will miss the can and roll on the floor under the bar rail, and he curses in the ancient tongue.
We set out with bold ambition, egos saddled and reined across a landscape left barren by our leaders who saw only carefully stacked boards and beams awaiting the master carpenter, great floral sprays dotting the lobbies of glass and chrome edifices, created in their own images. We ride in search of the promised land, and turn a deaf ear to the windwalkers, to the spirits of the children sitting in the packed dirt streets their bellies distended, crying out for food, for justice as the warlords sit in their cars surveying the invisible parapets of their armed fortresses. We look quickly away from the chindi of the young men who rise from the neatly heaped soil of the common burial mound, who rise up in neat array and perch on the edge of the freshly dug pit waiting for the rat-a-tat rain of death they know await them unrepentant, unwilling to curse Allah, bidding farewell to Tuzla. We pause to chant the blessing way but we have forgotten the words, Arbeit Macht Frei, the gates reduced to rust, the chimneys no longer belching the sweet smell of death into the winter morning. We ride on oblivious to the faint glow from the craters we have torn into the earth, of the clouds that only vaguely recall the mushrooms of our progress. We ride toward the horizon where the great pillars of gold and silver rise up, glinting in the sun that once warmed them before we cast them out into the desert of our lust and craving. We set out with bold ambition but our horses have grown tired, our canteens are empty and the inferno threatens to consume us.
First Appeared in Alchemy, Issue 2, Fall-Winter 1999.
You sneaked away one night. You were there, but while sleep claimed me, you were gone without notice or warning. Where should I look for you? In these barren hills where the spirits of the first nations roam, looking for their ancestral land?
Where should I look for you? Wandering these verdant fields where a hundred generations have been sacrificed to the will of power mad men who know no satisfaction?
Where should I look for you? In these filth ridden streets and narrow alleys where the rats scamper in search of a meal, where a child at play would be a fine repast?
Where should I look for you? Across these wind blown sands where brother has hunted brother for three generations, each laying God’s claim to the birthright of the other while wives and mothers wail in mourning?
First published in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press (2008)
They brought him myrrh on a flaming salver and all he could do was say “This is something I would expect from a butcher or a carpenter, and the camera angles would never work, so bring me napalm or punji stakes that we have proven to work.” They brought him ripe oranges and the sweet meat of the pineapple, its juice dripping from his chin, and all he could do was tighten his grip on the AK-47 and dream of night on the edge of the jungle. They brought him Rodin, Matisse, Rembrant van Rijn, and Blake, but all he would see was Bosch and Goya, and then only by the light of fading candles. They brought him the String Quartet in A Major played on Strads and Guarnaris, but he wanted the retort of the howitzer the crump of the mortar, the screams of the child. They brought him his child wrapped in bandages missing fingers and toes, and all he wanted was the nursery, a newborn in swaddling, suckling her breast as he stroked her head and remembered the moment of her creation.
First published in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press (2008)