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.”
What do you say to those who turn their backs on those broken in battle, or broken at the sight of battle, who were left to clean up the collateral damage, or who were collateral damage, were pierced by IED’s, or shaped charges, who had inadequate armor, or no armor at all, who were left in moldy rooms, were dropped on the street, who don’t want to go back again, and still again, who see clearly with their eyes closed, who cannot find shelter in a maelstrom of thoughts, who did what was asked and wish they hadn’t, who asked for leaders and found only followers, who asked why and were told “just because,” who never came back, or who were left here.
Previously appeared in SNReview, Vol. 9, No. 2, 2007 and in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press (2008).
Early this morning as I drove through the mist that clings to Portland in March like a child’s yellow slicker, I thought of you, home, asleep on our bed, my side tidy, no faint indentation of life, and I thought of the thousands who have died to date in Iraq, who never again will leave a faint indentation in any bed. It is far easier thinking of you, of regretting the miles between us at this moment, but knowing that I will shortly bridge those miles and we will tonight indent our bed, that two thousand miles is little more than an inconvenience, while many of them are no more that a dozen miles outside of countless towns; but the effect of that short distance is infinite and they can only indent the thawing earth beneath the granite stones.
For a while, I will be using Thursday’s posts to feature poems I previously had published. Today’s, Early Morning previously appeared in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press, (2008).
Before you wish for immortality carefully consider all the consequences. It’s true you will avoid the fires of hell and the lawyers and politicians who make up a surprising portion of the populace, but you’ll also never pass through the pearly gates, to languish in the esteemed company of poets and musicians who will, at the drop of a request, regale you. And those wars you so often decried, you’ll have those of generations without end, for the one skill mankind has mastered is war. But worst of all, you must realize that you will be subjected to an infinite number of wait staffs gathered around your table doing off-key but well intended renditions of Happy Birthday to You as other diners wish you had never been born.
On the anniversary of the start of a war one feels almost compelled to speak to its horrors, its cause, its effect. But we live in an age where wars are plentiful, when peace is the exception and war seems to loom around every corner. So on this anniversary I watch the snowy egret stare into the pond outside my window, the great bird calmly imagining that in her world all of the people are merely fish.
Lao Tse, venerable one you would be pleased as I sit here drawing closer to the center quested for my Buddhahood be not seeking it amid the rain of fire from the hills above the blood congealing in the streets. I know not to ask and am unseen by the child and mother running through the street and untouched by the hail of ammunition biting at their heels. I smell the lotus mixed with the cordite giving scent to the morning and in the clouds see the approach of understanding.
“Suppose,” he says “words may be used only once, after that they disappear.” “You mean in a poem” she replies, “or life itself?” Even four stanzas can challenge most except perhaps Basho. Haiku would replace sonnets, villanelles, sestinas suddenly gone, anaphora is self-contradiction. “Imagine,” the young girl mused “sloganless politicians, talking heads struck mute, hushed generals fighting silent wars, all poets condemned to write blank verse.”