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.
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.
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.