Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Open Arms

Have you ever stopped to consider just how disembodied is our perception of war, those of us who have never known its stink and terror?

We think of the pomposity of its delivery – of the Hollywood travails that make or break the boys, the popular young actors lining the trenches, a baby-faced Michael J. Fox eating his dinner from a rusty can – and we place it safely in a corner of our conscience, where we hug at the lusty bravado of Lee Marvin and Steve McQueen, the gilded sleeves and metal-strewn chests, the tall tales of beachfront heroics and jungle deliverance – grandfather’s medals sleeping in a glass case.
     But what do we know of its day to day passing, of what becomes of the mind in those circumstances?

Of course, the human mind, shined like its shoes, arrives pre-conditioned for the battle, the boot marks of disciplinary rape lining its shattered young face, every G.I. Joe tagged for the return trip, ready to slip into his plastic sleeve.
     But that is only the first step of the dance into madness we call armed conflict, the unchecked theater born of national adversity.
     There is somewhere they go, these men and women, those enlisted and shanghaied, those who march with brave and stupid faces into war’s cacophony, convinced they have been prepared to trample strangers into the mud, conscript and civilian alike, separating flesh from bone, bone from body, body from soul, soul from any further consideration – the helpless crushed by war’s cascading rush across resplendent horizons.
     Surely they must disappear into the sound of their own hearts, the tender timepieces pounding in their ivory cages. One minute they are frozen, the heat of battle slamming them to the ground, the next they are rising on mechanical legs, their brain having reminded itself that it is a weapon, letting reason marry murder to mayhem, misery to multiplication, menace to metal, mud to meat.

The vets, they will return, many in pieces, many like teabags, pouches of departed humanity waiting to be stewed in patriotism. Many more will appear seemingly unscathed, grinning with shining lapels, monsters lingering inside their skulls, Nosferatu scraping at the window of recall and recoil, Vincent Price lending his baritone to the blunderbuss flashing through the night, the blackness at the window reflecting only the face of a suppressed fear.
     There is nothing that can be done about this, though were it not so I believe none would raise a fuss, for who really wants to watch the broken fall apart?
     I cannot believe a single soul has ever returned from the fury of war untouched, their daily thoughts not filtered through the blazing memories of the field of death. It may rise in unexpected places, like some dark daffodil in the shadow of a lonely curb, or it may lie across the canvas of the decorated veteran’s facade, defining his mood and mode, a cold gripping hand taken in by the puppet’s hollow body, giving life to that which begs only for release from its daily travail.

I cannot know how weak my imagination might be in this regard, I can only pursue it to whichever conclusion satisfies it, its terrible need to know the fullness of my civilization’s intolerable sickness, the aching weakness of the heart taught to destroy, to meet white eyes with its open arms, its bombs bursting in air, Tom Cruise winking woodenly at the setting sun.

War is hell, so they say, but I can only see in it a tragic painting of Heaven, men spreading their wings, Gabriel taking the hand of Icarus, droning in legion from the sky, puncturing the clouds, dropping their sanctified messages onto rooftop and hillock, child and lamb, each assured their soul has a place in the downy folds of their Father’s sanctified lap.