Sunday, February 3, 2008

This War and Lent

Last night I watched the documentary, Rush to War. There was a quote by Dante about a place in hell being reserved for those who are neutral. Not being to take a stand on the war in Iraqi. What follows in a compilation of poems and articles and some photos about this war. I have not been silent; peace marches and rallies, but as to my gift of being a poet I have kept these in files. Now i share them with you.

Ash Wednesday is this week- What does the cross on your forehead mean to you?

Lent began with the drums of war beating. As I look over the poems that were written in anger then as prayer,Five years ago it is truly sadness that rises in me. Far away, safe yet called as a poet not to ignore the enormity of this war.

Susan Sontag, discussing pictures and wars.

SONTAG: I don't think images can stop war, because I don't think images just come all wrapped up with their meanings very apparent to us. I think the images, as I say, they'll disgust you with war in general, but they won't tell you which of the wars, let's say, that might be worth fighting, like World War II, and the ones that you should bring to an end as quickly as possible or pull out of. For that you have to have a politics or you have to have an ethics, or you have to have some knowledge. And that's why you need words to go with the images.
It's not the pictures that are going to tell us that specific message. The pictures are going to tell us how terrible war is. But they're not going to help us understand why this war is wrong.
Because you know, the other people will just say, "Well, hey, war is hell." I mean, don't you know that? But grow up. You know, did you think war was pretty activity in which nobody gets killed? Of course! War is hell." So the pictures are not going to tell us to stop a particular war, a particular war. And for that we need debate and we need a two party system, which we no longer have in this country.
So this is a book that really wants to talk about how horrible war is. Precisely in the way that images both convey it and can't convey it.
MOYERS: What do you mean? They convey a slice of it, but not the totality?
SONTAG: Well, they can, of course they can't convey the totality. That goes without saying. No image can. But it's also that when you watch things through an image, it's precisely affirming that you're safe. Because you are watching it. You're here and not there. And in a way you're also— you're innocent. You're not doing it. You're neither being killed nor are you firing the gun.
You become a spectator. It confirms you in a kind of feeling of invulnerability. On one level it's people looking at war as spectacle. But they don't just look at it as spectacle. They just look at it as, well, that's a terrible thing. Really terrible. And they turn the channel.
You know, I opened — I'm a very faithful reader of the NEW YORK TIMES every morning. And when I see that section, "The Nation At War," and I look at those incredible color photographs of the Iraqi mother with her children cowering and, you know, and some bombardment or dead bodies or American soldiers or debris or destroyed houses, day after day after day, I think, "Isn't it extraordinary that we can be here and we're so safe? And they're there." And that's a situation we're just going to get used to.
This interview was done by Bill Moyers for NOW.

It was not too long before I began to see a parallel between this war and certain Stations of the Cross, (Jesus walk toward his death), then there was a place for resurrection. It came in the photo of a man weeping, It was
this utter sadness, sitting in a museum that held so many artifacts that were destroyed. He could weep but he could not stay there forever.
The poems were not done in order. I would see a photo and wait for the words. In the poem of The Good Thief, it began as a story of Barabas. But I could not shake that there were three bodies walking. This shift was
powerful because there were others that suffered in this place called Golgotha. One who could not see Jesus as the Christ and another who recognized Him.
The late Archbishop Murphy of Seattle once said he watched the movie Dead Poet’s Society so many times before he saw that some students in the movie, didn’t stand up to recognize the teacher as he left. Belief happens in stages. I always believe that the one thief, who did not recognize Jesus came to that place, came through the pain to see like the Good Thief.
Photos give us the freedom to see a snapshot of something larger, if the imagination is allowed to break open the scene. St. Ignatius in using the bible as prayer says to go into the scene, become one of the characters.

A letter to Americaby Margaret Atwood America: This is a difficult letter to write, because I'm no longer sure who you are.
Some of you may be having the same trouble. I thought I knew you: We'd become well acquainted over the past 55 years. You were the Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck comic books I read in the late 1940s. You were the radio shows - Jack Benny, Our Miss Brooks. You were the music I sang and danced to: the Andrews Sisters, Ella Fitzgerald, the Platters, Elvis. You were a ton of fun.
You wrote some of my favourite books. You created Huckleberry Finn, and Hawkeye, and Beth and Jo in "Little Women," courageous in their different ways. Later, you were my beloved Thoreau, father of environmentalism, witness to individual conscience; and Walt Whitman, singer of the great Republic; and Emily Dickinson, keeper of the private soul. You were Hammett and Chandler, heroic walkers of mean streets; even later, you were the amazing trio, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner, who traced the dark labyrinths of your hidden heart. You were Sinclair Lewis and Arthur Miller, who, with their own American idealism, went after the sham in you, because they thought you could do better.
You were Marlon Brando in "On The Waterfront," you were Humphrey Bogart in "Key Largo," you were Lillian Gish in "Night of the Hunter." You stood up for freedom, honesty and justice; you protected the innocent. I believed most of that. I think you did, too. It seemed true at the time.
You put God on the money, though, even then. You had a way of thinking that the things of Caesar were the same as the things of God: That gave you self-confidence. You have always wanted to be a city upon a hill, a light to all nations, and for a while you were. Give me your tired, your poor, you sang, and for a while you meant it.
We've always been close, you and us. History, that old entangler, has twisted us together since the early 17th century. Some of us used to be you; some of us want to be you; some of you used to be us. You are not only our neighbours: In many cases - mine, for instance - you are also our blood relations, our colleagues, and our personal friends. But although we've had a ringside seat, we've never understood you completely, up here north of the 49th parallel.
We're like Romanized Gauls - look like Romans, dress like Romans, but aren't Romans - peering over the wall at the real Romans. What are they doing? Why? What are they doing now? Why is the haruspex eyeballing the sheep's liver? Why is the soothsayer wholesaling the Bewares?
Perhaps that's been my difficulty in writing you this letter: I'm not sure I know what's really going on. Anyway, you have a huge posse of experienced entrail-sifters who do nothing but analyze your every vein and lobe. What can I tell you about yourself that you don't already know?
This might be the reason for my hesitation: embarrassment, brought on by a becoming modesty. But it is more likely to be embarrassment of another sort. When my grandmother - from a New England background - was confronted with an unsavoury topic, she would change the subject and gaze out the window. And that is my own inclination: Mind your own business.
But I'll take the plunge, because your business is no longer merely your business. To paraphrase Marley's Ghost, who figured it out too late, mankind is your business. And vice versa: When the Jolly Green Giant goes on the rampage, many lesser plants and animals get trampled underfoot. As for us, you're our biggest trading partner: We know perfectly well that if you go down the plug-hole, we're going with you. We have every reason to wish you well.
I won't go into the reasons why I think your recent Iraqi adventures have been - taking the long view - an ill-advised tactical error. By the time you read this, Baghdad may or may not look like the craters of the Moon, and many more sheep entrails will have been examined. Let's talk, then, not about what you're doing to other people, but about what you're doing to yourselves.
You're gutting the Constitution. Already your home can be entered without your knowledge or permission, you can be snatched away and incarcerated without cause, your mail can be spied on, your private records searched. Why isn't this a recipe for widespread business theft, political intimidation, and fraud? I know you've been told all this is for your own safety and protection, but think about it for a minute. Anyway, when did you get so scared? You didn't used to be easily frightened.
You're running up a record level of debt. Keep spending at this rate and pretty soon you won't be able to afford any big military adventures. Either that or you'll go the way of the USSR: lots of tanks, but no air conditioning. That will make folks very cross. They'll be even crosser when they can't take a shower because your short-sighted bulldozing of environmental protections has dirtied most of the water and dried up the rest. Then things will get hot and dirty indeed.
You're torching the American economy. How soon before the answer to that will be, not to produce anything yourselves, but to grab stuff other people produce, at gunboat-diplomacy prices? Is the world going to consist of a few megarich King Midases, with the rest being serfs, both inside and outside your country? Will the biggest business sector in the United States be the prison system? Let's hope not.
If you proceed much further down the slippery slope, people around the world will stop admiring the good things about you. They'll decide that your city upon the hill is a slum and your democracy is a sham, and therefore you have no business trying to impose your sullied vision on them. They'll think you've abandoned the rule of law. They'll think you've fouled your own nest.
The British used to have a myth about King Arthur. He wasn't dead, but sleeping in a cave, it was said; in the country's hour of greatest peril, he would return. You, too, have great spirits of the past you may call upon: men and women of courage, of conscience, of prescience. Summon them now, to stand with you, to inspire you, to defend the best in you. You need them.
*Margaret Atwood studied American literature - among other things - at Radcliffe and Harvard in the 1960s. She is the author of 10 novels. Her 11th, "Oryx and Crake," will be published in May. This essay appeared originally in The Globe and Mail (Toronto), March 28, 2003.

All Poems by TA Delmore
East of Baghdad

They begin shooting
In groves of figs,
Spattering fruit
Onto limbs
Of bodies lost.
Sweet nectar
That runs the face
Of a mouthless soldier.

Before figs
Were collateral damage
They were a delight,
Eaten as refreshment
A treat.

So many mouths lost
Their taste
In a coppice
East of Baghdad.

I heard her weep
echoing off stone walled soldiers.
From some land faraway dripping crude,
oil, rusty colored blood
or at least as important.

Letters always come late, the sender
so naive. A granite formation, one that sears
home all those who never knew: Jose or Alvin,
now infused into one monument.
In the desert there is no such memento,

sand had no intention to mix with body parts.
Can you hear the echo, following those dead? A thumping
beat. One that sounds louder after death. Freedom isn't
free. Again it is just an echo much like a crack of a rifle.
So weep Vietnam generation and cheer you Gulf War PSTDers

bury all your woes on confetti filled avenues, trip not
over this solemn thought: you will fight for oil
under the heading of, NEW WORLD ORDER, and fall face down
not to Allah but to Exon.

The Sound

When a regime falls
And the world
Is asleep, who wakes
The world up?

A bending of steel
A yawn of sound;
Saddam, Saddam.

When the world
Wakes up,
And sees truly
Sees, the mess of nations,
Our children will leap frog,
Play kick the can
And shout: “red rover
Red rover, send humanity over.”


I am thinking about
tolerable losses
in human terms.

There seems to be a
gap in this connection.

Less a shock, more
like an irritating hum.

Tolerable losses are our sons
and daughters gone down
to defeat in a sporting event

Tolerable loss is a missing
front tooth or a new scab forming

Not limbs, and loves
languishing on desert

Photos, not taken of
the dead, heaped
on bases none can pronounce.

Dispatched by men
Wearing silk suits.
That is tragedy and
Death, and most of all

The Church of St. Therese
Three candles burn down
On the altar, other light
Gives little hint
From where it comes.
Church light is like that.
The pastor prays mid-pew
Alone among the scattered.
Her place of quiet is restless.

Red banners hang on whitewashed
Pillars. Blood soon to be spilled,
Spilling. The click of the rosary
Against a mahogany pew, brings
Thoughts to prayer. The pastor
Rises, whispering words
No one hears. Side altar
Extinguished candles.
There is no escaping
Smoke from such blows,
More a feeling of invocations.

Out into the cold, looking
Thinking of a war, thousands
Of miles away, and many days
To pray.