Tonight

I don’t know anyone who was born in Syria, needless to say, I don’t know anyone who has had to flee Syria since it became, so far as I can tell, the battleground of a tyrant who intends to cling to power no matter what and regional powers who want a piece of the action and fundamentalist militants and fuck knows what else. Who can tell any more.

I was born in the palmy aftermath of the Second World War, when in America at least — my Brit friends have acquainted me with a less swimming narrative — suburbia was thriving and people who had survived deployment were fathering families and going to school on the GI bill and slapping down the down-payments on houses and saving to send their kids to colleges which wouldn’t bankrupt either generation. No Fortune 500 company hired me, but I had the platform in an increasingly unequal economy to scratch, claw and clobber my way to a house. I love my house. My house cares for me. It protects me.

No one (yet) has any reason to bomb my house or the neighborhood where it sits.

No one (yet) has dropped anywhere near me chemical agents that sear lungs, blind eyes, execute whole families.

I get up in the morning and I bitch about the people I have to deal with performing my everyday errands. The sky is blue, when it isn’t raining the blessed and gentle rain of the Tidewater. Nothing evil falls from it.

I live in Paradise. I have a few dollars to send to the UN refugee aid, after making sure my future is taken care of. No one has yet ripped it away from the sky.

I don’t know what to say or think about the state of the world, or Tomahawk missiles. I do have to think that we in the United States can take the chance on people who are running away from a sky that, on a random day in a random place, can rain hell on the home you have worked for your whole life.

I am lucky. So lucky.

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Goddammit, Nobody Learns

Afflicted by reminiscence and a passion for good film and music, I surfed this up. I always think I am listening solely because the music is dazzling, but I never finish with a dry eye.

Just as the clip completed, this flashed up on my Twitter feed:

CSMonitor.com @csmonitor

#Egypt: Police, military open fire on crowd of Morsi supporters killing 51 wounding 430+ in bloodiest incident yet: ow.ly/mLnyp

If I were God, this would get so old.

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Memorial Day is just not my favorite holiday. (I’m not sure there is one I really like, but that aside.) Sale circulars arrive by snail and e-mail, beer is bought in truckloads, cars take off for the beach, and people stage obnoxious parties, like the one that ended around 1 a.m. this Sunday with my calling the cops over the matter of two returning corybants down my street engaging in an outbreak of obscenity-laced partner violence on my neighbors’ lawn.

Then people make some very solemn speeches about how our military keep us free, and the phrase “ultimate sacrifice” is used a lot. People choke up, feel noble, and go home.

Wilfrid Owen, who was a British officer in the First World War and a poet, didn’t come home. He had this to say about it:

Dulce et Decorum est

     Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
     Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
     Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
     And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
     Men marched asleep.  Many had lost their boots,
     But limped on, blood-shod.  All went lame, all blind;
     Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
     Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

     Gas!  GAS!  Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
     Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
     But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
     And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime.—
     Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
     As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

     In all my dreams before my helpless sight
     He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

     If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
     Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
     And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
     His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin,
     If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
     Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
     Bitter as the cud
     Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
     My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
     To children ardent for some desperate glory,
     The old Lie:  Dulce et decorum est
     Pro patria mori.

Owen was not a conscientious objector nor a draft-dodger. He was invalided home in 1917, and returned to the front “in order to help these boys; directly, by leading them as well as an officer can; indirectly, by watching their sufferings that I may speak of them as well as a pleader can.” He died leading his men across the Sambre Canal a few days before the Armistice.

In the Great War it was gas and shell-shock. These days it’s IED’s and brain damage: there’s always a weapon that no one is prepared for and a generation that has to deal with it, and no one wants to hear about the aftereffects.

I really don’t think all the little flags help much with this, do you?

Phantom Germans (II)

Early on this blog, I mentioned Donna Barr‘s intriguing proposition that she, and I, and any number of other women around our age, harbored the transmigrated spirits of soldiers killed waging the wars of the Third Reich, who had returned to earthly life swearing to wage peace, and resist the death-drunk totalitarian impulse that fuels wars of nationalism and conquest.

I suppose you could start with giving someone a good massage.

I thought about it last night when a late-evening client began talking about her mother, who’s also been on my table — a tiny lady who banged up her back on a holiday visit not long ago. “Mom tells me about what it was like when she was in school, when the Germans took over the town,” she said. They were on the border between two occupied territories of Eastern Europe, and at first the Wehrmacht simply staked the place out and billeted themselves on the residents: “Mom’s parents had to put up this gay lieutenant” [shades of Barr’s Desert Peach!] “who would play the Marseillaise on the piano, until the other officers warned him he could get in trouble.” At first it was only the Wehrmacht — “only” is relative; later it was the SS, of whom even the Wehrmacht officers were afraid. People who had crowded into an open-air market might find the market randomly blocked off, everyone inside it ordered to board a train to a work camp, and their families wouldn’t see them again.

Because of that war, I was born. There was nothing else that would have brought a hornplayer from Nebraska deep into the American South to meet a local girl who was doing war work. I used to meditate on the oddity of being a legacy of war — an antecedent I share with countless people all over the world — long before the occasion when Frau Barr offered me her Phantom German theory.

And here in this brave new century, writing dates on my checks that figured in the futuristic science-fiction of my schooldays, I loosen the shoulders and relax the neck of a small-boned woman who once watched her parents cope with booted men in gray uniforms, striding through the parlor, appropriating the household treasures.

Did I wear a uniform like that?  It would make a good novel. All I know is, Time is not a straight line. It’s a spiral or a helix, doubling back on itself, like our DNA.