You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will.
War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it…
—William T. Sherman, General, U.S. Army
Here I am again, fainting numb into the storm. Rain plays scales like shellfire
in mud: ricochets off my body bag: sounds like Kerbaj playing a thunderous
trumpet of the dead: blasting static rhythm of car alarms: last breath’s low note.
I dream myself a warrior angel…diffusing bombs…left at the end
of the mind…by shadows of men who have fallen in the trenches
between idea and reality: their shadows so thin, light passes through.
As translucent as my eyelids, the lightning above the polluted skyline pulls
me down into a sea of starlight, broken by cannons firing into the dead angle
of hell itself, fragmenting out into the big dipper. These are the shadows—
faces caked, scarred, and rippling as a pile of flags—of our great grandfathers
and uncles: forever-removed. In the mud flats, I see them wrestling into each other:
my grandfather sprawled out, reflected in a pool of hematoma. I want to ask him how
to be something more than the damaged nerves and skin that blankets my back, legs
and hands. How to fight the image of flag & shadow in which he made me. But his face
is my own, glinting off the jagged rock he used to bash in a Union boy’s head.
See, young men (boys really), want to understand war: to ingest and get drunk on it.
To camp on the battlefields of Kennesaw Mountain & down a fifth of Old Grand Dad.
All of this occurring, more or less, I awoke to Sherman whispering in my ear:
You cannot refine it. But if war can’t be refined, then why’s it go down so smooth?