Let us meet our responsibilities. For people of the Middle East have lived from war to war with no prospect for any other future. That dreadful cycle must be broken. Why are we there? Well, a Lebanese mother told one of our Ambassadors that her little girl had only attended school 2 of the last 8 years. Now, because of our presence there, she said her daughter could live a normal life.
—President Ronald Reagan, Oct. 27, 1983
The man remains in my memory: a black marine terrified. Ashen.
How reliable is memory?
If I claim: October 23, 1983 a black marine terrified and ashen pulled of rubble from four storied building at the Beirut International Airport broken from sleep.
I wonder if such a man was also pulled black, terrified and ashen from the French barracks destroyed that day too.
Was he stretchered with only his shorts, broken from rubble and broken from sleep?
How reliable is my memory?
I count the pallbearers of marines and fifty French.
Stretched on canvas and concrete slab some sleeping and some remembering the four stories collecting as dust.
I wondered how their ten-year-old sons waited at air force bases the flights carrying the wounded and the dead.
But without ten-year-old sons who will bury the dead?
These men made of rubble are as clear to me as the day they appeared on Star and Stripes or the evening news. My father, sister, and I were waiting for the next space-available flight from Hickam Air Force Base to Clark Air Force Base with suitcases full of Brach’s candy corn. We were returning to the archipelago to bury my grandfather, over a week dead. I believed the Beirut bombings caused a scarcity of Military Airlift transport planes. Otherwise we would not have missed my grandfather’s funeral. He was entombed on Halloween. No joke. We flew in Halloween night and hours late.
[I should have clarified that I have two fathers. There is Bio-Dad, Philippine born and broodful, and there is Jack, or Dad, the man who raised me since I was six-years-old, West Virginia born, of Welsh-Scotch coal mining stock. Both Vietnam War veterans. Both retired Navy. Both living on their pensions in the Philippines. In my heart, both absent and still lost to sea. Both enlisted for virtually the same reason—economic prosperity and world travel. They wouldn’t be safe in the same room together.]
During a near-death experience, or death experience, your life is supposed to flash before your eyes. Would your mind know to flash life before your eyes when death detonates a bomb?
In my case: simulacra. My near-death experience gave me Vanessa Williams.
I mean, whom would you rather meet at the barrel of an M-16?
In the aftermath of Beirut, the Marine Security detachment at NAS Alameda conducted terrorist response drills. I know this is true in October the following year or was it the next. I remember one drill. It may have been the only drill ever conducted as the first may have riled many high-ranking parents. It was advertised in the base newspaper, The Carrier. So, I knew to avoid the drill. I expected it to be loud and visible; it was not. The Marine Barracks and the office of Naval Intelligence shared the same compound with the Library. Behind the compound were A-6 Intruder hangars and the armory and behind them, the airfield. I was returning books: either science fiction or military reference.
When I was younger, base libraries were my day care. My parents would drop me off and I’d disappear into the stacks until closing—until my parents remembered where they had put me. Where was I supposed to go? I felt obliged to learn as much of the politics of deployment, its narrative, and the arms race, its narrative. I should have majored in International Relations. I had an instinct for it and perhaps I would have been a consultant or pundit buy now, and a homeowner, respectable, financially sound. Yes a poet and his alternate timelines, his faux histories. But that said it was also here in the base library that at the discard table I acquired a battered copy of Richard Brautigan’s The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster (1963). The future forked and was uncertain.
Miss America covered the September 1984 Penthouse and for this reason my mother purchased a copy. Within a month it became mine. In ritualistic fashion, she passed on the magazine’s ownership during the World Series. Don’t ask me during which game. I just knew my step-dad thought it funny: “You’re not supposed to read it.” Traci Lords made the issue valuable and illegal but that scandal is as much as I can remember of her. An amnesia of whiteness? I don’t remember what she looked like, or the shape of her thighs, or her navel punctum, or if I was turned on. Sorry Traci! I mean no offense. Amy, however—and I don’t know why in all of my memory I call her Amy, has a resounding echo. She submits to Vanessa’s exploration. Then, I would not have called it a lesbian encounter, though certainly tranquil and postcolonial erotic.
So, when I had stepped into the outdoor corridor within fifty yards of the library, my would-be assailant, a young black marine, emerged from behind a column, finger at the trigger. Through the crosshairs I saw his eyes. I saw Vanessa’s body. I saw him armored. I saw her cupping Amy’s small breasts. I was drawn into bore and its pudendal rifling. I saw consent. I knew what kind of damage a 5.56 round would do. I wanted that kind of consent granted to me. He ordered my book bag to the ground. He had me search it, pulled everything out. What was I reading/returning? My sharp pencil was a shank, but against a gun? He didn’t see the danger. I faintly remembered a song running through my head—John Cougar Mellencamp or Bruce Springsteen. That’s when I connected Ticketmaster’s office, also in the compound. I have yet gone to a concert. I thought of the conversation the sailors had about AC/DC and Aerosmith. I had much to learn about music. Yet, there was Vanessa and Amy, both calm and invulnerable. Next, he asked for my identification. I put by Dependent’s ID on the ground and stepped back when told. He lunged forward and verified my credential. Yes. I was born in the U.S.A. His superiors must have been watching from behind a blind to observe his performance, that he was taking his sentry job seriously, that he even tested the youngest of challengers to his post. Those unaccounted variables. Trust only when all pretenses made visible. Boys my age were combatants somewhere in the world’s more than 40 wars. In those wars the yellow man was an efficient killing machine. I was the profile.
The same is true about life flashing before entering the Army recruiting office.
It is October and because it is October, I am stuck remembering my Octobers of dead marines and naked pageant queens as if this is the last October I will ever have and I am waiting to order French Fries at the Tea Shop at Mills College because the grill line opens at 10:30am and no sooner. So coffee sits in an empty stomach. I had drifted onto campus over an hour ago because it was five minutes away from where I had dropped off my sister at the Mall. The night before at the Work-in-Progress reading, I circulated Issue 19: “the Unexpected” Calls for Submission. Despite my love/hate relationship with my MFA, as Tea Party Magazine’s Poetry Editor, I still have an underlying bond. Then again, maybe I am searching for a new poetic community. Or maybe, I am just looking for a poetic community to adopt a stray, a community that is willing to lift the burden of one October or another.
Miranda Mellis, my instructor from my 2008 Naropa Summer Writing Program, and now a visiting professor at Mills, anchored the reading series. In Boulder, she had a memorable reading about lover’s and their positions—how positions often cannot be shared. “We keep to our positions” and hope for tolerance. Vanessa and Amy was the picture of optimism. Highlight of our talk afterward: The progress of her Norwegian seed-project segueing to Pandorum (2009). It is Dennis Quaid’s best performance since Enemy Mine (1985). Far into the future, when Earth’s human population exceeds 24 billion, the ark Elysium searches for a companion planet. The events aboard are equal to I am Legend (2007) meets Doom (2005). Think Faster than Light cannibal psychosis.
“Elysium” got its major film culture debut in Gladiator (2000). It is the after life where Maximus rejoins his son. This film has become difficult for me to see. The son paid for his father’s nobility, his service to Empire and Emperor. The General walks through verses of grain and towards his son, as if nothing ever happened to tear them apart.
I screen films online. Being poor, bootlegs are essential. Splurging requires the crossing of the picket line at the non-union theater in Alameda with my son—and praying, his mother would not scold me for the extravagance. Picketers are most forgiving when children accompany parents. My last movie outing with Taeo was Bolt (2008). He likes Rhino, the sheltered but fearless bubble-hamster. I convince myself that an animated reunion is in my future.
I hope the picketers will call it a day when I take him to see Where the Wild Things Are (2009). My son turns five-years-old this month and this is my present to him. I expect extra napkins. He will not understand my sense of lost or melancholy nor will he see it expressed in the darkness of the theatre. I will tell him, buttered popcorn will be extra messy today. This will be the second year in a row I will not celebrate his birthday on the day he was born. I have been given an alternate day. I am a father of alternate days. I am an alternating father. I am an alternate. In this capacity, I no longer feel compelled to read the Sports page to him as I did hours after he was born. Swaddled, and in my arms, his mother in the bed beside us, I read how the Boston Red Sox won the first game of the 2004 World Series. I don’t even know which teams are contending this year.
So the story goes: Boats, the vehicle and tenor of. Mother exiles Max to his bedroom without dinner. Read the food politics later: the necessity and the extravagance of mother-son dining table arrangement and the penal code sublimating the transaction of providing food. Fork. Knife. Spoon. Napkin. Plate. Glass. Obedient Son. All set properly to advertise domestic tranquility. Dinners pretend the national past.
Mothers understand the power withholding boob juice. Why should such an early lesson be discarded when children are much older? Tame the wild man by denying access. Amazons were best at eliminating desire? Scarcity’s introspection sets the mind in motion, the meniscus in flux.
But what of boys? Mothers were never boys. Boys are already sailing. Already beyond the horizon in the timeless infinitive. Where things collide. How can mothers understand? A son’s need for a father? His inability to express that need. Even with me my own ex- had belittled my childhood experiences (wanting a father). Her answer: you need help.
She remains adamant to be uninformed of the life of boys, as if boys do not inherit their father’s motion sickness. It is a boy’s cage. I know this to be true—I had unexpectedly married my mother. I’d be too bitter to explain this likeness further. So if I cannot find that poetic community, may I find that community of boys who were raised on military bases, their fathers deployed and absent; all of them needing help; search and rescue, tethered to months unending.
Sendak was with me when I was five and living in Atsugi, Japan. How silly, bomb shelters were made of wood because concrete alarms. Max escapes his imprisonment sailing on the paternal boat, to where he will be accepted, an island of friendly monsters. Did their mothers similarly exile them? Were they waiting for a king, a boy-king, an infant terrible, who would rise and become paternal? Boys role-play their fathers as a means to remember their fathers, to bring their fathers into their lives. If ever I had an invisible friend, it was my invisible and wounded father.
First Blood (1982) was one of the last films I saw with my father (Bio-Dad). It was shortly after we arrived in the Philippines. When my father’s duty to my dead grandfather was done, we took a break from farm country and did what was normal in our life, the movies. You see my father was a quiet man and the movies gave us something to talk about. My stepfather never took me to the movies. That wasn’t his sort of thing, nor was it my mother’s.
[I should clarify: Bio-Dad is the image of a brown James Dean. V05 Greaser in wife beater and 5’5. Stepfather Jack—Donald Sutherland’s twin and just as tall.]
I saw a damaged release in a humid and poorly ventilated theatre in Olongapo. In that space where pine and spruce branched from a ripped screen I forgot I was in the Fuck City of Asia, the avenues trawled by prostitutes, petite teens a few years older than my sister, advertized as Little Brown Fucking Machines. I saw these sailors and marines entering parlors and wondered of their nobility, their marriage promises, the dust children later conceived, that sex in whatever form, provided by whatever person, was that respite between bouts and tours of duty. When the State sanctioned pandering, then liberty was “the cherry” popped and bragged about at muster, and parallax, the fish-eyed view of commerce from across the street. In the short-time hotel, her life long ambition to immigrate contracted.
My soldier dreams did not measure up to Hollywood Green Berets. I had no shield of invincibility. I had no bulletproof delusions. Patriotism did not have “friendly civilians” and I was not defending Freedom, mine or anyone else. I had real soldier dreams because it was all I knew and ever known.
Would that answer satisfy the Army recruiter? Why re-enlist? Military life was all I knew and ever known. Military truth was all I knew and ever known. Military fraternity was all I knew and ever known. Military Cradle to Grave health care appeals. I was born into the military in a pink Army hospital outside Honolulu. Of course, I am very afraid of what comes later.
October, my shoulders are sore. My life flashes. Where is this Elysium? This cybernetic meadow?