Friday, November 11, 2011

In His Own Words

Yes, war is hell. Take it from someone who knew ...

On some previous Veterans Days I've taken the opportunity to remember my father, who, among other things, fought and was wounded in the largest and deadliest war in history. This year I thought I'd let him speak for himself. The following piece from his posthumous collection of poetry contains everything he had to say on the subject of war.

Like many veterans of World War II he seldom spoke about what had happened to him. But I remember him reading this poem to my mother when he wrote it, probably ten years after the war had ended. It was as if everything he had bottled up inside spilled out.

In it you can see the cynicism about organized religion that let him to question his faith and to abandon the Church. (He had been born and raised a Catholic.) But there is also, I think, an undercurrent of an abiding faith in the power of the natural world to heal and restore us if we will only allow it.

      Your Wars

Go on and fight your wars
Pseudo-Christians, cowards all,
Professing meek cheeks,
Afraid to sheath your swords.

I've seen every war since your God forbade them,
Astonished at your unstrained compromise,
And I've seen enough:
The distraught of men before the firing,
Of other men before our firing,
And I mourn these young men
Dying before their works are done.

One I hardly knew fell across my path,
Unwilling mutant, an extra mouth
Newly dug above his ear.
What words from that eloquent mouth!
But never mentioned little cakes or chasubles.
I still see his questioning eyes.

One sought cover beneath a tank
Which, seeing the fire it drew,
Backed without warning, its steel teeth
Chewing his brain to pulp on icy ground.
Farmers no doubt wondered
At that especially fertile spot.

One oblivious to the fighting
Sat clutching himself to himself,
Cupping the ragged remains of genitals
In bloody hands. Impassioned bullet
To engage in such sadistic intercourse.

A woman sprawled broken among the rubble,
Breast suckling the air, legs undecorous.
We forgave her impropriety,
In unknowing embrace with fornicating death.

And I've seen the children.
Have you seen them, never young?
Eyes wondering?
Legs wandering?
Grimy claws sifting garbage,
Scraping maggot off?
Don't worry, belly-bloated child,
There's plenty of food in heaven --
By the way, have you been baptized?
In the name of the Father, the Son, and Holy Ghost.
Amen. There. Now you can die.

What are your wars for?
I see only one good in them --
A speedier evolution to weed out the unfit --
The cowards yearning for death
Who fight and die for make-beliefs.
It's living requires courage -- living never tried.

So go on and fight your wars.
Your countries will go, and your rich kings,
Leaving only the unturmoiled world.
Marked only with natural boundaries
Her hair grows green and luxuriant,
Her tears wash over ancient festers, healing them,
Leaving only the brave, holding hard to nebulous dreams.

So go on and fight your wars,
Expunge yourselves, become vague specimens
In future museums: "Here is Acquisitive Man
From the Age of Veneers, offshoot of Homo Sapiens.
Note the small braincase and large grasping hands."

So go on and fight your wars,
Churchmen send them out on new crusades,
Pray of the Peaceful Prince luck in the kill,
Satraps continue doing foolish things in duty's name,
Drape the hallowed bunting on the deluded slob's eternal bed,
Safe old men, cheer them on,
tear in eye, drink in hand.

-- "Scott" Donachie, 1922-1973

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