Sunday, April 25, 2004

but a similar war


L'enfer, c'est les autres
Jean-Paul Sartre: Huis Clos

If Hell is other people, this, then, must be
what mine will be like. Walking into the
Embers, Sunday night / Monday morning, to
find the place full of American sailors,
all in white, ten feet tall or dancing
with dwarves. Or, as they all really
are, youngboys, nervously not-too-sure
of the local customs, every one drunk.

                                            We try
to sit apart from them; but we are the natives
here, and must be fed soft clichés to appease
whatever gods we have. For this place, to these
visitors, is temporarily Hell's opposite, & we
its inhabitants. & though we have long hair &
beards, fraternisation is still the democratic order
of the day.
                      "The War? I’d rather not talk
about it. Two buddies back there, both buried."
Or: "I really love this here country. But is coffee
all you drink? Are you sure you wouldn't like
some vodka?" & then the classic, almost popsong
lines: "You know, I really look up to you guys.
Back home" - that fabled land of faith, hope, charity &
Norman Rockwell – "we’d call you hippies. & when
I get back to San Francisco, I've decided to go straight
up to Haight-Ashbury to live."

                                 Yeah? & wear flowers in your hair?

You can almost hear the pages of a training manual being
mentally manipulated. Section 45, paragraph 3: 'Some
useful phrases when dealing with foreign deviant
groups.' The oiled sincerity - well-oiled - & the
protective shield of angel-white uniforms symbolising peace -
but not on Earth, rather somewhere beneath, in a dimly-lit nightclub
where the angels are anonymous. Everyone scared off, or long
gone home: except those women for whom all nations'
boundaries are broken down by money, & we, who blundered in,
not knowing what there was before us.

                                            The plethora of naval might
stunned us; & we came out of it trapped, & being patronised
by these young servicemen who have been told they're doing right
& must continue to believe so, even though their buddies die &
they themselves are losing their best years. We think of talking,
of telling them what seems to us more like the truth; but what
to say / or how to say it? This far away, with the war
closed off by distance & the flak jackets that now protect
their minds, the words that choke our throats can have no exit.

Though they come as angels, these are
the other people. Nothing we can do but wait
for them to go & take this Hell - their Heaven -
                                                                             with them.

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