THE BOOK OF THE DEAD MAN (PEACETIME)
Live as if you were already dead.
1. ABOUT THE DEAD MAN IN PEACETIME, IF AND WHEN
If and when the war is over, the dead man’s days will seem longer.
When the ammo is spent, the funds discharged, when the fields have shut
down and the flares fallen, an hour will take an hour.
Time for the dead man lengthens when the shooting stops.
The waiting for the next war to begin can seem endless, though it take but a
week, a month or a year.
The low intensity conflicts, the raids and assassinations, the deployments and
withdrawals, the coups and revolutions, the precursors and aftermaths—
it’s a lifetime of keeping track.
It’s as if the sun fell and fizzled—somewhere.
Then the black, white and gray propaganda, the documents planted on
corpses, the reading of tea leaves and bones…
The dead man takes stock in the darkness of peacetime.
The Judas goats stand waiting in the corrals.
We are the sheep that gambol through dreamless nights.
A quietude hangs in the air, an expectancy, the shimmer that some believe
presages alien life forms.
The calm before the stampede.
It was wartime when love arrived, yes, love.
It was wartime when the virtuosi performed, standing on their heads, as it
were, for peace time is our upside-down time.
* * *
2. MORE ABOUT THE DEAD MAN IN PEACETIME, IF AND WHEN
On a field of armed conflict, in the midst of rushing water, at the lip of a
canyon, by the border of a fire-torched desert, in the overdark of a
rain forest, where else was there ever but here?
Do you think poetry is for the pretty?
Look up and down, then, avoiding the hillocks that hold the remains.
The dead man, too, sees the puffy good nature of the clouds.
He welcomes, too, the spring blooming that even the grass salutes.
The dead man has made peace with temporary residence and the eternal
Oh, to live in between, off the target, blipless on the radar, silent on
To keep one’s head down when the satellites swoop over.
Not even to know when the last war is reincarnated and the next one
The dead man sings of a romantic evening in the eerie flickering of the last
He whistles, he dances, he writes on the air as the music passes.
It was in wartime that the dead man conceived sons.
The dead man lifts a glass to the beauties of ruin.
The dead man is rapt, he is enveloped, he is keen to be held.
—from Rattle #34, Winter 2010