MEMORIES, SHADOWS AND DOORS (Viet Nam, Still?)
W. Jude Aher
How easy to remember, how hard to forget, the years. Time walks on eternally, allowing never tears to fall on the moments, which call them free. It is late, night settles into long quiets between the sounded touches of a wandering wind, touching trees and concrete. Whispers lean into slow falling windows and the glass panes seem to side with the night.
Sleeping breaths drift from other rooms, warmth in its moments. Moments reside to almost swallow the memories, the echoes which lace through my body. My mind struggles for distraction, just again not to hear. For the years are far away and it seems that there is no place left for them to stay. But still again the echoes cry out their silent breaths.
A click, like ice fracturing within a warmer glass, sounding in the quiet as a breaking of stone deep in the night of an earthed Utah valley. The arm of my stereo rises to the air leaving music behind for music to come. Caught is the interweaving silence, with the wind liquid on my window panes. I mentally gasped for breath - a little time objectivity. No respite, time in consistency to its madness or method, just the clock winds and so unnoticed.
A memory in the recent of my soul. My long hair never wore the soldier’s cut of those many who died around my life. Was or is guilt in the echo, against my own early awareness of America’s attempt at Hero creation being a lemmings’ race toward a piper’s Death rest. What colorful philosophy I create to hear in the rusts of my own night, filled with electric music and light? When were the moments, so real? No rationalizations; first I could try. No echoes, just wind in gale force whipping my unshaven face with distance, death and emptiness, much too much emptiness.
Dylan and so old was the youth of his other self. And now, is it still I who is Blowing in the Wind? I, who never learned to fear the Joseph McCarthys and Edgar Hoovers or my country’s world. Oh, such sweet unmelodic rage. Could it have been any war which had befitted so my rage to grow up, so slow and so ever fast.
What endless History classes tried to fill me with prepared perspectives? What endless wording attacked my younger moments? How easily did I turn from my teachers’ rigid plans, offering what innocence up to them. What yearning to learn filled me ever so much faster than those empty required pages. Who were these streets filled ever so with aging eyes?
Why can’t we discuss Viet Nam, could I ask? Eighteen was a coming year and how much I had to decide. Mr. Hoover battled Al Capone for freedom and, but what? Why does he smile so easily at Bobby Kennedy’s death there behind Mr. Nixon’s best suit? How many whys does a child request? Never enough! /Blowin’ in the Wind/ But still, what child could desist?, why does my hair bother you all so? "Sir, who was Joseph McCarthy, wasn’t he a friend of Mr. Nixon’s?"
I remember the pain, maybe earlier than I remember the thoughts that yearned toward questions. A friend, older once, and no so empty. He was twenty and now he seems to notice all too well my sixteen-year old girl friend. Where have his years gone? The wind walks louder against my window’s side of night and shadow. And the music seems never still, so far away. A corner on a Brooklyn street, lives a chilled Autumn night, there across from an Army Recruiting station. Phil Ochs’ words and my brother’s guitar, we played with the others in our array of worn jackets, riding on the love of that moment. Yes, "The Tears of Rage" fell to me easier there and o that day. "Hell no! We won’t go!" Would I! Just months yet to decide. Was I a man or a child afraid. Should I have died in the land of death and nothing more, with just a flower in my gun? Or, was there fear in my eyes? I would slip out to Canada?/ No, it was too far from those returning eyes; those for which Bobby and Martin died, those for which without reason, my youth seemed to cry out in pain.
Was it 1959, in Opa Locka, Florida? I was a child, definitely, walking those nowhere streets, knowing how littler, How ever little. "Hey, Cathy (a sister), look, there are two water fountains. Why are you drinking from the one that says WHITE,, water’s no fun/" "I’m drinking from the COLORED one, yeah." "Billy, get back from that fountain!" And I have still no memory of an answer to my child’s whys. Just answers to my older sighs, and maybe unsung tears, when age and memory passed in my youth Raging by. /Blowin’ in the Wind/
My hair falls around my shoulders to play through my vision. The Rocky Mountain Stage and a wind turning night is a flash within my eyes, more than a memory, a feeling. Another Poem to ease that Rage, more words dare I write, longing for tomorrow. But is it tomorrow already, Who asks, who too often has asked? And have I yet asked myself, (Why don’t I cut my hair)?
Was it just the war of so long ago? Is it the 50,000 still dead, the 50,000 whose bodies still can’t decide or reside, or the 500,000 never to be young again. Their badges are rarely noticed anymore, finding what as I reach to validate my still eternal Rage. Is it my eyes or their who still seem to find me?
It wasn’t his name but his touch that made me feel something. Maybe he was older than I, but of an age not too far away. Just June 1981, not time enough to really become a memory. Just another day at work, filled with Classical composers and all such wandering evenly in the closed depths of their own social field. And all the sweet protagonists. Widowed and far past youth, and maybe even farther past middle age. What dead man’s music or name still carries this woman. Working for free and what demands fill this woman’s stage. And how dare could she have noticed the despair of the us and its eternal inflation, infliction on how many of us?
By any other name, is Welfare but Welfare? Young and old, the non-profit standing of my job brought them in. On the job experience, I was told, ‘No, not welfare.’ Black with dry torn eyes and far too nameless to perceive? But who could I believe, just a man living far too alone from where or from himself. We meet, but what dare I to presume. A man and we meet. A living face on a stage of delusion? Burned by something more than drugs, were the lines of his face. What or nothing did I owe him already?
Who told me that these soldiers were friendless and simply for their 95% attrition rate. Forced to crawl into the Viet Cong burrows to clean out the survivors that the gas couldn’t push. The pure black fear, and the hands crawling along, along - more alone than in death. What silly games have I ever played basked against the reflection of this man’s eyes? Were those sweet politics of guilt and lottery finally catching up with me? And how hard can one care for a stranger’s best, or is it his worst?
Am I forever lost to moments. Long talks of Harlem walls and Jazz seams. What sweet find of drugs and women loved? A man upon a Poet’s ears. Damn those pragmatic Blues; they’re so sine that a Poet could cry, or is it love?
His eyes seemed red forever. Just off from a government-made job, now gone. What did his government owe anymore or how long? Alone again? A woman, a son, reaching to him for their patch of city concrete. And his quite, his always quiet, sometimes were the drugs too soft for his soul?
His job now was typing addresses and working under a woman who never believed Viet Nam or even Harlem really existed. But all antagonists have their places. "You’re stupid, can’t you get anything right?" To se him walk away too quickly but not too far - always Welfare a carrot before him. And what yesterdays are ever really gone?
A women too old to think, or too young to see. Do I rage at the blind Americans still, or simply at people and forever? This man and I talked. How dare could he rage at this white woman? How dare indeed! "She’s a fool - standing on me?" Let her go, stay here for a while – "Standing on me!" And back and back again she would return carrying her ice fine words. "Stupid, can’t you read," and on. Not once noticing his eyes or her own mortality.
A man drifts back to ever hard streets, or even Black Viet Nam defeats, of friends who have nothing more to say - nothing from the dead. And by what right do I presume to stop this man from laying this woman out with hard flesh?
My hair, an assault to what death in his eyes, my soft white skin and far away tries. "Don’t waste your freedom on this stupid woman." And his eyes, there in his eyes, what could I ever know? Never too true, but watching his eyes see something and never me! And he left, rage, his or mine, wearing still on the walls today.
Leaving behind someone’s empty tries and whys. Leaving all the insults, jobless and now faceless - to the stage of Harlem streets, for drugs and death or what of the rest. A child left to blow in his practiced trumpet across an unmarked grave, or a concrete street.
And all my seemingly meaningless cares, still Blowin’ in the Wind.
But seconds seems to pass ion a song caught in an eternal refrain. Cold light from out a refrigerator door, racing the wind to touch its flight. Cold water passing down my throat, so quickly, so pragmatically. And the song seems to move on, or seems to. For no reason, I want to cry onto a played-out hand of Tarot Cards - saying too much of Nothing, this time. The whisper of a dream and a woman’s flesh lies so close, a door, forever a door, a room away. But what scars dare I to claim for the tears that yearn for freedom or what to ease the pain. No, tomorrow shall never come again and my hair rages to itself for the sweet freedom of a long mountain’s wind. Still beginning child, are you.
Yesterday, never so easily - as all these tomorrows come much too hard. And no one cares for the pain anymore, these eternally useless pains. Let’s burn or die! A child of so long ago always rages on questions and why.
It is a darker night in the silence without music? A single light whose shadows can’t open my eyes.
California, and much too long a ramp to the highway. My thumb lost to innate conservation with the air. My body set for a long stand in a crowd of road hikers, a line of waiting long. Cars come running past, running their lanes hard to the opposite side. Some stop and the line shortens. More running figures and the line continues.
An old car moving slowly, drifting place or face-to-face, stops on my end and watches the moment. My thumb is gestured, a decision rendered, and I have a ride, so long and so quick. Why me? Or is it why not? The running mentality.
My rage is smiling for I am running free. All the stories and all the feel. Who wonders if either dares to be real? More real than the war, heroes to death and soul destruction - with no flags to color the capes? But I dare to believe that care is more than enough to call a man a brother, that my sweat from running is enough to offer, more than self delusion on a child’s stage from my hands. And a Poet’s endless record to feed the requests that might dare to validate reality and touch. Was it youth? We tried so hard. But it was they who died so hard and not I. No, not I.
But I never even tried to cut my hair or my love for the child men who touched their hands against mine.
He drove so easily next to me, carrying me along, asking no fee, not even that I see - the many of unseen children and men running the roads of our country, flagless and free.
Like my present, distance held his eyes, a man no older than I but for a couple of years. And a self that was stories yearning for words, or was it simply a yearning for touch? He or I?
No officers, just soldiers walking a road, a road far from their home or any dreams. M-1s on their backs and rain thick with alien smells across their skins. Just four men alone in another world, not lost but moving. Not lost but alone, alone in the distance of themselves. Walking a war that had lost them for a moment. Blood still undried on their fingers. Maybe forgetting, so easily, for these men had never been taught the faces of their enemy’s, just the color of their blood, which was but red.
Were they alive or dead? Yet no one would dare to question. A truck stopped, no marking in this war and rain too thick for any markings to break their colors through. Canvas flapped open. A hand like any other hand reached out from the dryness. Four men, or are they soldiers, jump up into the truck, not with hope, but simply because it was there. Water dripped slowly down war-green ponchos. Rifles stood unconscious guard between their legs. Eyes saw little in the shadows but other men, or were they soldiers. The rain seemed to pattern itself into the sound of the truck’s engine. Soldiers, or were they men, relaxed. Time, was it silent!
Six Viet Cong looked from aged child eyes back at the soldiers and many hands moved from the silence onto their rifles. But who dares where silence plays, lives, stops and soldiers die? And thus no one moved! There, safe from a rain too blinding, a few men dared to breathe, a few men dared to live. And suddenly, no one cared to die in an eternal rain.
His car continued down the road, this story lost among others. Tomorrow was no longer fated here in his car.
I shared some grass and found a warm, though rain-stained, hand. And later, watching our roads part, watching his car ride along and alone, maybe not completely, I wrote another poem, in place of the tears never cried?
Still Blowin’ in the Wind?
Too tired to move, to even sip from a glass of warm water. Too tired to be anything but awake. Caught in the memories, I dare never to let die. Listening to older songs whose poetry still reached me, and to a child sleeping deep within its stage of growing older.
And I cry alone where non may see, across the feel of hands still warm in their touch with mine. I cry for love and maybe hate, for the words I can no longer speak. I cry on the poems whose rage whisper of touch / life and death / all far beyond the stage of a war that echoes but from far away?
More faces and more lost wait within the slow silence of forever dreams strobing through my soul.
And sleep, as I rise to go lie near to the warm flesh of my woman, I know will call up the dreams, the horrors lost in between. Knowing I will walk these dreams as the tomorrow on my lips. Knowing these dreams are the fingers of others’ reality - still caught before tomorrow.
I watch the clock, shadowed white. I watch its hands move, trying so hard to mark space rational. I stand between rooms, shadows and Doors.
The roads seem so far away. Would it be so easy to die? To watch tomorrow need never come in the circles of its silent eyes? To leave these fingers for the winds, and their silent whisper with windowpane glass.
I stand here between rooms, shadows and doors. My hair thrown back behind my shoulders. The taste of a woman on my skin. Between rooms, between love and Rage -
And silence is the only music that carries my soul into night. Nothing wrong as nothing right.
To love those fingers and the faces they wore, still in a softening night, in a bed unalone.
And wondering is there anything more than the pain!
And wondering is there anything more than the love!
And not really wondering, I go to sleep, there between rooms, shadows and doors.