- Reading Steven Crane’s “War Is Kind” to My Husband, and: Surface Warfare, and: Sea-Change, and: Ithaca, and: Penelope, Stateside, and: The Rooted Bed
Reading Steven Crane’s “War Is Kind” to My Husband
I packed your seabag today: six pairs of pants, shirts folded in their rigid squares,
your socks balled up like tan grenades. I put my photo in as well, laid
it there between the Kevlar vest and heap of clothes. Don’t weep, the poet warns, don’t weep.
On 60 Minutes, a soldier turns his face toward us, shows the camera his burns,
small metal slivers still embedded in the skin, his mouth a scrap of ragged tin.
The young man’s face was beautiful before, smooth, unblemished as my own. For war [End Page 54]
is kind, I read. Great isthe battle-god and great the auguries, the firing squad,
the neon green of night vision that cuts the darkness open at its seams, gutted
and spilling on the sand. Great is the Glock, the Aegis Weapons System, the Blackhawk
circling. Great are the Ka-Bar fighting knives, the shells that sing through air, as though alive.
Our arguments move across the surfaces of things, smooth
flat areas where silence floats for weeks. The rule: whoever speaks [End Page 55]
first loses. If he patrols the living room, then I control
our bed, an Atlantic filled with my insomnia, the quilts too thick
to wade through. Some nights I think drowning would be easier
and drink mouthfuls of salt. No shallows here, only the fathoms of marriage,
and we anchored side by side, the darkness wide, percussive as a mine.
Imagine this: saltwater scrubbing sand into my husband’s skin, his fingers pale anemones, his hands turned coral reef, and in his eyes the nacreous pearls of Ariel. This could be my husband, drowning in the swell.
A sea-change means a shift, a change of heart, and how the oceans turn [End Page 56] glass shards into a jewel, rip apart familiar things. Waves churn. The surf is a liquid body that peels a carrier from bow to stern, the keel
bent back, steel bands pliable as kelp. And long before I wake, the sailors drown. No point in calling help. Each night, my husband shakes me out of sleep. I cannot reach for him or drag him to the surface so he’ll swim.
There’s war beyond the shores. But here there’s Dairy Queen and Taco Bell, the Westfield Shopping Mall, the cell phone superstore, Home Depot, Sears.
And home remains a metaphor for something else: a wife who tries to guard her chastity, ties it like a yellow ribbon to her door,
sticks it to the bumper of her car, so that the neighbors know she sleeps alone, almost a widow to the Trojan war, her love
preserved in plastic wrap like some dessert too beautiful to taste. [End Page 57] At PTA meetings, she’s chased by divorcés and other glum
suitors. Nobody seems to care that she still wears a wedding ring. Odysseus is gone—same thing as being dead. And so men stare
at her when she buys groceries or takes the dog out for a pee. She’s Ithaca, trapped in her own body, an island circled by the seas.
On an island called America, start fantasizing of the sex you had with him. Go shop for bras and lacey thongs at the PX,
black garters, bustiers, a cream that leaves your body woven silk, a self-help book for self-esteem, a bag of M&Ms, skim milk
to keep you thin, and Lean Cuisine (you hate to cook-for-one). Or buy a pair of True Religion jeans, the denim pressing on each thigh
so that there’s no sensation but blue fabric like a second skin, [End Page 58] no lover’s touch more intimate than the zipper pressing in.
But don’t forget. He may come home so torn that purchases won’t mean a thing, not the Posturepedic foam pillowtop mattress, or the sateen
duvet. He won...