- Theories of Flight and Forbearance, and: Among the Crenellations, and: Unstitching, and: The Art of War
Theories of Flight and Forbearance
Into the valley of Death rode the six hundred—Alfred, Lord Tennyson
from “The Charge of the Light Brigade”
In the rumbling gloom of a Starlifter’s belly,they sit shoulder to shoulder in cupped meshof bench seats, jostling sideways in sync
with the juddering plane as if their masswas one breathing body, a desert snakesidewinding over sand. Parachutes press
them into heavy rucks balanced on laps.Laden like mules and wedged tightas an M4’s detent pin, bodies interlock
like Spartan hoplites at Thermopylae,like cavalry at Balaclava, like Pickett’sboys racing toward the low stone wall
on Cemetery Ridge. Arrowing towarduncertain futures, paratroopers ponderdrop zone assembly areas studied from
sand tables, markered on maps whosecontour lines mimic ripples on a pond.Or else they empty minds like a guru,
aware only of the living moment,serenity coming like sleep without dreams.Flecked with sweat, grease-painted faces [End Page 9]
are stoic as marble busts of Plato or Socrates.They, too, know the value of asking why,but SOP dictates silence. They tape down
jingling dog tags, as if covering blood typeand religious affiliation will blot outthoughts of ruin. When side doors open,
cool air tongues the suffocating tube.Jumpmasters swipe bladed hands acrosssteel lips, then lean into the howl of night,
camouflage fabric snapping in spastic glee,nap of the Earth scrolling by like imagesseen through the slots of a zoetrope.
The sticks rise to their feet and each mansnaps his nylon static line onto the wire cable,surrendering himself to this machine.
When the door’s red light turns green, he will dowhat is expected—march forward, pivot,and leap, prop blast throwing him sideways
before silk rights the world again. So easyunder canopy to consider how little controlhe has on anything after that first step,
the ever-upward rush of ground,the topography of fate, how everyoneis hurtling toward some form of impact. [End Page 10]
Among the Crenellations
Every day, 22 veterans take their own lives.—Moni Basu, CNN
Like wolves in packs of four and five, they lopealong the avenue, these muscled men in gray shortsand tees, hair shorn to bristles. Or else they run
in columned blocks invading half the street withcadenced song that claps their stroking legs likemetronomes. Every word audacious, every gliding
movement grinning, it is easy to believe thesegods we’ve chiseled from granite principleswill live forever. Along Fort Monroe’s parapets,
they race into an autumn wind, sun glintingoff the James, dew surrendering in misty streamersto the coming day. Supersonic shrieks of Raptors
score the sky, contrails spelling out in white on bluethe countless ways a body rips apart. No mysteryin blood and bone, these boys know all too well
the rust-barbed price of wisdom. Mindless motionpropels them past redbrick federals of General’s Rowwhere patriotic bunting flaps on Doric columns.
Arms and legs piston in lubricating sweat over the moat,through the tunnel, up a grass-scruffed berm whereiron skeletons of gun emplacements lie bare behind
a limestone wall. And there, among the crenellationsin a manicured swath of green, they stretch besidethe flush stone slabs of a pet cemetery. Reading epitaphs,
each soldier pictures loyal dogs on clinic tables,whispered promises that Sleep must be better than this,fingers twined in fur as everything rigid falls slack. [End Page 11]
Every day it’s harder to remember why we came.Every mission, every kicked-down door, every
ovenlike afternoon roasting beneath fly-net canopies.I vaguely recall praying, a million years ago, dropping
from a hard pew onto a cushioned kneeler. I was shortenough then to hide behind the stiff back of the row in front.
The priest wore gold-limned vestments, spat firefrom the brimstone school of preaching, his lessons
woven through with warnings of eternal damnation.At night I’d curl on my side and...