Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Should Andrew Buchanan send an angel with an avenging sword?

Today’s post includes a poem of mine called “The True Blue of Islands.” It is the title poem of my last collection of poetry. According to the blurb on the back cover, “The True Blue of Islands is a collection of poems exploring violence, beginning with the brutal treatment of slaves, journeying through child abuse and self-mutilation and ending with the callous murder of the poet’s brother.” Though the poem was written to remember my brother Richard, who was murdered in Jamaica on 30 May 2004, I post it today as a requiem for Andrew Buchanan. For the circumstances surrounding his death, please see “A Lesson in Social Justice” by Yvonne McCalla Sobers at http://www.jamlink.com/

If the use of violence by the Israeli army against innocent Palestinians (see post of April 20) is despicable, so is the arbitrary use of force against the ordinary citizen by the forces, ostensibly of law and order, in Canada, the USA, Russia, China, Jamaica, or anywhere else. It seems increasingly that those who should protect us have become those whom we need to fear most.

But there is a larger question, a question about whether it is we who are conscripting young human beings and making killers of them.

At http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mary-mapes/looking-back-at-abu-ghrai_b_191531.html
MaryMapes considers, inter alia, the unfairness of political and military administrations who devise policy, impose it on ‘underlings’ and end up blameless, free as birds, while those who followed the orders (to which we now say they should have objected) are punished for their obedience. She mentions as an example Chip Frederick who, at 42 years old, having lost his wife, his military pension and his medals – and his pride – is out of prison and trying to restart his life.

“I do not think Chip Frederick – or any of the other inexperienced, poorly trained reservists at Abu Ghraib – went to Iraq full of original ideas about how to torment the locals that just happened to match the methods designed by the Pentagon…I believe he and others at the prison were fed a steady diet of these toxic tactics…And they paid dearly for their lack of protest.”

But those who do object, as Greg Mitchell reports,
do so at great personal cost, for no one likes people who rock the boat. American soldier Alyssa Peterson refused to take part in torture, and shortly thereafter took her own life. Reporter Kevin Elston of the Flagstaff radio station, KNAU, unwilling to accept the official report of Peterson’s death as having been ‘from a "non-hostile weapons discharge”,’ was stonewalled by officialdom and finally had to file a Freedom of Information Act [FOIA] request that led to startling revelations about her death. According to Mitchell, the station reported:

"Peterson objected to the interrogation techniques used on prisoners. She refused to participate after only two nights working in the unit known as the cage. Army spokespersons for her unit have refused to describe the interrogation techniques Alyssa objected to. They say all records of those techniques have now been destroyed."

Mitchell goes on: “The official probe of her death would later note that earlier she had been ‘reprimanded’ for showing ‘empathy’ for the prisoners. One of the most moving parts of the report, in fact, is this: ‘She said that she did not know how to be two people; she ... could not be one person in the cage and another outside the wire.’”

So we are now in the business of manufacturing killers – you, me, all of us. We have seen the monster enemy; indeed, we have created him. We should think on it. Selah.

The True Blue of Islands
for Richard murdered 30 May 2004 RIP, and today, for Andrew Buchanan, RIP

So here’s my friend
writing of how poets
have named the blues
of these small islands.

I see him hold his brush
testing the tones
another poet
set to name them too.

Truth is those are
fake colours.
Watch and I’ll paint
the islands’ blues for you.

Just over from
the next door bar
my brother’s
napping in his car
too tired to drag
himself to a safe place.

(Besides, this
is his island —
every place
is safe.)

Blue is the hue
of his face
starting awake.

It is the black
and bruise
of the dark hand
he wipes
across his brow
to try the truth
before his eye.

Must be a lie.

It seems he’s
looking at a gun.

Beyond his arm
the sea of night
is indigo. The wind
is warm. The stars
gleam cold as steel.

Smelt blue the shade
of this night’s
lesser lights
smelt blue this
snarling nozzle
set to bite.

His mind is fuzzy.

Didn’t he just
park his old
gas-guzzling car?
Say to his friend,

“You go on up.
I’m going to have
a smoke or two”?

He puffs.
Lavender clouds
halo his head.

He thinks of bed
yawning a grin.
That gun? He knows
it’s too much gin.

Pushes the door,
heaves out his gut
follows it with
a sandaled foot
stands up turns back
slams the door shut.

“Give me your gun.”

The voice treads air.

“Don’t have no gun.
And further to that, why
you need another one?”

My brother — fair
and reasonable
till the end.

“Too bad. No gun
mean man must dead.”

Three swift reports.

He stumbles.
Grabs his side.
Calls out
“Help me!
I’m shot…”
bleeds royally
then dies.

Electric planets
a firmament
of navy skies
spill laser
points of flame-
blue light
drill purple
worm holes
in the forehead
of the night.

While lilac drafts
of incense rise
my brother slips
his dark blue skin.

The dog-grey sea
licks at his toes
noses his corpse
looking for clues.

Like that old poet
wrestling the wind
I study shades
of island blues.


FSJL said...

The only weakness in this poem is the line "bleeds royally". No matter what colour the blood was under the street lights, in the mind's eye it is going to be dark red.

This is a powerful poem, Pam. It rises from deep water of sadness, inflected with so many meanings that as I turn away from it in tears I am still caught up in thinking about the way you play with the variation of shades of blueness from nearly black to nearly red. And with what they mean.

clarabella said...

FSJL: Keith Lowe thought "bleeds royally" worked well, but I'm prepared to think again. You know the reference is to the creole 'royal' meaning intense or plentiful as in "She give de pikni some royal licks!" with the secondary signification being that he was a prince of a brother and therefore of blue blood. It is a poem by Kwame Dawes celebrating the blues of the Caribbean that set me off. Thanks for the response. I appreciate it. I am comforted that it moved you.

FSJL said...

Well, "royal" also means "of mixed race" as in "coolie-royal" and "chinie-royal", so there's that resonance as well.

clarabella said...

FSJL: Well, he was certainly that too – a coolie royal, from the looks of him. I found 'royal' uncomfortable too, the word not fitting easily into the mouth of its mates. At least, that was my trouble with it, rather than that it would suggest a colour other than the dark red of dried blood. But, as Rethabile would point out, one is never finished with a poem...

FSJL said...

True. One is never entirely finished with a poem. Or, perhaps, a really good poem is never entirely finished with one.

Michelle said...

Oh Pam, what a striking, moving poem - and what a terrible, terrible loss you have suffered. I am so glad to have had the opportunity to read 'The True Blue of Islands'.

I also took the word royally in the context of intensely or plentifully.

clarabella said...

Hi Michelle: Thanks for stopping by, and for grieving with me in the poem. (I'm glad too for the feedback on royally.) It was very hard to lose him so - it was arbitrary, didn't seem to have a "rhyme or reason", as my folks would say. But the poems remember him, and I am glad for the book. Hope you enjoy the weekend. 1love