Take Care, Soldier
Don’t die, soldier, hold the radiophone,
don your helmet, your flak jacket, surround
the village with a trench of crocodiles, starve
it out if need be, eat Mama’s treats, shoot
sharp, keep your rifle clean, take care of the armored
Jeep, the bulldozer, the land, one day it will be
yours, little David, sweetling, don’t die, please.
Keep watch for Goliath the peasant, he’s trying to sell his
pumpkin at a local market, he’s plotting to buy a gift for his grandkid, erase
the evil Haman whose bronchitis you denied treatment, eradicate
the blood of Eva Braun by checking on the veracity of her labor pains, silence her
shriek, that’s how every maternity ward sounds, it’s not easy
having such humane values, be strong, take care, forget
your deeds, forget the forgetting.
That thy days may be long, that the days of thy children may be long, that one day
they shall hear of thy deeds and shall stick fingers in their ears and scream
with fear and thy sons’ and thy daughters’ scream shall never fade.
Be strong, sweet David, live long unto seeing thy children’s eyes,
though their backs hasten to flee from thee, stay in touch with thy comrades-at-arms,
after thy sons deny thee, a covenant of the shunned.
Take care, soldier-boy.
The gunner who wipedout a hospital the pilot
who torched a refugee camp the journalist
who courted hearts & minds for murder the actor
who played it as just another war the teacher
who sanctioned the bloodshed in class the rabbi
who sanctified the killing the government minister
who sweatily voted the paratrooper
who shot the threetime refugee the poet
who lauded the finest hour of the nation
who scented blood and blessed the MiG. The moderates
who said let’s wait & see the party hack
who fell over himself in praising the army the sales clerk
who sniffedout traitors the policeman
who beat an Arab in the anxious street the lecturer
who tapped on the officer’s back with envy of the officer
who was afraid of refusing the prime minister
who eagerly drank down the blood. They
shall not be cleansed.
-- Both poems trans. Joshua Cohen
I first met these two poems, among four others written by Laor (and translated by Cohen), in an issue 12 (Fall 2011) of literary magazine n+1. I was hit hard by their force, direct language, immediacy. So much published poetry today is content to skirt around meaning, dance about in a play of suggestion, or wink from within a pouf of neon neopostmodern bubbles. Too much delight in form disengaged from a pure instinct to directly communicate thought and feeling — poetry’s lodestar, always, always — to the reader. Some of that’s fine, but damn it gets old. No such trouble with Laor’s works, & lord what fresh air in that. Take “Balance” and its breathless indictment. Its biblical anaphora. Calling out criminals and their misdeeds one by one by one. I wish I could read this in its original Hebrew to see what I’m missing in terms of other linguistic characteristics/phonics. Something tells me not much — and that’s to the poem’s credit — the point here is elsewhere, it’s in a prophet’s clear and rising voice and unafraid willingness to expose wrongs. Poetry is many things to many people, but one thing it has always been and should always be is this: clear, economical language in the service of direct idea and/or feeling. And folks, it don’t get more direct than this: turn the tables, right the wrongs, fuck the blood-drinkers.
”Take Care, Soldier” goes a step further. Not just calling out who shall not be cleansed, but directly stating how they won’t. Poem starts with vicious sustained sarcasm. Reminding us how effective we can all be in sentimentalizing our soldiers. Especially so in unjust wars where sentimentalization is a way for one side or both or all to avoid the pain & trauma of realizing how one is at fault; how one has surrendered everything to nationalism, to fear, to tribalism, or allowed a small group of powerful men to do the same unchecked. The poem then goes further and moves to an ancient and biblical-formal form of address by the last stanza. This move is devastating. Because now indignant sarcasm and jeer — a tactic already potent enough as it is — have exploded to full prophetic curse.
“Take Care, Soldier” was first published in 2004 in a collection called Ir Ha’Leviyatan (“Leviathan City”). And if anyone knows when “Balance” was first published please let me know.
For more about Laor, please check out his profile at The Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature.
For more about n+1, please check out their site.