Friday, October 12, 2007

Brautigan again

Many of my friends are captivated by the WWII documentary airing on PBS. I asked my dad, who was a pilot in the war, what he thinks so far. He said "Well, they make it seem worse than it was in some ways and better than it was in other ways." That's quintessential Dadspeak -- he has always had the ability to see many sides and the equanimity to reserve judgement. He reminds me of that Bob Dylan line: "He knows too much to argue or to judge." I guess I got my opnoinatedness from my mother (also a veteran of WWII).

Watching parts of the documentary, I thought of this poem from Brautigan:

The Sister Cities of Los Alamos, New Mexico, and Hiroshima, Japan

It was snowing hard when we drove
into Los Alamos. There was a clinical feeling
to the town as if every man, woman, and child
were a doctor. We shopped at the Safeway
and got a bag of groceries. A toddler
looked like a brain surgeon. He carefully
watched us shop at the exact place where he would
make his first incision.

Then two things occurred recently to make me think of a Brautigan poem about Pompeii. (Well, it's not really about Pompeii, but it uses Pompeii as a metaphor.) The Science Museum of Minnesota is hosting a traveling exhibit of Pompeiian artifacts and, coincidentally, a coworker of mine just got back from a month-long dig in Pompeii. Ruins are still being unearthed there and my co-worker spoke of the striking immediacy of the things they found -- as if the eruption had just happened. That's also in the background of this poem:

Mouths That Kissed in the Hot Ashes of Pompeii

Mouths that kissed
in the hot ashes of Pompeii
are returning
and eyes that could adore their beloved only
in the fires of Pompeii
are returning
and bodies that squirmed in ecstasy
in the lava of Pompeii
are returning
and lovers who found their perfect passion
in the death of Pompeii
are returning,
and they’re letting themselves in
again with the names of your sons
and your daughters.

Something about the tone in these pieces makes me shiver.

NB: As an amateur geologist, I would point out that Pompeii was buried in hot ashes (as in line 2) not lava (as in line 8). Nearby Ercolano (aka Herculaneum) was buried in lava. Parts of Ercolano have also been unearthed and preserved. Not as famous as Pompeii, it is fascinating to visit, though I have to confess that my most vivid memory of a day in Ercolano is drinking cold Peroni beer on the porch of a little tavern on a hot October afternoon, the Bay of Naples in the distance. That was refreshing!

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