Lu Ann said Rose was like her own daughter. I asked where Rose came from and she said I should ask Dave. I asked Dave one night before she started singing with the boys. He said he didn’t know, I’d have to ask her. I stopped wondering. If she wanted to tell me, she would. I had this habit of asking people where they came from, maybe because I couldn’t figure how I got here by way of a singer and a gambler, and it must have been her singing interested me, obviously it was, so I waited until she replaced me and I replaced her and the nights got longer because Melindra was unhappy with our new life and I was writing to Cathleen hoping she would come back, knowing she had no real reason to, once you’re in the White City, as we called it–San Francisco–she would not want to come back to Seattle, where she started from, her haven from Spokane, city of her birth and city she loathed. In a word, I was fucked up.
When the twenty-fourth year of the day of my birth was approaching, I was in the bungalow writing a little piece about fleshly origins and frankly wondering how much longer this subject would keep me going and thinking if this was all I had to show I may as well stay with the clarinet and/or vocal improvisation as Paul called it, or was it Anna . . . Anna came over and said Kennedy was dead. That settled it, I holed up at the New Congress bar watching the TV and did nothing else but sip beer and watch the black-and-white for days. It’s unlikely many others failed to find a stool and a screen somewhere in Seattle. If we were there at lunchtime, we’d see Jack Ruby thread the Dallas police line and put a bullet in Lee Harvey Oswald as he was leaving jail for an appearance in court, to be arraigned for the murder of the president, but now that Oswald was dead we would never know for sure who killed Kennedy, and the Warren Report defied all credulity. I look back on it all now, fifty years gone by, and we’re still here, though when I feel gratitude that the bomb has not gone off since Japan, I do so uneasily. All that history gone down the drain: finally a prez half black, half white, a brilliant man who might be the country’s best hope to do what JFK set out to do, namely, civilize America . . . Barack Obama, as much hated as loved, pommeled daily, nightly, by the cries of recidivist whites, know-nothings who don’t want to know more than the hireling con artists feed them, whose politicians work to pass legislation to chip away at the voting rights law and achieve their aim to have the vote withdrawn from the poor, and a war Obama can’t get out of now that he’s in it, and the seemingly inexorable takeover of Fort Knox by the rich.
But hell, I’ve been here before, down at the mouth, enraged, unable to see past the fog. Yet it was worse when there was still a surplus of what Obama so endearingly calls hope. Says I to myself, You’ve lived a life, a septuagenarian and so is Cathleen, and what do you expect after that war to end all configurations of the word peace, I mean Vietnam. When Cathleen says my brother should have lived and we would be happier now, I think of the Wall in D.C. I think of the men I knew, and some of the women, who died in Indochina and I keep on trying to immortalize them with mere words, remembering who and what they were before the quagmire, as David Halberstam first called the Vietnam war, which officially transpired between 1964 and 1975 and left a void in the country where its heart had been. I wasn’t there among the sharp stakes that erupted from the earth and speared the body, or walking point to be the first casualty of ambush . . . No, I didn’t go, I was lucky, I’d never have gone, and I was not alone.
One night Dave and I stayed up all night in his house, talking about what each of us would do if drafted, and Dave said he would defect to the enemy. He wasn’t going to kill poor people. I agreed, though I wouldn’t be a defector, I’d be a draft dodger. Neither one of us wanted anything to do with killing people who had the right to their own country. We didn’t give a shit about the national fear, communism. I preferred the word socialism and even then believed it was the only way the States would find their Archimedean point, what Kafka said was the point that must be reached, that there was no turning back from. And God knew we were adrift again in a country founded when the wealthy lived on the backs of slaves uprooted from their own country and condemned to die under the lash of the master. No, I would not wage war on men, women, and children, and the old people whose country it had always been. I’d stay the hell out even if it meant leaving the States. Everybody born had the right to live as they chose. Vietnamese lives were their own and deeply rooted in the land that was theirs from birth.
(12 March 2012)