Ever since I saw “The Itching of the Wings” and its reference to the story of Icarus, I’ve had in mind the W.H. Auden poem which features the story of Icarus falling from the sky (About suffering they were never wrong/The Old Masters; how well, they understood /Its human position; how it takes place /While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along…). The poem describes Icarus’ disastrous fall from the sky while meanwhile life goes on, a ship sails calmly by, the farmer in the field keeps farming, etc. I make a cheese sandwich while outside a pedestrian is struck and killed by a car, and so on.
I thought of this on Sunday after I visited The American War, Harrell Fletcher’s exhibit at Corberry Press, and then went to a series of talks by people whose lives have been directly impacted by the Vietnam war. It was a gorgeous, sunny, day and while I listened to veterans and nurses and family members of vets talk about the war, I could see people in the distance gliding by on roller blades. Cars drove by with the windows down, people in tank tops drinking iced coffees. A man in the parking lot did figure 8s and slow graceful circles on a segue scooter. Meanwhile the speakers stood one after another and testified to the violence and terribleness they’d witnessed in Vietnam, or the damage they’d seen family and friends sustain from being there. Robert Goss served from 1967-1970, and he talked about seeing heads blown off (both friends and enemies) and how he’s never had a “straight job” since. Dan Shea suffered from exposure to Agent Orange, and his firstborn son had a series of birth defects that eventually led to his death at age 3. Other speakers had equally heavy stories. Harrell Fletcher says that even though he’d been very antiwar to begin with, visiting the museum in Vietnam helped clarify the details of that war, and compelled him to somehow share what he’d learned with others. As I listened to the speakers describe their experiences, and how their lives had been impacted, I couldn’t help but think about the current war in Iraq, and how there will be a whole new generation of physically and psychologically damaged veterans to take the place of Vietnam vets. It’s harder than ever to get real information about what’s going on with the current war, (hidden civilian death counts, for instance, plus the moratorium on media showing caskets of U.S. soldiers, etc.) and even harder to really register the fact that our country is at war. So it occurs to me that when we are afforded a look at war up close, it’s an opportunity we shouldn’t pass up. The photos in Fletcher’s are raw and gruesome to look at, but they’re there. Go have a look if you can.
The American War exhibit: Corberry Press, Building A.
September 7-17, daily: 12-6 p.m.
September 20-October 7, Wed-Sat. 12-6 p.m.