Surrealist Doodle

Surrealist Doodle
This was used as the cover of Karawane in 2006 and I have included it in on a number of bags and postcards over the years. Someone on the subway asked me if it was a Miro. I was very flattered!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Chapter 11 of my accursed novel


With spring came the bombing of Kosovo. Clark found himself in the odd position of supporting a US military action. He could not find a single point of self-interest for the United States. There was no oil. The country was devestated from war. There might be economic gains in the future during the country's rebuilding, and yet we were bombing the Serbs--a group of white European background, who appeared to be emerging as the victors, the group that multinational corporations would someday want to court to locate manufacturing plants and sell soft drinks to the country.
For at least five years, if not more, the world had watched pictures of tremendous brutality. Stories of the rape camps, were moslem and croatian women were used as sexual objects. He had read articles and stories where the Serbian army had taught the rank and file to talk about their "enemies" as not human. And they seemed to believe it. Milosevic had been convicted of war crimes and atrocities several times. For the past twenty years, every skirmish was justified by painting our targets as purely evil. Saddam is just like Hitler. Noriega is oppressing his people and shipping drugs to the US. And yet, here was the closest justifiable comparison to Hitler --a leader with no regard for the human suffering of his opponents; a force that used phrases like "ethnic cleansing" to justify genocide--and yet no one was willing to stand up to him. For once, Clark felt shocked at the level of dissent against the bombing.

Yet Clark was not able to feel good about adding to an already devastated country. The picture on the front page of the newspaper looked more like painting, eerie greys and blacks, with a colorful dash of orange at the epicenter. As he watched the wall-to-wall coverage on cable tv, he thought maybe twenty-four hour news was a bad thing, commodifying what was a very serious situation. "The Bombing in Kosovo: Day 2". It came complete with quizzes about where the Mig fighters were being dispatched from and "the answer after this."

Clark decided to take a walk by the federal building and see if there was anyone there he knew. Or, more accurately, anyone there Maureen knew, as he suspected students were much more apt to be there than any of his colleagues. Arrests looked bad at tenure hearings. As he walked by a group of protestors, he heard someone shouting about how they were Serbian and they were worried about their families. Funny, in all this time, he hadn't heard anything about a large pocket of Serbian refugees living in the area. He walked up and began trying to talk to one of the protestors. He tried to calm himself down first. Feeling the blood rush to his face, he knew that it would do no good to be confrontational.

"So, if you're Serbian, how do you feel about what your people have been doing over there until now?"

"Not my family. It's not my fault what the army has done. It's not fair to kill innocent people like this."

"But, what about the innocent Moslems or Croats, or . . . Albanians."

"It is our country now. We need to have our own country. They can go back to their own countries."

"Then what are you doing here?"

"How dare you."

"No, I'm quite serious. If your country is so wonderful, go and defend it. You know, as an American, all I've done most of my life is apologize for my country and try to get them to stop doing what they were doing. Don't support the Shah of Iran, lift sanctions against Cuba, don't bomb Iraq. Blah blah blah. What have you been doing to prevent this bombing from being necessary?"

"Fuck you."

"I'm just saying, I've never seen you out here before to protest atrocities against the moslems, against people you probably grew up with. If your homeland is so right, why are you here looking for political asylum and not over there, defending your family and fighting for your cause."

A young blond woman came over, placard in hand, and starting shouting at Clark.
"It's a free country. We can stand here and protest whatever we want. What are you, some kind of a right-wing asshole? You think everyone should just go back where they came from so we can bomb them?"

"Look, little girl, before yesterday, did you even know where Kosovo was? Can you even pronounce Milosevic? Do you know a Serb from a Croat?"

The young woman started to clap and yell, and soon a chant had begun to swell among the crowd, drowning out any further opportunity for discourse. At least, thankfully, this was an anti-war protest, and so most of the crowd advocated nonviolence. At previous rallies, Clark mused, he was up against pro-war demonstraters, who had no problem with violence whatsoever. He shook his head, shoved his hands in his pockets, and wandered off. What a strange thing, to be defending a military intervention. And yet, despite such a shifting of the world, he thought, we still hadn't learned to talk to each other.

Clark had always had a sympathy toward eastern religions. Reincarnation had seemed to make perfect sense to him. After all, how fair can it be that with somewhere between one and 105 years, your entire eternity would be determined. And didn't premature death leave the playing field very unlevel. Sure, if everyone died at birth, everyone could go to heaven. Unless you were Catholic and unbaptized prior to Vatican II, and then you had to go to Limbo. And even though no one ever talked about those old nature vs. nurture debates, science was still trying to prove that everything about our personalities was chemical and determined by DNA and electrical impulses. It seemed just as plausible that your DNA imprint, your personality, was simply your Karma travelling with you. Why do two people, with identical backgrounds, do drastically different things. Why does one child who is abused grow up to become a rapist and a murder while another becomes a social worker? It was simply your Karmic imprint, continuing your personality and temperment from your previous life.

Yet, reincarnation seemed to carry with it a notion of progression. As Clark looked around him, though, he couldn't buy that anymore. He looked at the people on the bus, in the booths at the coffee shop, beating on their kids or talking about some inane bullshit like their car payments or what Elizabeth Taylor wore to the Oscars, or how they spent six hours a day mastering a new video game. He wanted to jump up and yell "You're going to die someday, and what will you have to show for your lives?"

Society at large didn't bear up too much better under the notion of human progression. We were still executing people for crimes, ridiculously schizophrenic over sex--both obsessed with it and shamed and embarrassed by it--and we hadn't found a way to deal with our neighbors on a civilized human level. No, if reincarnation was going to work as any kind of a believable doctrine, we were going to have to let go of the notion of karmic progression. Maybe, instead, one ran around in circles for a long time, like a dog chasing his tail. Each lifetime, there was something new and interesting attached to your tail that you tried to chase--money, sex, power. Only then, only when you had tired completely of everything life had to offer, only then did you actually advance to a higher level. So even though learning might happen between lifetimes, it merely propelled you on to the next thing, not onto a higher level.

Once, as a graduate student, Clark remembered grading a paper in which a student was writing about Siddhartha. He read a sentence that sent him off on a spiritual reverie: "Because Siddhartha still had desires, he would have to be reborn." Of course! Years of gurus had not been able to make eastern religion as accessible to him as this college freshman had--probably inadvertently, grasping for a way to explain a concept very foreign to him. Yes, it was not that you had to transcend your desires, but that you needed to experience them, get them out of your system, before you could get to nirvana.

It's sad to think we'll never exist on this plane, as ourselves again. Death is not only letting go of life. It is letting go of people, of thoughts and words and your soul ordered in a certain way. It's like losing your spiritual DNA, the collection of molecules and biological memory. It's leaving behind people who will forget you, who will be forgotten, and love and friendship and fun and words you thought you'd carved into their hearts, that you meant to write on the sky in indelible ink, that you carved into the trees and onto the sides of mountains like billboards proclaiming that you were here only to see them washed away, eroded for the next generation. The generation that will not mark the day you were here. Or the day you left. Or any of your days in between.

You have to content yourself with a silent legacy, with anonymity in every word you left behind, every thought you shared with every other person. Ancient artisans left no identifying mark on their work. Pick up a vase, or a plate or a ceremonial bowl, and you will never know who made it. Copyright a poem, patent a sheep clone, but nothing leaves my mark on the world. A silent invisible legacy that hoped for something large, something immortal, and left only ephemera.

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