Non sibi sed patriae.
The world is not far off from here. Not far off.
Have you ever (in solitude) spoken in the voice of a stranger?
I read a story in the news today. My voice, Calvin Gibbs. My voice ballistic in the living room.
I remind myself of this ...is...
close to me.
I repeat it as I work overlooking the park, door locked, windows shut against the wind.
The world is not far off. Not far. .
With my instruction, this monologue begins.
Hold a boy and a pitcher at the edge of your mind and listen.
A country woman steps out onto a porch in the summer. Rear shot, view from her legs down, the bricks under her feet.
Not the scuttle of leaves
unfallen, nor the black seams of her stockings running the backs of her legs.
Nothing of her shoes; she is barefoot. A simple housedress wrapping her legs in the wind.
Place the pitcher on a stoop and walk inside. Dread the doorbell, the neighbors’ reckless children.
Here now, Calvin. In your finity of confusion, of frustration, your disappointment in the task you were set to.
On the one side, their pleading, then the wall. Then the other side with you and the field.
Calvin, is not far off.
Let me explain. A certain tea, a certain slant of sunlight.
For these few hours before night falls, talk. There cannot be another day.
Out of a suffering made present, that which you shared.
Out of this matter that defies matter, the weight between things.
From this place I drag out your story.
. Start with talk. With admission and an itch for calamity. Start by waiting for the
dialogue as the credits scroll.
Start with dragging the trunk out into the common room.
To the woman I say, Let three months pass.
OLD TAPE, MALE VOICE: ...[indecipherable] feet-first out of a pit by his friends
whose boots kick dust into his face like an open fruit.
Out of a world of confusion, the frustration you knew had source. Out of that within you
a voice knowing not itself.
Can I explain? You feel like tea in the summer. You take it in water to the sun.
Out of this matter which defies matter, the space between things.
It was like drawing milk from a stone.
OLD TAPE: ...[indecipherable] in a stretcher in the back of a C-17.
Here’s Frankfurt. Here’s Bolling. This is where his hearing returns.
To the woman I say, This is your child,
and I hand her a piece of fruit.
To another I say, This is your husband.
I show you leading him to a field and asking him to kneel.
Out of recalcitrance and boredom, you asked two men to watch.
The explosion, they said, tore the man apart.
Out of the suffering created unjust I know
for you to enter, I imagine a room like sealed vault.
And through language
, The code, breaking like accidental discharge on the other side of the low wall.
CONTEMPORARY RECORDING, FEMALE VOICE: (calmly, and with measure) [redacted]...words that bark off into rotor wash like dogs into country night. Moths. A fold of purple ribbon, a piece of metal to mirror the hole cut out for his nose.
At the end of a hallway, down a red length of carpet, I come to a white door, ajar. No light reaches
past. Smell of must like an old hotel, screw holes where the numbers were removed.
Into that room I put my hand.
What I pull out startles me: first a truck, then another, then another: a string. An entire convoy,
suspended, moving toward a huddle of tents.
You walk up from behind and hand me a canvas bag. I place my hand inside it.
CONTEMPORARY RECORDING: ...[redacted] unpins it with a card-cheat’s hands, places it in a box. He
takes off his uniform, drapes it in plastic, and opens his closet.
One piece of skull.
Three fingers, from the second knuckle down.
Off the books,
you say. The hallway walls and the carpet disappear. You smile and turn into the space that opens before us
climbing into the back of a truck.
A single door in an open space. Without context, to nowhere.
The paint worn down, the wood exposed. A single lamp hangs down from above.
I think: interrogation.
Where the door was, a heap of woodchips.
CONTEMPORARY RECORDING: …[redacted] the cobblestone wall come back toward him like water
rising, glimpses of shouts and the glint of cases in the dust around him.
I am let me tell you
the ghost under your bed / the arbiter
of the self:
When I come, it will be from within.
It will be
U N M I S T A K A B L E .
I take the grenade out, pull the pin, wait. When the trucks stop firing, I hold the bag up with my thumb and forefinger inside out.
I let it hang there, holes everywhere.
OLD TAPE: [loud scrubbing, then silence. Classical music and radio broadcasts from previous recordings]...some of them on their fourth...[tape crackling]
★ ★ ★
I’m sitting down now to tea with you.
See, that’s you at the center of a long table, the one lamp hanging above. On either side, your men sit, eating. I stand on the other side of the table, the door we both know, turned sideways. The light thins out a few yards beyond us. Behind you, barely visible, a man in a wheelchair whom no one else sees.
CONTEMPORARY RECORDING, FEMALE VOICE: (slower, with a drop in tone) Every morning,
mother drives him to the clinic.
I start to ask you a question.
All around us, in a perimeter in the dark, images of war, protest, and celebration start blinking on and
playing for a few seconds at random: simulations, computer games, mass graves, wedding cakes and
narrow passages in black and white, tracer bullets and flak lighting a night-vision green sky.
Your men look up from their mess trays and turn around in their seats.
At the head of our table, there is a woman in hijab, looking away.
She turns to face us. Where her face should be, a shadow.
CONTEMPORARY RECORDING: (holding the low note) There’s a flat-screen in the corner that always
plays the news.
light beside light beside light beside light...
OLD TAPE: ...[sound of spooling] Let night fall now.
Everyone hears a click.
Darkness engulfs us, and I hear you say candies along the road in front of us...
The last screen flickers, and I see the one man roll back out of view.
Somewhere in this story, there is a dress that will never be worn again. Cue housedress hanging from the
rafters over the porch.
Somewhere, the shot out onto the lawn.
Elsewhere, a young farmer approaches two soldiers.
But where we are, it’s just you and me. No light, no sound; only this surface beneath our elbows, a
photograph we can’t see lying flat on the table.
You gave us an image. A likeness of ourselves.
OLD TAPE: My first name [sound of conversation, glasses clinking] is memory.
CONTEMPORARY RECORDING: My second name [short pause] is archive.
Here, I’ve come to where you are
to ask you our story. Put your hands on the table. Put your hands in mine.
CONTEMPORARY RECORDING, MALE VOICE, ELDERLY: (sudden and with defiance) My third
name I will not speak.
Do you understand? Now I can’t tell us
MICHAEL: The world is not
Now I can’t tell where I end.