For his twelfth birthday, our mother decked my brother’s cake with a squad of Marines. We sang, he blew out the candles, then we licked frosting off the feet of men.
Lorene Delany-Ullman’s recently published Camouflage for the Neighborhood (Firewheel Editions, 2012) brings the War home. The War: whichever war is operative: World War II, Vietnam, Iraq, certainly. But also, the War as a way of life: the recurring rhythmic re-entry back into a place which we thought that we had left, only to find ourselves, those who are old enough to reflect upon it, again. The War as ambience, horizon, matrix. The War as the thing we return to; the War as Home.
The narrator of Yevgeny Zamyatin’s dystopian novel, We, reflects upon the difficulty in trying to describe to a member of the 20th Century, the depersonalized world he lives in, which has achieved almost complete uniformity of thought and action. “The last thing on earth a square would think of telling about,” he writes, is that he has four equal angles” (21). Delany-Ullman, likewise, takes on the difficult task of cataloguing a phenomenology of the familiar. The War, in Camouflage, is not an event, but a place. A place must be constantly reproduced, and in Camouflage, we see it reproduced in the networks of the psyche; of economic distribution; of transportation systems; of medical care; of children’s games. It is the place in which we create narratives for ourselves by appropriating the War’s repertoire of words and things. And Camouflage for the Neighborhood is the narrative of this: the place, even the impossible place, where we can see these narratives forming.
My husband traveled to England to haggle over an aircraft. (And so, England is a place defined by war). These poems concern themselves with the banal transposition of the event of a war into societal currency. If what humans call “the erotic” comes from transmuting the event of sex into language and symbol, what do we call the transmutation of the event of violence into language and symbol? These poems explore this question. - by Noam Scheindlin
As kids, we watched Leave it to Beaver and Lassie, were in bed before the evening news. The next-door neighbors teased my brother because he looked like “the Beav.” We owned a mutt, not a collie, named Jackie. My parents bought bedroom furniture at Sears; listened to the radio on the way home—missiles in Cuba, a naval blockade of the island. In our neighborhood, no one built a bunker. We didn't even stock up on food or water.
He enlisted in the Navy to avoid being drafted by the Army. The Korean War; my dad’s war, though he never saw any action. Stationed in San Diego—a Midwesterner’s dream. From the ship at sea, he wrote love letters. Sixty to my mother. One Dear Jane letter to Illinois.
Alongside the freeway, rows of weed-covered bunkers. Not fallout shelters. Each mound a cache of munitions—warheads, missiles, bombs, stockpiling since World War II. The Naval Station shares its boundaries with an estuary, home to three endangered species—the California least tern, Belding’s savannah sparrow, the light-footed clapper rail—their refuge along the Pacific Flyway. Here, wetlands and weapons.
During the duck and cover drill, Priscilla farted. Even Miss Daily giggled. All of us under our desks, our fourth-grade hands hugging our necks, knees aching from the cold linoleum. That was the year Miss Daily had her car accident and didn’t return to school; the first time I cheated on a spelling test. And the year my grandmother heard gunshots—on the next block, Watts burned.
The reporter sees the flare of the bomb above Beirut before he hears it. A mile away, he says to us.
In the middle of an air raid alert—a well-lit brooder full of young chicks on my great-grandmother’s screened porch. They had to be kept warm. She drew the blackout curtains to disguise the light from bombers cruising the California coast. With a candle, she fussed over the birds, set the drapes ablaze.
Fourth of July—rockets’ red glare, bombs bursting in air. This summer we waited for fireworks lit from a barge in the bay. Some of us enjoy the sound more than the bloom.
The moon, a scythe cutting dusk. And the street lights, sad moons of necessity. Was I always afraid of the dark? Another bruise near my shoulder—temporary—the harvest of blood thinners. These orange-pink pills are more like the hazy sun.
The dead, local soldiers listed in the Sunday paper—Robert, Eric, Felipe—nineteen or twenty, enlisted boys because they didn’t know what else to do. I drink a cup of black tea, eat toast with peanut butter and jam, read each column not knowing what I’m looking for—
My son was once a fitness trainer, then sold mortgages. These days he waits tables at a French bistro, tends the bar full of regulars.
Already I have a slight curve in my spine. Still, my place is in this body. I’ve not believed the proof—the birth of perfect children, easy algebraic equations, the summit registers where I’ve scrawled my name. I wanted more. But the body has its own beliefs.
My husband traveled to England to haggle over an aircraft. Beneath Penn Street, a found object—eleven meters underground—thought to be a German bomb. No one wants detonation. To defuse, remove the triggering device. After two days, the shell unmasked itself as a piece of reinforced concrete. Imagine—bomb as artifice. To make the deal, he confessed his birth—Beverly Hills schools, summers on the Cape. He got a handshake.
Here’s the dirty bomb scenario: a small car salted with gold or cobalt. Moon-suited workers will blister buildings with water, flush hotels and boutiques until there is a drought worse than three rainless winters. The dust cloud will be mistaken for Southland smog or June-gloom. What’s left of us will be entombed in sealed barrels, trucked to the Great Salt Lake Desert, buried for a thousand years in a sea of radioactive debris.
Lorene Delany-Ullman has most recently published creative nonfiction and poetry in AGNI, Cimarron Review, Zócalo Public Square, Naugutuck River Review and Chaparral. Her poems have been included in anthologies such as Beyond Forgetting: Poetry and Prose about Alzheimer’s Disease (Kent State University Press, 2009) and Alternatives to Surrender (Plain View Press, 2007). She is currently collaborating with artist, Jody Servon, on Saved, an ongoing photographic and poetic exploration of the human experience of life, death, and memory. Delany-Ullman teaches composition at the University of California, Irvine.