“Under your foot I hear the smoke of the wolf,”
or such exhortation of a man from Estremadura
by Vallejo to fight on for Spain, and they did,
although I remain incredulous to some extent of
the passion. It was a war of all rectitude,
or so I’ve read—I failed to live through it,
but I’m always astonished when I see one who did.
Has it become more than it was? What do I know?
—the workers, the people, the masses against
the fascists, the Nazis working out war games,
practice sessions like Vietnam, a time for testing
new weaponry—never thought of the Spanish
as little yellow hordes, but I guess ultimately
we’re all little yellow hordes. Such poetry
for such destruction, I’m breathless
when I read it, I’m breathless when I think
of the slaughter. “Long live death!” shouted
a Falangist general. And Unamuno was outraged.
I recall the Mickey-Mouse-hatted Guardia Civil
eying us hostilely with their automatic weapons
when we stopped in front of a church,
but this was years after, the edge of a dream,
a cloud too thick to pass through, a smog,
it burned the hell out of my eyes.
“Málaga defenseless, where my death
was born walking and my birth died of passion!”
I probably would have demonstrated—I’m good
at shouting—but not volunteered. It was
in Spain, and I’m not so easily convinced.
I suspect good, I’m more familiar with hype.
But I am a romantic, a skinny, brutalized kid
who has grown older without having avenged
himself. I fight devilishly in my imagination against
all oppression, over and over, so that the bad guys
are not merely vanquished but vanquished repeatedly.
Do I think I would have sacrificed my luxurious games
for lead cartridges? A realist or a coward—what am I?
The safest ideology is disorder, multiples of self-interest,
so the Christian can damn me to hell but not crucify me.
Many enlisted and fought, and I suppose there’s a time
when it’s necessary to put your belly in front of your
toys. I’m quick-tempered and furious, instigator of
brawls I’m not ready to follow through on. Merely
release, I suppose. And could I survive through
an evening without my cookies and milk?
Murdering for a nationality or religion—easy stuff,
you can get swarms of morons for that—but for an idea?
Vallejo can burst into song about the volunteers
for the Republic, but I doubt I could write anything
persuasive about dying. “Long live death!” which is
not to say I couldn’t be enticed into murdering.
Not being personally attacked and yet expected
to fight for others—who might not fight for me.
I worry about being made a fool of—a dead one.
Or limbless, a paraplegic, watching it all come apart.
Lay yourself down for what? But I guess it’s the
moment that counts—must be dialectical
—there are times, and conditions. But, really, you’re
a sap to do anything—ask out a twenty-three-year-old,
write poetry, be Vallejo, fight for the Republic.