Hardwire

In his starched uniform, with his
shoulders holding the weight of 30
other men in a platoon…
he is not a grandfather.

 

He is a cog, with edges clinking
smoothly into the Great Machine.
Every spit of tobacco on rice-paddy
floors leaves a bloodstain.
A heart is a rifle, firing
haphazardly into the darkness of
these jungles which nurture a
humid hunger. His heart is napalm.
burning and hurting and consuming
his chest; all’s that’s left to feel is
the fear of this faceless enemy.
What shadows he sees, beckons
him forward.

 
With the smell of singeing men,
covered in oil and agony—
the screams lead him closer to an
ocean. He wants to go home, but
every cog propels the Great Machine
and his son might be born without
a father.
It’s almost as much of a tragedy
as the man who falls into his
life-taking hands (their faces he fights
to forget) His body is a phoenix,
half ash and man and beats, slow-
slowing.
he shudders through a nightmare,
but never wakes up.

Eyes as ghosts
carry the memory of bodies,
empty of personality save for a
small whisper that they were once
more than cogs, more than human.

Lips more pricked than roses
forgetting his name but remembering
Johnny’s—whose sister fortified into
a shell when her only brother saw
himself lifted into the air and
spread out over a country he
couldn’t even pronounce.
They say Johnny
didn’t even feel the heat of the
explosion,
gone too soon, baby eyes lifted
skyward and repented

At 76, my grandfather is a great
warrior, fighting a battle he doesn’t
know exists. He doesn’t remember how
to tie his shoes, the touch of his lover’s
soft fingers on his back, or that he had
a son at all before the war.
He sits in his chair, examining a
wall, playing pictures only cogs
will never stop spinning into view.

At 76, my grandfather is a survivor
who has finally forgotten
all of our names.

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One thought on “Hardwire

  1. In Hardwire you equate the war the narrator’s grandfather fought in his youth (Vietnam it sounds like) with the current battle he is in against a form of Alzheimer’s or perhaps even just old age: “At 76, my grandfather is a great warrior,/ fighting a battle he doesn’t/ know exists. He doesn’t remember how/ to tie his shoes, the touch of his lover’s/ soft fingers on his back, or that he had/ a son at all before the war.”

    What is particularly remarkable is the tension you draw between the grandfather’s past and his current state of sitting in a chair as images continuously play in his mind, a mind that is outside of his control: “He sits in his chair, examining a/ wall, playing pictures only cogs/ will never stop spinning into view.” Earlier in the poem you write that the grandfather is a cog, which suggest that he is a piece of machinery that fits into the “Great Machine.” The way you set up such tension is rooted in mechanical terms and, I would say, as a society we have all begun to view humanity at large in such terms. We use mechanistic language daily when describing ourselves and we use humanistic language to describe the technology we use. Take a GPS for example, we say things such as “she thinks I made a wrong turn.” Or, “she can’t find me.”

    Often we hear the following types of questions: why is it that we feel so comfortable using this type of language to describe ourselves and the machines we create? After all, we don’t like to equate ourselves to animals, yet we don’t take issue with giving machines human qualities. Are we sacrificing our sense of self by allowing such analogies to be made?

    I think your piece asks the inverse of these questions. In what ways are such analogies beneficial? How do they help us identify things about ourselves that we might not have thought about? In an interesting twist, your use of mechanical language works beautifully to convey the power of humanity –individualism, empathy, etc. We feel for the grandfather because, of course, her is so much more than “a cog” in a “Great Machine.”

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