(“Please come to read for us from your new book.”)
I want to let the audience enter the cubicle where the work came from. This is what I’ll tell them:
I’ll celebrate with you by telling you what I know.
I’ll tell you how it is with me. This is what I know. This is what I am.
Just behind the retina and a small way back is a little room. It has a secret door and passageways and key words other than Sesame. If you’re lucky enough to get inside that room, at the right time, there’s ignition, there’s light, there’s a flare, now and then there is a pure incandescence like a white phosphorous shell at detonation. It’s the core room of memories, the memory bank holding everything you’ve ever known, ever seen, ever felt, ever dislodged spurting with energy. The casual, shadowy and intermittent presences you usually know are microscope-beset, become most immediate. For those glorious moments the splendid people rush back into your life carrying all their baggage, the Silver Streak unloaded, Boston’s old South Station alive, bursting seams.
At times I have been so lucky, brilliantly, white phosphorescently lucky; it’s when I apprehend it all. I see the quadrangle of Camp Drake in Yokahama, Japan in February of 1951. I know the touch and temperature of the breeze on my cheek and the back of my neck; the angle of the sun on me and a host of my comrades, how it has climbed past a chimney of a long, long, gray barracks, and withers on a mountain peak of an unknown horizon flaring at darkness. I know the weight of a rifle on a web strap hanging on my shoulder, the awed knowledge of a ponderous steel helmet on my head, press of a tight lace on one boot, wrap of a leather watch band on one wrist.
With that said I know I am reconnected. But because of that reconnection I have to state
an up-front belief: what I write, this form of art if you call it that, is not the thing. The thing is how it comes to you, the audience; how you hear it, see it, share it with a crowd of white space and what shakes loose from the shelves of another room, a sharing of the clearest order.
Take my hand, know my eye; I run with that reconnection.
I am lucky to see it all again. Pete Leone from McKees Rocks, PA is on my left. Pete Marglioti from McKees Port, PA is on my right. Pete and Re-Pete. Frank Mitman from Bethlehem is there, an arm’s length off. Minutes ago, from a standing still position in all his gear, he did a full flip in the air and landed on his feet. John Salazer is behind me. John Maciag, Big John, is in front of me. He re-appears. John Maciag was all bone, knees, elbows and jaw, hated his rifle, proficient at killing, wanted home so badly it burned his soul. We leaned up that mountain near Yangu, frightened. War’s hurricane tore our ranks, trees of us lifted by roots. I came running down three days later. Like cordwood the bodies were piled between two stakes, all Korean but that jaw of John Maciag I saw, a log of birch among the pine. The sergeant yelled to move on. I said no, maybe never. I am going to sit and think about John Maciag’s forever, whose fuel he is,
what the flames of him will light. Perhaps he will burn the glory of man or God.
Behind me, John Salazer is the comrade with two brothers not yet home from some place
in World War II, who the captain calls one day and says, “You’re going home tomorrow. Get off the hill before dark.” “No, sir, I’ll spend the last night with my buddies down in the listening post.” After darkness settles a Chinese infiltrator hurls a grenade into their bunker. The count begins again, the eternal count, the odds maker at work, the clash of destinies.
On the ship on the way home, on the troop train rushing across America, in all the rooms of sleep since then, there are spaces around me. Memory, at times fragile, becomes at times tenacious. It honors me as a voice, and it is my will to spread that tenacity. I bring pieces of it with me today, pieces I have captured under white phosphorous as true as a rock in place. They come from the little room with the secret door just behind the retina, just inside a bit deeper.
Knock with me.
I share “Milan Carl Liskart, the Coalman,” with you, and my grandfather Johnny Igoe, the Yeats’ reader, and other shining lights that, with tenacity, have found these pages of A Collection of Friends, dedicated For those who have passed through Saugus, those comrades who bravely walked away from home and fell elsewhere, and the frailest imaginable soldier of all, frightened and glassy-eyed and knowing he is hapless, one foot onto the soil at D-Day or a statistical sandy beach of the South Pacific and going down, but not to be forgotten, not here.
Not ever here!
Cziering [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D Front of Nahant Public Library