Saturday, July 7, 2007

Larissa Shmailo's "Exorcism"/Found Poems, Incantations

Larissa Shmailo sent along this poem, which employs all sorts of found fragments from multiple sources, to create an incantatory "exorcism." I've been thinking about her repetition of "I stand on holy ground" as both a performative act (that is, to make the ground holy, the ground that we have too often drenched in our own blood), and a critical questioning of what it means when we call the ground holy. Naomi Shihab Nye, in her poem "Jerusalem," phrases it this way: "are people the only holy land?"

"Exorcism" (Found Poem) by Larissa Shmailo

Adapted from “Group Dynamics,” People of the Lie--
The Hope for Healing Human Evil by M. Scott Peck,
and “The Forging of the Malevolent Personality,”
Speaking with the Devil, by Carl Goldberg

I stand on holy ground
I stand on holy ground
I stand on holy ground
I stand on holy ground
I stand on holy ground

Consecration: On the morning of March 16, 1968
Elements of Task Force Barker
Charlie Company Task Force Barker
Moved into a small group of hamlets
In the Quang Ngai province of South Vietnam
Collectively known as My Lai

It was a routine mission
To search and destroy
A typical mission
To search and destroy

The soldiers were poorly trained and hastily assembled
They were tired, poorly trained, and hastily assembled
They had sustained casualties from booby traps and mines
They had not engaged the enemy but sustained casualties
Had had no military success for over a month
The soldiers were poorly trained.

The soldiers were probably not aware of the Geneva Convention
Which states it is a war crime to kill a civilian
A punishable crime to kill a civilian
To kill a soldier or enemy who has surrendered
Who is wounded and has laid down his arms
To kill a noncombatant

They were probably not aware of the Law of Land Warfare
In the Army Field Manual, the U.S. Army Field Manual
Which specifies that orders in violation of the Geneva Convention
Any order in violation of the Geneva Convention
Is illegal and not to be obeyed

The soldiers were poorly trained

The written orders were ambiguous
The My Lai orders were ambiguous
Just waste the place, a Louie said
A Louie might have said

Though essentially all elements of Task Force Barker
Were involved in some way in the My Lai operation
The primary element of ground troop involved
Was C Company 1st Battalion of the 20th infantry
Of the 11th Light Infantry Brigade

When Charlie Company moved into the hamlets of My Lai
They found no combatants not a single combatant
Only old men and children, unarmed women, men, and children
All civilian and unarmed

The troops of C Company killed five to six hundred
The troops of C Company killed five to six hundred
The troops of C Company killed five to six hundred
Civilians on that day

The killings took a long time

The people were killed in a variety of ways
In some instances troops would simply stand at a hut
And spray it with fire or throw hand grenades
In other instances villagers including small children
Were shot as they attempted to escape

The killings took a long time

The most large scale killings occurred at My Lai 4
There the first platoon of Charlie Company
Commanded by Lieutenant Calley
Herded villagers into groups of twenty or more
Who were then shot down by rifle fire
Machine guns and hand grenades

The killings took a long time

The number of soldiers can only be estimated
Perhaps only fifty actually killed the civilians
Perhaps just two hundred watched them shoot the civilians
Only just some two hundred directly witnessed the killings
By the end of the massacre approximately 500
Knew of operation My Lai

None of them reported the crimes

A helicopter pilot in flyby to the mission
A warrant officer in air support in flyby to the mission
Could see from the air what was happening in the hamlets
He landed, tried to talk to the troops on the ground
Then went airborne and radioed headquarters from his copter
Told his superior officers what he saw at My Lai
They did not seem concerned

The soldiers were poorly trained

When a panel was convened
Four years later to investigate
The events at My Lai
They inquired if this atrocity
Was similar or different
From other war crimes
Which had occurred
In this and other American wars

They noted that no study
Had ever been made
Of any war crimes or atrocities
Committed by Americans at war
And requested that a study
Of the subject might be made

The panel was told that the current administration
At the time would be embarrassed by the findings of the panel
And that further studies or embarrassment
That might ensue from such a study
Was inadvisable at the time

Lieutenant Calley was convicted
For his crimes at My Lai 4
But not his Captain Medina
His superior officer
Not Lieutenant Colonel Barker
Who Commanded Task Force Barker
Nor Lieutenant Barker’s com
Who said,
Boys let’s bring that coonskin home….

In Serbia a woman calls her youngest son now to her
She tells him to sit down she will now explain to him
Why his father has seemed cold harsh and cruel to him sometimes
She tells him of his life

When his father was a young boy at the time of the World War
He was captured by the Germans under guard at the railroad
He watched unarmed men and women emerge slowly from a boxcar
At the head of the ramp was a strong commanding figure
An SS man in the black uniform of the SS Medical Corp

He is singing Meistersinger as the people search for loved ones
For their children and their parents
German soldiers beat the people
As they run before the guns the SS officer shouts
In a commanding baritone voice

“Freeze. Listen. Do as I say.”

One very old man perhaps eighty years old
A scholarly old man who has fallen to the ground
His clothes are caked with mud and his eyeglasses are askew
A woman crawls up next to him as if she knew him well
He turns to her and says, “God. . . .perhaps the man. . .
In the black uniform. . .the imposing man in the black uniform,
Maybe they sent him to save us?”

The officer is singing as he points to the left
To the right and the left
And the prisoners are herded to the gates of a camp
And the young Yugoslav watched the people as they marched
As they hurried to the camps where they would die

And the mother turned around and she said to her son
In a voice he’d never heard his mother use to him before
She said your father learned that day what I will tell you right now

“It is better to be a Nazi and survive
It is better to be a Nazi and survive
It is better to be a Nazi and survive
Than one of those people so helpless and naïve
That they have no choice but to pray to their God
That the Nazis will save them from harm.”

The boy he was well-trained.

In Iowa in ’66 a boy gets into trouble
Sells some pot and gets himself caught
And he gets himself in trouble
And the judge says join the Army
Or you’re going to do some hard time
The boy signs up for Nam

I stand on holy ground
I stand on holy ground
I stand on holy ground
I stand on holy ground

I stand on holy ground
I stand on holy ground
I stand on holy ground
I stand on holy ground

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