Thursday, February 25, 2016

Sand Opera Lenten Journey Day 16: The Blues of Joe Darby + Roy Scranton

Sand Opera Lenten Journey Day 16

Jesus said to the Pharisees:
“There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen
and dined sumptuously each day.
And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,
who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps
that fell from the rich man’s table.
Dogs even used to come and lick his sores.
When the poor man died,
he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.
The rich man also died and was buried,
and from the netherworld, where he was in torment,
he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off
and Lazarus at his side.
And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me.
Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue,
for I am suffering torment in these flames.’
Abraham replied, ‘My child,
remember that you received what was good during your lifetime
while Lazarus likewise received what was bad;
but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.
Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established
to prevent anyone from crossing
who might wish to go from our side to yours
or from your side to ours.’…”
--Luke 16

The Blues of Joe Darby

I laughed at first I did
not know what I was looking at
a bunch of bodies bending over
a pyramid of tumbling

They call me bulls-eye they call me traitor

the pictures were taken
the pictures I gave them
now they are everywhere and I
can’t go home again

They call me walking dead call me waking night

I dream they stand on naked
boxes again they back on each other’s
backs again they bloody mouth from flinch
of dogs they hands on sandbagged heads

call me talking dead call me waking eye

I gun to sleep again I closet night
no sleep but I would give them up again
I close exposed I wake and listen
I would give them up again

Amiri Baraka once wrote: “Luxury, then, is a way of/ being ignorant, comfortably.” Yet privilege does more than damage our vision; it starves the heart. In today’s scripture, in the biblical parable of Lazarus and the rich man, the rich man’s flaw is not merely being unable to see Lazarus in pain right outside his gate; after his death, when the rich man looks up from Hades, he clearly recognizes Lazarus next to Abraham in heaven and begs Abraham to ask Lazarus for a bit of water to cool his torment. The rich man knows Lazarus by name but even in hell does not see fit to address him directly.

Friends, if you have been reading along with this blog, I want to thank you doubly. First, for participating in this journey, and second, for being open enough to confront things that one would rather not. In an Israeli story I taught today, “Hayuta’s Engagement Party,” a Holocaust survivor is asked by his daughter and granddaughter to not embarrass the family at the engagement party by launching into another of his monologues about life in the camps. We talked in class about the embarrassing difficulty of being “Grandpa Mendels,” people who are compelled to tell a difficult story, if only to lessen their own burden. No one wants to be this person, dragging down the collective mood, by reminding us of what is outside our bubble. I’m extremely aware of how imbalanced this whole project might seem at this point; I was surprised when I met someone who presumed that I would be an angry person because of Sand Opera. (On the contrary, I’m easy-going in actual life, which surprised my acquaintance.) Joe Darby, one of the heroes of the "abu ghraib arias," told the truth about what was happening in the prison and reported it to a military investigator; but this moment of truth-telling also branded him an outsider among his fellow military personnel, and made him extremely vulnerable. Some have accused Darby of being a traitor, and threatened his life. Read more here:

Roy Scranton, a veteran of the Iraq War himself, has himself done some truth-telling. At the end of his piece in Rolling Stone, he writes:

As I sat over my vodka on my last night in Iraq, looking back at my service there and considering what I'd seen and what I'd heard, especially from Iraqis themselves, I realized it didn't matter what we'd intended. What mattered was what we'd done. We'd invaded a sovereign nation on a pretense, fucked up the lives of 30 million people, started a bitter, bloody civil war by pitting one religious sect against another, then left and pretended it had nothing to do with us. We'd helped strengthen fundamentalist religious extremists in the Middle East and put intellectuals, journalists and activists at risk. A few people made a whole bunch of money, and a whole nation was left in shambles. Whether or not breaking Iraq into pieces had been the plan from the beginning, as some evidence suggests, the war had been nothing but a murderous hustle. The politicians who ran the war had shown no higher ideals than robbery and plunder, and I'd been nothing but their thug.

A couple years later, he contributes “Blue Falcon Blues,” a poetic voice piece that situates us back in the confusions of being a soldier, a soldier who betrays his fellow soldiers (a “blue falcon”).  

Blue Falcon Blues (in response to “The Blues of Joe Darby”) by Roy Scranton

One of us plays possum, one of us rode a blog, one of us wrote press releases, one croaked, one went to Rome, one was a real blue falcon. When we do cowboys & indians, you get to pick which poke—Graner, England, Darby—but “fuck me if I’m an injun’.” The important thing, remember, is REDACTED was a Really Bad Dude.

There’s treason and then there’s treason: the important thing is bros before hadjis. The important thing is stick together. The important thing is the military-civilian divide, remind those Mall-of-America pogues they’ll never really understand how complicated it was, what a profound moral burden it was to be cocksmack in a war of choice, illegal invasion, a shameless dumb-show of collective evil, or gross negligence, or wanton stupidity, or fuck it. The important thing is shine your dick all green, keep showing it to people, keep reminding your mom her boy’s a real anus-pop. (Then duck and grin, mutter “aw shucks”).

Joe Darby was a real blue falcon. Joe Darby got Americans killed. It wasn’t the torture, see, per se, because that’s Truly a question of Profound Moral Complexity. The problem was optics. The important thing is you gotta pick slides, and Joe Darby made America sad. The important thing is we gotta stink together.

So they buffalo. But when I stare in the airport, below the mascara it’s Darby. Not Optimus Prime, just a cunty blue falcon, just some gringo whose dick is too small to believe it makes him righteous. America’s a word on a map, see, and the fact is, a shit-ton of brown people died for cheap gasoline, or face, or something even dumber, or nothing. Whatever secrets I had, I’ll tell. Whatever pictures, show. Not because I’m especially good or bad or holy, but just because writing is a word for betrayal.

I’m Darby because I’m England. I’m Darby because I’m Graner. Because I’m Davis. Because I’m McCotter. Because I’m REDACTED. Because I’m REDACTED. Because I’m REDACTED. Because I’m REDACTED. Because I’m REDACTED. Because I’m you.

One of us betrays hisself. One of us betrays his battle. One of us betrays the pen. One of us betrays his sweetpea. One of us betrays the bromance. One of us betrays his race. One of us betrays a nation. One of us betrays us all.

Joe Darby was a real blue falcon.


Maureen said...

It seems most groups have some kind of "do not cross" line. I think of the still extant police code of silence, for example, or whistleblower Erin Brockovich or the more recent example of Sandra Steingraber who is so active across the country in calling attention to the dangers of fracking. We do not look kindly on our truth-tellers, despite all our noise to the contrary. I can't imagine the fear Darby must have felt to have heard his name called out by Rumsfeld, who occupies no honorable place in history, as far as I'm concerned.

I'm struck by a theme that seems to be shared by yesterday's and today's posts: of never being able to "go home" again, one for reasons not of his making, the war in Iraq forcing exile; the other, the whistleblower, for reasons of conscience.

Roy Scanton gets it so right.

Shakir Mustafa said...

Thanks to Roy Scranton the "brown" people of Iraq had one more voice to tell their story. Two years ago, Roy went back to Iraq and interviewed a number of people, some of them members of my family and relatives. They were grateful for an American who cared enough to make their words worth carrying across their borders.