My neighbor is eating good ham. He drives a nice car. He voted for Trump. He’s a stand up guy. Just ask him. He’ll tell you he loves America. In fact he loves it more than you do. You describe problems with the USA. He only sees timeless verities: cowboys and Indians; slaughter on behalf of the railroads; local jobs based on environmental destruction. While the Colorado River basin runs out of water he says global warming is a hoax.
Sleeping he dreams of a wide cushiony bed where no one has sex, it’s a white, protestant cloud if you will.
When he wakes he turns on Fox News and tells himself America is great again because “those people” are getting their comeuppance.
Yesterday I hosted film maker Federico Muchnik and poets Doug Anderson and Preston Hood at the 15th annual Syracuse International Film Festival.
Federico’s film “Hunter in the Blackness: Veterans, Hope, and Recovery” details the experiences of American soldiers—veterans with traumatic brain injury, PTSD, and other poly-traumas. Doug Anderson and Preston Hood, both veterans of the Viet Nam War are featured in the movie alongside vets from America’s involvement in Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. It is a haunting film. The lack of awareness of civilians is a recurring theme. We send boys and girls to wars while America shops at the mall. When troops return with grievous conditions many Americans don’t want to know.
22 veterans commit suicide daily in these United States.
Last evening, after I bid farewell to my new found friends, I took an Uber home. My driver was a veteran of the war in Iraq. He has PTSD and traumatic brain injury. He told me how his best friend from his time in the military recently committed suicide.
And there we were, riding in a Dodge pickup, through the gritty nighttime rainy streets of Syracuse, NY, and it was impossible for me to blink away the machinations of my country. My driver told me about his TBI, his facial disfigurement, his stress condition, and the ongoing difficulties he has had with the VA to get the help he needs.
Rain spattered the windshield.
Swedish poet Lars Gustafson writes: “And a cage/which never held a bird can easily give/a feeling of disorder.”
I’ve not been to war. But I know the cage we’re forced to stare at.
ABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.
(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger