Bedell Phillips

Thinking About the Violence

           
            Honoring the Death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens
            September 11, 2012 Benghazi, Libya
  

             Shall we stop this bleeding?--Abraham Lincoln

 
 
At 10 o’clock they fired
by 10:15    the main building    engulfed in flame
   hordes of explosions    strike thick
concrete    roof  slabs  four pillars
   rubble buries the carpet
empty chairs    still whole but fallen
 
innocents in the eternal threat from the unknown
   Boston Marathon    Newtown classroom
heads covered  or bare    partial beards  or full
   neighborhood boys    Jihadists
or not    Ansar al-Sharia    or not
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb    or not
 
Imagine  a glass funnel
new weapon    created for love   so all may live
   to absorb every terror    into its
mouth    through the vortex
   each heinous act    all crime
excrement   vaporized
 
Last    a transformed mass
   gentle tolerance
      break-through   benevolence
cataclysmic    peace

 

 

 

Good Night Irene
 
The call came at 5am. It was the vice president of Service Electric in Kentucky.  Bob knew him well, a wealthy guy dispatching expert emergency lineman all over the country. Get 50 trucks up to the New Hampshire nuclear power plant asap. The hurricane barreled up the coast and had already beat on North Carolina.  These calls had come before and would come again. Time and a half thank you global warming. Not that he believed all that science bull shit.
 
Judy had heard from her son. Fill the bathtub, put ice baggies in the fridge so when you lose power your food won’t spoil. Storms didn’t surprise her. She had lived alone a while. Still, a sweet call. He cared. She moved the furniture off the porch, careful to bend at the knees to save her back. After, she ran the bath water and fell into bed but she hadn’t been worried. The alarm woke her; it was still afternoon. Downstairs, the cable box said 3 o’clock. Odd it felt like night.
 
TV news was in high gear. 30 foot white swells smashed the gray air ripping sea walls; storm surges up from the south pummeled Narragansett and Buzzards Bay.  And on land, the massive Loon Mountain ski area had washed out. A couple trapped in their trailer were pinned by a 100 year-old tree. Like divorce, the saturated root just gave out.
 
Then the television died. In the kitchen the dark oven panel had nothing not even the flash of time past. Judy stumbled through the room, relieved to touch the fat candles and thank god the bottom of the flashlight. It worked like little else that night on the US East Coast.
 
Hungry and feeling imprisoned, Judy got in the car.  Wind gusts were 60 mph but she was near town, went slow. Escaping the house lessened her terror. Lights in the village were spotty; Verizon was dark but the jewelry store chandelier glittered.  The Tex-Mex lot had cars, the neon sombrero sign moved back and forth as always.
 
Judy sat down at the bar next to a guy with a fit body. “I just drove 16 hours up from the South. Been on the road 2 days solid.” She looked over at him. He had on a baseball cap and an ultra cool tee-shirt. Judy liked baseball hats. His name was Bob.
 
“That’s really far, must have been one tough drive.” His eyes were blue, gleamed. The TV crawl said the dam in the White Mountains breached. They ordered burritos. Next it declared schools closed from Keene in the west to Campton far north. They had another beer. “I lived in Keene,” she said. The Feds brought military-type bridges to span the flooding Vermont rivers.
 
When she left the motel the next morning Bob gave her a shirt. It said in capital letters IBEW LOCAL 396 LAS VEGAS, NV surrounded in flames.
 
 
 
The Near Convert
 
It was Chichicastenango, a Mayan town taken by Spaniard slaughter. Their fire muskets, their armor, strange hats and harmful Christianity forced retreat of all twenty-six tribes into the Guatemalan hills. The tourist comes from the US, loaded with his zipper pack, madras shorts, odd white knees like a body part obscenely hanging out. His tour bus is large, iridescent silver, eccentric in the lush green town with comely squares. It’s market day; the place is swarming. After climbing his idea of a thousand steps, they reach a small grassy plot. Calm space. “This feels great, first time on the whole damn trip.” The tourist mops his brow. Since the door is open, he sees into the dark cathedral, mutters, “The usual. An altar and a damn Jesus on the cross.” He tosses his lit cigarette down the steps. Ashes singe the flowers offered for sale. When the group walks in, they stop speaking. The interior is lit only from sides, where statues of patron saints line both walls. He shakes off the quiet. “Those things on the wall are supposed to be saints? It’s absurd. They’re wearing God Damn pajamas.” The other tourists start talking again. Groups of locals come in, walk up to the altar, kneel down and pray. “That’s strange.” His guide turns and in a whisper says, “Our country has Catholic believers, but because of politics they also allow worship of Maximan our ancestral idol.” He points to a lumpy black stone rectangle centered in the floor. “That’s where ritual sacrifices were made before the Spanish conquest. Both faiths split the collection basket.” “Well at least they’re trying to keep the place up.” A family approaches the altar. Their small child looks at the tourist with large black eyes. Hides behind her mother’s thick skirt. The man’s too tall, his white beard scary. “That little girl with the dark hair looks like my daughter at that age. Is this,” he pointed to the basket, “legit?” “Oh, yes,” answers his guide. The man took out his wallet, put in a twenty, walked out quickly. Outside, for a moment, his eyes couldn’t adjust to the light.