May 25, 2009

Memorial Day

The white crosses on a vast manicured green, all the way to the horizon, or marble slabs set on a Presidio slope under ocean fog, as if ascending to the sky. The white crosses go on and on, stark and clean and in their scale, sublime; the marble gathering blades of blown grass and moisture marks and the dullness of time, slipping out of alignment -- a carefully controlled ruin.

These are the backdrops for the slightest of memory gestures confined to the ritual performance on date, at place: formal dress and wreath-laying, stiff, awkward, empty. Bitburg. More likely, these spaces will be avoided today and forgotten. Their confusing array of dates and bare boned details are too confusing and abstract -- war upon war in the wake of the war to end all wars -- and better left alone while towns assemble for one of those warm-day distractions. A holiday.

If the day is to be a way of avoiding the war dead, whose memories might be only addressed in fear and trembling, then let the dead speak instead. And let speak in a language that will not be understood, murmuring curses and wonders to themselves.

Let them speak from a forgotten and insignificant moment of a war that does not belong to the nation, but simply was, a generation ago, on a landscape that is coming to be adopted as our own calamity, though the seeds were planted then, growing first then, at that moment presented in Jeff Wall's photo-work, an imagined scene called "Dead Troops Talk (A Vision After an Ambush of a Red Army Patrol near Moqor, Afghanistan, Winter 1986)":