A Son's Soliloquy

by Phil Rockstroh

July 21, 2003


"To plunder, to slaughter, to steal, these things they misname empire; and where they make a wilderness, they call it peace."
"The foundation of all mental illness is the unwillingness to experience legitimate suffering."
--Carl Jung
"Tis the time's plague when madmen lead the blind."
--William Shakespeare's King Lear, Act 4
"Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life."
--Eric Hoffer

A Son's Soliloquy: I am a man of my times: I owe what I am to you: You
are my country, my father, my maker, my destroyer -- my god of war, my
angel of perpetual enmity:

I am able to glimpse, now and again, how it happened: How the pain and
panic drove me to this state: The staggering doubt, the endless
hyper-vigilance, the reflexive flinching, the need to keep my head down,
the relentless anxiety, the clenched jaw line, the clamped teeth, the
cramped bowels, the ceaseless remorse, the sudden fury, the empty
appetite, the constant companionship of regret, the nagging feeling that
something vital has been lost -- Your rage, good god! -- It was your rage
that conferred these things upon me -- And it's not only me: Look around
you: It has decimated and diminished all that it has touched....

You: My father, my leader, my country, my God have beaten, bribed,
threatened and manipulated me into withholding so much of what is within
me (the myriad responses, reactions, impulses, memories, hopes, dreams,
protests, imaginings, reflections, ruminations, rants, ridiculous
assertions, out of context epiphanies, scores to settle, apologies to
proffer, sighs, moans, grunts, howls, bleating, chittering, various
guttural sounds and utterances of high-pitched keening...) -- You: My
father, my leader, my country, my God have forced me to push it all down
and for so long now that I can't even begin to take stock of all I have
locked away within me to languish: Is there a retarded child chained in
my brain's basement room, an idiot savant, drooling algorithms,
gibbering Goethe and Wittgenstein; perhaps, there is a mad aunt
muttering vile incantations in the attic, imprecating the house with woe
and contretemps? -- Daily, Ophelia descends into a swirling stream of
drowning self-doubt....

At night, I dream of falling towers, of poison mists rising from subway
grates, of city streets roiling with roving mobs, of my own limbs
liquefying from an infestation of bone-devouring termites.... Dawn
arrives without rest nor promise: Only new humiliations will come to
pass -- The old equivocation will give way to new regrets of
opportunities missed -- lost hours, days frozen in fear, years imprisoned
in mental lock-down in a secret detainment camp of the spirit -- where I
am bereft of everything but your pervasive voice, my father, my leader,
my country, my God: I have tried and failed to shut it off: I can't bear
to hear your pronouncements about me when I have dared to disobey you --
of my born treachery, of the failed humanity inherent in my being, of
the mendacity of my mere breathing -- And you sought to set me right with
rage -- You told me that it was not only me who threatened you: You said
your enemies were legion -- You promised if they were destroyed I would
be loved by you -- that I would be safe and needed -- so I set out to
redeem myself to you and I went off to fight your wars: First, I hated
any and all who you told me opposed you -- I pummeled them with words,
silenced them with threatening gesture -- and then you had me illuminate
the night with bombs, and, by day, we soaked the ground in blood....

Yes, my father, my leader, my country, my God -- at last, I was close to
you -- and we got so damn high on it -- The intoxication of our shared and
sacred vehemence, the moments heightened by winged fury: We were
propelled out of ordinary time and mundane circumstance into the sublime
of sanctioned homicide that is otherwise known as history....

War has always given me and those like me purpose; for this, I must
thank you, my father, my leader, my country, my God: You taught me well
how to create an entire existence within the close quarters of combat's
deadly intimations, but you were loath to instruct me as to how to
survive much else: I know hatred, rancor, dread, the boredom between
battles, I can navigate the scarred landscape of internal carnage;
conversely, I am an ignorant, anxious stranger during the idle of peace;
I don't know who I am without your defining enmity; I am invisible, sans
the form and features you carved for me from the hardened volcanic rock
of your monumental scorn....

Since I have returned from war and your rage towards me has turned to
indifference, my body feels weighted down, I can't lift my arms to lash
out at you for your betrayal of my trust and loyalty, and my mind has
left me -- It has taken flight like a startled quail at my own panicked
thrashings through the thickets and brambles of the remote hill country
of my self-awareness -- It flies over head, on occasion, but does not
land -- It makes its nest deep in the wilderness, camouflaged in feathers
the hue of soil and brush....

I have made my own camouflage the colors and textures of concrete and
asphalt, of plaster, carpeting, and wallpaper, of brick walls and stone
edifices: Now -- people do not notice me, I do not register: I should
take to wearing a day-glow orange hunting vest to guard against being
repeatedly smacked into on public sidewalks.... I bet I could make
myself reappear in a barroom brawl -- or find you -- my father, my leader,
my country, my God -- and your clarifying ferocity, once again, in the
face of a cop who pushes me face down on the asphalt; I'd smell your
ghost lingering in my cell in the city jail: -- You have made me hate the
air, You have made me long for endless war -- I have become a stupid,
viscous dog that growls at distant thunder....

I wish there was some place of sanctuary where I could find rest, where
my strength might gather, where I might have a rapprochement with my own
mind, where I might rise in the cool air of morning, in a place where I
am no longer haunted by the memory of you: You -- this vengeful ghost who
has usurped my name, where I might dodge this mind-grinding,
soul-defying, death-worshipping legacy of yours, my father, my leader,
my country, my God -- and where I might sit beneath the spreading
branches of an ancient oak tree, gazing upon the sun-suffused grasses of
midmorning, as the day lengthens before me and my love and need for you,
my father, my leader, my country, my god -- might lift from me and
evaporate like the last mists of clinging dew.

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America the 'beautiful' on Swans


Phil Rockstroh, a self-confessed gasbag monologist, is a poet and a musician who lives in New York City (Manhattan). Rockstroh is co-author, with Chris Chandler, of Protection From All This Safety, (Portals Press, 1997, ISBN: 0916620301). He's had short fiction published in Silver Web Literary Magazine, Thin Ice, Brutarian, and poems included in a few anthologies, such as "From a Bend in the River." Owed royalties galore by various publishers, Phil Rockstroh sent his first contribution to Swans with the queasy relief that he would not be financially compensated for it.

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Published July 21, 2003
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