TCS Daily

Freedom, Lies and the Constitution

By Frederick Turner - July 17, 2003 12:00 AM

The following is an excerpt from a longer poem, entitled On the Field of Life, on the Battlefield of Truth. The poem concerns the experience of major illness and hospitalization, and the sense of being trapped that results. It sets out to investigate the nature of freedom, in nature, in the interrelation of species in an ecosystem, in the human mind and spirit, and in society. This section explores aspects of political liberty and its enemies.

Now all this time a war had been preparing,
And as I fought the swarmed bacteria
That I myself had cultured in my guts,
And groaned from the worse agonies of cure --
The abscess of a swollen tyranny
Was lanced and bled its pus across the world.
And what's the worst thing about such regimes?
It's not the cruelty or the sadism,
It's not the theft of human property,
It's not the murders, that are honest evils,
It's not the rapes, though at the heart of rape,
It's not the fear, though fear is its companion:
It is the lies. For lies insert their tongue
Like a proboscis or the penis-dagger
Of that acanthus-headed worm, that kills,
Jerking its sperm into another male;
Lies bloat and puddle the clear light of being,
Rotting the public discourse into hate,
Seeking the cynic or postmodernist
Or those among the Press who know hate sells,
Or that resentment of authority
That grows in those not authors for themselves,
Or any weakness of the mind or spirit
That leaves a fertile ground of cowardice;
And lies are worse than death, for they're the poison,
The only poison, that can kill the source
Of liberty and cauterize its root.

Or is it that a poet's chief enemy
Is lies, since language is the milk he sucks
Each day out of the sweet breast of the world?
It was not only the incompetent
And weakling malice of an al-Jazeera;
I heard the lies in the United Nations,
The New York Times, the nightly network news,
Even the trusted CNN and BBC.
The universities were thick with lies.
Ten thousand poets would betray their name
To buy the good opinion of the liars.
Only the soldiers and the simpletons
Who knew what evil was and what was good,
Kept one part of the world sweet and whole;
Focused the one thing clearly in their eyes
That this abuse, this endless festering,
This filthy rant beneath the black mustache,
Must cease, and his poor people be set free.

How do I come then by this certainty?
Does it not make me dangerous to freedom?
Perhaps -- if I had any skill in power;
But even if I had it, I'd prefer
The pleasure of debate that seeks the truth;
Surely I'm wrong; I've been wrong many times,
And always happy to be proven so;
But though these words would banish me at once
From the polite society of "poets",
I tell the truth the inner voice tells me.
Forgive me, and persuade me, if you differ.
And there are still friends who would disagree
Without hypocrisy or partisanship,
And you know who you are. Every sincere
Opinion and belief in this Republic
Is one more neuron in its wise old brain;
We can't afford to lose one communist,
One southern Baptist, one conservative,
Or even one quite clueless liberal,
And would they might debate in all respect
As brothers should, as sisters in our cause
Of liberty and justice, dear old words.
We are the cedars, willows, oaks and chinquapins
Of this great land of springs, America;
And in the battle of our roots and branches
We brew a rich soil for the seeds we cast.

One of my sons in noble conscience marched
Against the war and spent his father's money
Repudiating his beliefs; the other
After the towers fell, joined both the Army
And the ACLU, learns Arabic,
Is taking special forces training, wears
The eyed griffin of Army Intelligence.

Young soldiers' faces open as the sky
Bark out the army songs they learned by heart --
Lost boys and girls who promised they would die
If the republic called them to their part:
After nine weeks of ritual suffering
Under the ruthless discipline and drill
All of their former lives become a thing
Lost like a dream in the cold morning chill;
The mothers in the crowd can't recognize
Which of these shaved heads lay once on their breast;
Those tall young giants will not turn their eyes
To smile upon the one who loves them best;
And all the colors in this Ozark dawn
Glow now as if the world had been reborn.

And my own father was a pacifist,
Would rather dig up unexploded bombs
Dropped by the Germans, than harm any man;
And many of his friends, poets, socialists,
Were blown to bits before his eyes, and yet
There was no glory in that sacrifice,
Only the inner honor of the saint.
And since he died I've dreamed about him often,
Dearest and humblest of all fathers, though
A genius in all the fields he touched.
And one night when I dreamed, he turned his face
Away from me and would not speak to me;
I woke in grief as great as when he died.
Have I betrayed you then, my dear old man?
But Vic, what can I do but tell the truth
As my dim light reveals it to my heart?
Dear God, I could have been a great success
If I had kissed the ring, said the right things.
Or is it simply pride that I resist
Ten thousand poets crying against war?
Or is it bargaining with God to save my son?

Grey clouds from southward streaming slowly over;
The Capital at dawn, before a war.
Last night I woke, sirens, the weather changed;
Blue lights, a motorcade went by at four.

Three flags blow rigid on the Treasury,
The White House, and the old Executive.
Three thousand miles away my son is training.
Let my life be cut short, if he might live.

But when I saw the statues bend and buckle,
And the Iraqis line the streets and cheer,
And welcome those they hate, for they knew worse;
And when the torture chambers were laid open
And when whole army groups laid down their arms
And when I saw the big weightlifter with the hammer
Hurl his flesh muscle against stone and steel;
I could not help but see the hand of freedom
Turning once more history's strange dark wheel.

And now I dwelt upon the Constitution,
That is the writ of God in its own way,
Building the balance and emergence I had noted
Among the cottonwoods and oaks and elms,
Setting the syntax for an endless play,
Both the enspiritment of evolution,
And the embodiment of providence,
Most natural human system, and most human
Of all the patterns of ecology --
I felt the tears of gratitude come flowing
For those wigged gentlemen who wrote the thing.
This is the root-law for all humankind;
Buddha and Zoroaster and the Christ
Had made the language in which it makes sense;
All who reject it as the special charter
Of one small group of men, are hypocrites
Who lust in secret after tyranny.
Seek such in faculties and newspapers --
Observe them with their lackeys, tell me I'm wrong.

Indeed that writ will be changed with circumstances,
Just like the Bible and the plan of plants,
And Shakespeare on the stage, and bluegrass songs;
The constitution's genes can slowly alter,
By its own rules of usage and amendment,
And it can marry other chromosomes,
And mother children of another hue.
But history has changed since it was written;
There is no turning back of liberty.
And even force, compassionate yet total,
Must be its necessary instrument.
There's still a place for sacrifice and courage,
Until our freed race starts its long delayed
Adventure to the planets and the stars.

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