I woke up this morning, the 15th, and listened to news about the most recent act of mass violence in this country. By circumstance, a notebook of mine was at hand. In it, I found the poem, listed here, which was written from a state of familiar malaise that followed a similar act. As in that case, as in this one, and I assume in the aftermath of the next, an inconsequential feeling will persist. On the subject of these massacres, one does not relish in the discovery of something to say. Still, I found this poem carried an unfortunate consistency between the two events. I doubt it will lose all of its validity when the next occurs.
The massacres are becoming more horrific to me due not to increasing degrees of perversion or violence. They become worse because the interrelations of each makes each one a jot less unfathomable. On this morning of the 15th, I discovered, near at hand, a statement made previously that put news stories into a personal context. These acts of mass violence had gained a foothold into my apartment and personal properties through my most intimate objects— notebooks. This pervasiveness is something I do find chilling. For the American writer of any standard, it is the story of these things that are at the same time indigestible, and yet they seem to open at the slightest touch. That no other quarter for the deeply needed recognition of these catastrophes exists, that revelation in episode after episode of mass violence in America is neglected, it has been added to the burdens of the American writer to understand. It is the similarities in American violence that must concern the tides of American writing, for these things are immense and unstoppable as the tides.
I relate the following story because most American writers I know feel this to be a near truism. On one much needed respite from the chaos of Manhattan, I took the bust from the port authority bus terminal and into Pennsylvania. Bethlehem, PA was my destination, where another writer and friend of mine was living with his parents. To say that this was two or three years ago, you might ride the same bus and escape a chaotic life for Pennsylvania openness by also forgetting two or three years of mass violence in America. Home, the place one grew up, and if you can always return to it, is similarly the theme of the modern American writer. It owes its relevance to the fact there is no easy place for the American writer when they tumble out to try their hand today. With a duffle bag containing a few articles of clothing and a good deal of writing, I waited this Summer, eventually to have a family’s sedan and my friend pull into the lot. Because the elements conspired with those themes of home and mass shootings by pure accident, it magnifies both in my thinking here. Pennsylvania is alien to me, but I recognize the similarities between its suburban languor and my own. I have never seen Parkland, FL, but I assume I would find manifest similarities there. The next day, it was twice solemn to drive across a small town to an antiquarian typewriter supply and repair shop. The IBM I did my work on in a claustrophobic apartment had broken in the middle of a major project. If this, that American violence and home are the responsibilities, and perhaps the major stories, of American writing today, and if our writing can be enshrined nowhere else, in no other quarter esteemed, this can be a meagre testament. As we had discussed a few times at New York’s café tables, we discussed then what these instance of mass violence meant to the world we had for ourselves to write about. By circumstance it was while we drove past a high school that we took up this topic, and so I remember it.
I have already run well past the reservation I like to maintain in my writing. If you would indulge me a few moments longer, consider this. Consider that most high schools in this country look similar, and they begin, more and more, to look soft, vulnerable. The students are looking out on a country I discovered through hard experience to be hostile to natural human inclinations for meaning. This alienation and systemic totalitarianism we blithely indulge trickles into their nascent understanding and inspires futility, and we witness the unthinkable aftermath. They must be confused in a deep, deep sense by a world without explanation or feeling. Consider, as more images of schools where mass shootings have been enacted stream to you, that they do not look so different than a high school near home or that you went to. Consider that this country makes a pariah out of anyone with feeling. Ultimately, consider that we fail these innocent victims and are hapless bystanders in our own country’s destruction because of the very way we choose to live our lives. We can cast blame nowhere else. In the aftermath of these events, as in our epidemic somnambulism, we cry with the same futility— “Out, damn spot!”
Hertz, sickened by night, continues, buzzing,
While in reverse it grows too big to see.
Has it always been this way? The white blacks,
And all through hallways warmth burns in essence.
It is the same drive ahead of escape;
The same bastion for the cur, animal
As it could go anywhere. But linger,
In the tower’s dim, the blackened ridges.
The sun dial cannot be escaped, not whence
Ignorance has been immortal ever.
In frescoes, it looks upward, grimly through
Cage bars to clutch at man kind’s hop-scotch.
Can the light descend that far? The shooter
Asks of slime, indifferent, as of oysters,
And deafened, the instances flash as of these
Questions which concern Christianity.