Tuesday, December 16, 2003

I'm More Of A Prude Than The Next Guy, But This Is Ridiculous

The latest whacky exploits of the Lone Star State's criminal justice system is enough to leave the primmest of jaws more dropped than a pair of proverbial drawers.

Didn't the Supreme Court -- hardly, save perhaps for Justice Thomas, a bastion of kinky eros -- just dope slap TEXAS for its anti-sodomy laws after the intrusive arrest of two gay men for having sex in their bedroom ?

So now they're going after -- entrapping on a "tip" no less-- housewives selling vibrators ?

Of course Wal Mart can continue to sell vibrators because Wal Mart vibrators are for aching manly, pumped-up, God-fearing, missionary positioning, heterosexual muscles.

The historically prissy Commonwealth of Massachusetts has dabbled in these life-ruining, bedroom invading antics. Viz. the 1960's case of Professor Newton Arvin. It's a grim story, and the book tells it well.

The Texas law states that:

"...an obscene device is a simulated sexual organ or an item designed to stimulate the genitals..."

Don't you love it ? "Obscene device."

The phrase made me think of the Enola Gay, about to be re-displayed at the Smithsonian, without the pesky "context" of the 140,000 dead and the deep ethical issues surrounding its mission. James Carroll discusses this in the Globe today, noting

"In 1995, a previous exhibit drew fire from veterans groups and the Air Force Association because curators had provided "context" which suggested that President Truman's decision to use the weapon was not uncontroversial, even at the time. (Eisenhower's opposition was noted.) That exhibit was abruptly canceled.

The exhibit that opened yesterday provides no context for the display of the Enola Gay. Not even the casualties it caused (more than 140,000 deaths) are noted. The bomber is being displayed, the current museum director said, "in all of its glory as a magnificent technological achievement." A group of historians protested "such a celebratory exhibit" with a statement that drew hundreds of supporting signatures from scholars, and on Saturday more than a dozen of them, together with numerous Japanese survivors of the atomic bombings, came together. The issue is the construction and reconstruction of history, a question not only of the past, but of the present and the future. If America remembers its first use of nuclear weapons as morally uncomplicated -- or worse, as an event to be celebrated -- its present commitment to a huge nuclear arsenal, and its future readiness, under Bush policies, to build "usable" nukes will seem acceptable."

I remember the 1995 controversy. DK and I visited DC that summer. It was a grim trip. We visited Arlington Cemetary, the Holocaust Museum, the Enola Gay exhibit, the Vietnam Wall. We were struck by the contrast between all that death, and the broad boulevards flanked by tall white marble facades.

I was writing poems about Hiroshima around that time, and, after our trip wrote these two:

Smithsonian Exhibit Enola Gay Protest, 7.2.95

There were frightened kids.
That was the worst thing about it.
Children were just crying.

...a bystander

There was the crying,
but there also was
a drift of ash on a white sleeve,
and blood, spattering a sock,

not because the pretty airplane
got all dirty,
or because bad grownups
were screaming : repent ! regret !

but because a child
can drift black upon the air,
or boil red away
almost before its cry fades,

then be papered over
by text, flag, finesse,
and that's
the worst thing about it,

the rest comes out
with cold water,
a kiss, and Baby on Board
whistled in the dark.


Enola Gay, 2

i. Nuit Blanche with Gideons

No clocks. Must be past three.
I lie in a Holiday Inn white night
somewhere between Ecclesiastes
and the Song of Songs
in Washington DC.

Less than half asleep, I hug a pillow
to quiet my premenstrual middle,
and try to imagine a long life lived
without each month's
punctuation of blood --

how different it would be,
how restless one might get,
like a small boat unmoored
and without horizon,
how moved one might be
to leap up,
to do something, say something,
anything at all,
just to break the silence

Vanity of vanities,
says the Preacher.

I am a Rose of Sharon
a lily of the valleys .

ii. Period

The Smithsonian guard
who rifled through my purse
with his fastidious stick,
(smaller than night- ,
but larger than swizzle -)
was looking for lambsblood, ashes, sedition.
I'd had the foresight
to leave it all behind
in the hotel room
in the nightstand,
by the Gideon.

Tour guides, wallet, Kotex, Metro map --
he waved me through,
a good enough citizen,
past the curatorial disclaimer
toward the big, silver tailpiece
and blinding fuselage,
toward the black & white montage
of headlines screaming victory,
and the large screen filled
with an endless loop
of Paul Tibbetts' face
reciting the National Epic:
how sweetly the seven branches
of the Hiroshima River
arborized in the bombsight !

And what a triumph of the science
of restoration was on display there !
Little Boy, in olive drab facsimile
clung to Enola's plump belly
as the text assured us that we,
the public, were in no peril
from lingering radiation,
ambiguity, ghosts.

As I marched through the exhibit
hands above my head as prescribed
for safekeeping,
I felt a deep red fist clench
and unclench inside me,
squeezing out a satisfying pain,
a secret red sedition,
a Rose of Hiroshima,

warm to the thigh while I waited
as it whispered its way
toward the lily-of-the-valley
death-white marble
Smithsonian floor.


It's all one big death-affirming, life-and-love denying package.

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