Letter from the Editor Issue #4

Dear reader,

I am proud yet humbled to present to you these works created by humans who have faced death. Welcome to our fourth issue, which features poems, stories, memoirs, art, and photography depicting war and life viewed through the eyes of veterans and civilians alike. Through this issue, we hope to fight for awareness and treatment of mental illness, especially for our veterans, all the while striving for non-violence and mutual co-operation and compassion in order to solve humanity’s problems. We have Vietnam veteran Preston Hood to thank for this issue, as he suggested the idea to me when we first met at a Moonstone Arts poetry reading in December of 2014.

How remarkable is it, that in the year 2015 we can still hear the voices of those who’ve experienced World War 2? 90 year old Hal O’Leary, a West Virginia native and veteran of the Allied campaign against the Nazis in Western Europe, wrote an enduring and reflective memoir piece that we have the honor of sharing with you in this issue. Other highlights from veterans in this issue: Cold War era Army vet Alex Marshall imagines the view of an ancient Chinese soldier from his Meditation Tao series of poems, Iraq War vet Alecc Costanzi emits a pungent warning in his poetry, Jon Turner, another veteran of the war in Iraq, shows us a glimpse of the “enemy’s” perspective, Doug D’Elia, who was a medic in Vietnam, shares with us the difficulty of reassuring a dying soldier,  Lisa Van Wormer, an Iraq War veteran, accomplishes the near-impossible task of expressing the sorrow and bonding that occurs after a fellow soldier’s death, in second person mind you, Jay Dardes, a Vietnam era vet, describes an encounter between a vet with ptsd and a therapist, and James Smith, a veteran of the 25th Infantry Division in Vietnam, gives us an outstanding and at times humorous look at the hypocrisy of those who say they support our troops, yet are not sincere.

In our most important issue yet, Whirlwind Magazine seeks an understanding between civilians and veterans. We not only want to show our appreciation to veterans who’ve contributed to our past issues, such as Peter Mahoney and Lamont Steptoe, but we’d like to remember all people who have been killed because of war. This issue is dedicated to Preston Hood’s late son, Arrick Hood.

An early draft of Issue 4's cover:

An early draft of Issue 4’s cover: “Window to Baghdad” by veteran Hayden Van Wormer.

issue is dedicated to Preston Hood’s late son, Arrick Hood.

That’s What They Get

before Wikileaks was banned by our government

I went on their website in the Paul Robeson library

and played a video called “Collateral Murder”

dirty water streamed down the window panes featuring

the supposedly revitalized city we stared

into computer screens on my display pixels

stood static as I witnessed footage

of the slaughter

of innocents

my countrymen howled ooh rah

with joy as explosive rounds

pierced the thin doors of a Toyota

mini van (the same kind those airmen’s wives

drove their precious kids to school with)

carrying small Iraqi children

in grainy sepia I saw their fathers’ bodies

disappear beneath smoke

as students around me lounged in cushioned chairs

they typed loudly and I cried silently

and the American soldiers on the ground

thought themselves American heroes

evacuating limp little bodies riddled with holes

punctured by projectiles from omnipresent helicopters

inside the floating death machine an American said

“that’s what they get for bringing children to a warzone”

turns out the victims’ obliterated fathers held cameras not rpg’s

that the terrorists were really journalists

that’s what they get for being born in a warzone

above pools of black liquid

into pools of red

that’s what they get

Moon Sequence

I.

Last night Luna rose

over our Eastern Sea

like no human’s ever seen.

Only one porthole view

through deathly clouds

incubating the Great Egg Harbor.

Luna rose a perfect circle

tossed by Myron, now in suspension.

Remnants of Theia reflected

 in alien orange,

brighter than Sol

(whose rays provide color

still, but not the same).

As lightning strikes purpled

the Atlantic structures underneath

the ocean rose with Luna, rose ominous,

pillars and pyramids stood naked.

Our nation, in three century utero, collapsed

off the coast of New Jersey. Another failed experiment,

another corrupted civilization left to liquid, then to ash.

II.

Fear, survival instincts in full swing

while operating machinery speeding

south on a bowed bridge looking

east as Luna rose. Death

embodied in the sky

explosions, natural explosions

in natural grandeur white death.

Luna rose as she never has

as illusions nullified fear was reality

at its clearest. Luna rose and she never will

in similar form, life and nothing in one moment.

The storm consumed the atmosphere. Consumed itself.

Atoms vacuumed into oblivion.

Bovine humans munched cheeseburgers

while driving through dark energy warping

vapid brains. Magenta tissue bled

out sentience. Luna rose.

III.

These humans were not scared

out of sheer stupidity. They felt safe

in their machines. Congested asphalt artery,

nine at night, Friday, June 13th, 2014.

Luna rose in proof of their ignorance.

She devoured particles in purgatorial drift,

planet Earth. Space shuddered Terra

dark matter pulsed into minds

people felt frightened

inexplicably. Immediate fear of blackness.

Animals froze in abeyance obeying nature.

Humanity continued to destroy,

to feign solutions, to pop pills,

to disdain their immune system

to ignore their self-inflicted wounds.

All the while precedents loomed

in the past. They never realized

they inhabited houses of Masonic stone.

Let alone understood that the Scottish Rite’s

preeminent child would fall faster

than those deemed lesser.

That the child’s scrapes would fester.

IV.

Luna rose on in spite,

out of spite of America.

Oxygen sucked out of air.

This time the fire.

Although pharaohs chose the stars

which killed their enslaved, unwanted brothers and sisters.

As the empire fell in pre-meditated fashion, the elite escaped

in Russian rockets. No more humans

needed for sustenance of the few.

No longer human humans would float

past Luna, and harvest her gray helium 3 tears.

Luna rose no longer over Earth

for there were no humans

left to see. Luna rose in witness

and condemned yet knew she could do nothing;

she vowed never to forget

until everything collapsed again. Luna rose

until the end. And as her visage faded

from the collective memory of all sentient existence,

Luna rose again, somewhere,

since death could never die.

The Question Raised in Heaney’s “Casualty”

Seamus Heaney’s “Casualty” is an elegy for a fisherman in loose iambic trimeter that reflects not only on the implications of tribal or societal obligations and subsequent political affiliations, but ultimately questions whether it is worth it to act on a moral imperative. The poem follows the uneventful life of an anonymous and unassuming “dole-kept breadwinner” (14) who, according to the speaker, frequents two very different kinds of “haunts.” The fisherman’s rightful place is on the water, and yet his other preferred habitation, the pub, is connected by the image of consumed liquid, although the latter will be his demise. However, nightly drinking will not kill the fisherman in a conventional way, but it will cause the fisherman to patronize a bar in a Unionist neighborhood because of the Bloody Sunday curfew, and consequently the Catholic fisherman’s moral ambiguity will contribute to his death. The speaker remembers how they would talk of the Provisionals, which as a literal definition is synonymous with the transition into the first section’s last stanza, where the most explicit connection between the two is displayed: “But my tentative art / His turned back watches too” (36-37). The speaker then correlates this arbitrary act with the turning point of his intellectual affiliation, and hence the (albeit early) turning point of the poem, when the fisherman “…was blown to bits / Out drinking in a curfew” (38-39).

Heaney divides “Casualty” into three parts, the first two having three stanzas, the last having only two, with the final being a truncated triplet. At first sight the poem’s development seems confusing, or at least non-linear, as the narrative is shifted back in time once the speaker mentions the death of the fisherman in a bombing at the end of the first section. The rhyme scheme remains relatively uneven albeit slipping into abab at certain points when Heaney wants to highlight the significance of the passage. The next two sections shift from the funerals for the Bloody Sunday victims and the fisherman’s solitary funeral, to the tranquil scene of the speaker going out to fish instead of being at his friend’s funeral. However, the speaker envisions the man coming back from the dead through the light on the “indolent” waves, and desires for the ghost to ask him again the extent of their duty to their “tribe.”

The title itself represents the anonymity of the subject of the poem, as the speaker describes the personal habits and shortfalls of a man who was not involved politically. And yet the fisherman is a victim of his own habitual need to have a pint in a pub, but only because of Bloody Sunday. The poem takes place in 1972, soon after British paratroopers opened fire on a group of protesters, killing thirteen. The speaker lets the reader assume the specifics of exactly how the fisherman is killed, except that the speaker can “see him as he turned / In that bombed offending place, / Remorse fused with terror / In his still knowable face” (64-67). The first section leads up to this moment by explaining how the man would coyly order drinks, and the relationship between him and the speaker. The first line along with the entire first stanza describes how the man “would drink by himself” (1) in a way that earned the respect of the speaker of the poem. The speaker goes so far as to say that he “loved his whole manner, / Sure-footed but too sly…” (16-17) because he could relate to that sort of attitude on a larger scale when it came to the speaker’s political leanings. 

Heaney does not chide the subject of the poem (whom Heaney revealed through an interview to be a distant relative named Louis O’Neill) because he can relate to the man’s ambivalence toward remaining steadfast in his allegiance to his tribe by only patronizing Catholic pubs. Instead, the fisherman is so accustomed to his habitual pub-going that on the night in question “He had gone miles away / For he drank like a fish / Nightly, naturally” (70-72). Heaney expands on the aforementioned cliché by posing the question of why should it matter that an innocent man was sitting in a bar frequented by Protestants. Through this Heaney implies that he objects to the extremism of the IRA Provisionals in randomly killing innocent Protestants in retaliation for Bloody Sunday. It just so happened that Louis O’Neill was a Catholic knowingly endangering himself by sitting in the wrong place at perhaps the wrong time. Heaney explicitly answers this dilemma with the question “How culpable was he / That last night when he broke / Our tribe’s complicity?” (78-80)

The figure of the dead fisherman transcends the actual person that Heaney knew when the subject directly asks the speaker if being associated with Protestants warrants death while sardonically saying he’s “…supposed to be / An educated man..” (81-82). This paradigm shift in time and space runs parallel to Heaney’s own detachment from the militant Republican cause. In 1972 Heaney left his academic position in Belfast and retreated south to a rural part of the Republic of Ireland in order to write the Glanmore sonnets and presumably get away from the heightening tensions that were brewing in Northern Ireland. Stepping away from the Troubles further alienates Heaney from his Irish predecessor, Yeats, in that the latter poet’s “Easter, 1916” romanticizes the struggle to oust England from Ireland, while Heaney’s “Casualty” takes a more complex and realistic approach. Heaney’s form in “Casualty” also serves to be antithetical to Yeats because it is in the same elegiac trimeter form as “Easter, 1916,” but with the infrequent rhyme scheme mentioned above, as opposed to Yeats’ conventional rhyming. Heaney utilizes the fisherman, a victim of the chaotic ramifications of political terror, in his poem in order to set an example of the arbitrary nature of death in the Troubles. 

The speaker in “Casualty” ultimately does not even attend his friend’s funeral, and yet imagines it while actually on the deceased’s boat. Heaney uses fishing diction in order to describe the imagined funeral procession as people “shoaling” like schools of fish by the hearse. This choice of words is an extension of the many different uses of fishing and water imagery throughout the poem, which is appropriate considering how Heaney ends the elegy by desiring the dead fisherman, the “Plodder through midnight rain, / Question me again” (112). Heaney’s transition from funeral to fishing boat in the penultimate stanza is fluid because the speaker cinematically shifts from the sound of the hearse’s engine “Purring” to that of the boat. While on the water the speaker states that he “tasted freedom with him” (102). Heaney no longer feels obliged to his kin to the point of not even attending the funeral, because the procession itself turns into a partisan statement. 

The speaker of the poem desires to get away from the political violence that’s tearing his countrymen apart. At his closing remarks, Heaney makes a sudden shift from speaking of the fisherman in the third person into the second person, so as to bring the subject nearer home and show the conjoining of their ambivalence. The speaker imagines the now “revenant” fisherman in his “proper haunt / Somewhere, well out, beyond” (108-109). Heaney questions the worth in pursuing a categorical imperative if the end result will so often become extremist. Thus, Heaney departs from Yeats’ romanticized battle against the English through the arbitrary death portrayed in “Casualty.”

13 unarmed protestors were murdered by British paratroopers on 30 January 1972. The British government would not admit Bloody Sunday as unlawful until 2010.

13 unarmed protestors were murdered by British paratroopers on 30 January 1972. The British government would not admit Bloody Sunday as unlawful until 2010.

Poetry Incarnate

At night we drank

like we always have, by the river,

along the eastern bank of the Schuylkill,

which may mean hidden, and may be appropriate

now in the present, with gray architecture

consuming confluence.

At night we drank,

but not anything domestic, as you think

it’s all swill. The tide never

reversed although you said it will.

I looked at you for an instant,

(I would like to say it was infinite,

but I would be lying because it isn’t)

then into you

through your obsidian eyes,

which were even darker than your charcoal

complexion. And inside your body I still saw

strength.

 

You read me a poem.

You were speaking to cellular attackers.

The ones that are trying to destroy you.

You called it an inside job, but it’s not.

 

Agent Orange. Viet Nam.

 

I am dying.

At least that’s what you say now,

after a year of denial.

 

I will be employed by poetry (a bond)

to carry a poem, a man, up flights

of decaying wooden stairs.

I’ll try not to trip.