Michael Heller


Report on the Dispatches

     "words of reason drop into the void"
                          --Simone Weil


And then they1 brought the receptors up.
One saw soldiers2 who were standing, looking
frightened before the endless troughs of sand.

Grainy films of grit and oil clung to lenses
as though inert, in the dead voice of matter's
humming3, was calling out for company to inert.

Below encodings of the tongue, the trembling halts
and stutterings had been prioritized, first in the queues
of abject sounds made incommensurable4 and then repeated.

Such wordless brilliances--the automated incunabula
of the synapse--lay pooled in adrenal shallows below
language's hard unyieldings, blighted by fear-weeds,

which took sounds and made them narcotic. And when one
finally spoke, webbed into circuits with other warriors,
each word was presumed wedded to its proximate word

as though signaling5 a commonality that would flash
through other shuttered apertures--say ears--
say tunnels normally closed off from light.


1. they--This collective "they" lived nowhere, camping out in front of the barbed wire gates of the base or on the remote fringes of the battle field, an enormous heliotrope swinging its vast head toward unimaginable stimuli, amalgams of anguish and violence. As the senior members of the profession chanted "Accuse me, I am old and I am a part, accuse me," their aloneness was assuaged, their solitude was banked. The reporter's eye no longer looked for data but sensed a focus, some prominence as the sun flared or the night flared and assumed momentary shape.

2. soldiers--The soldiers' lovely naivete: sweet limbs, some marking their uniforms with odd patches and flags, offering up to the bloody-mouthed gods, their individuation, even as they approached death in the trenches. This horror.

3. matter's humming--Unwordable or unsayable "humming," such as that which pre-exists on magnetic tape, the bass note of the Western canon. Subject to entropy, it lacks sufficient energy to sustain itself, to prevent decay and therefore, by the most violent means, finds, ultimately, an external force (an enemy) to enable its vivification.

4. sounds made incommensurable--Without measure and having no meaning, hence no limit--mere utterance aimed at the other side of disaster, hence hopelessly and solely self-reflective, something like the exegesis of one's own death rattle.

5. signaling--Socrates, in warning against the effects of poetry, describes it as an overwriting or inscribing upon "the city within oneself." In times of war, however, there is a secondary function, a kind of ghostly telling, often too late to be heard, amounting to a sort of compromised message between a man and his corpse.

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