Omaha Beach

“…and I wept over them, and men and women sprang into being from the tears which came forth from my Eye.”

 

O vision beheld on Normandy beach,

beheld from the starboard bow flashing,

climbing the cargo nets down to the Higgins.

 

There I beheld the likeness of all things,

and fell in love so deeply with the past, for I had become intimate with the present.

Was it not like Prometheus and his fire,

green ignus fatuus flashing out of the dawn breaking,

light of the casemate’s lamp, and of sparks that leap from the bridgehead?

Was it not unfurled before me like the wiigwaasabakoon, golden etchings of Ojibwe?

Was it not the same vision you had, Waynaboozhoo, from the shoulder of your dug-out,

as you weathered the Flood a full moon’s time?

 

Who were those black faces of men breaching Easy Red

like seedlings of rice dipped one by one into the paddy water,

one by one planting their cheeks against the sand,

rolling backwards and dragging across the sandbar,

hedgehogs tenderly cradling their bodies.

Waynaboozhoo, they were like wild rice you gathered from the river

as you fasted in your wigwam that long, chill winter,

the same rice you mistook for feathered headdresses of Ojibwe men dancing on the water.

I, too, saw E company, their Higgins like a cork upon the waves,

and felt as though I were dreaming,

for they and their flotilla breaking the fog

looked as iron-white seafoam riding in on the tide,

like Heavenly Aphrodite born of the ocean’s womb.

And from this vision three ideas seized me.

 

The first, descending the cargo nets,

and my Garand snagging in the swollen knots,

was such love for these men I almost could not bear,

such delirious, selfish love for them,

for those beside me, my own company,

and those men on the beachhead whose names I knew not.

I loved them equally in that moment.

I was in love, even, with those men in the pillboxes and turrets,

for we were made of seafoam all of us,

the same salt-water corrosive to our lost sea-skin.

 

The second idea was that of importunity.

The coxswain summoned his voice over us,

and my gaze dropped from battle to look upon him.

I fell to questioning, desperate and heartfull,

as princely Arjuna, scorcher of foes, as the son of Pritha

was full of doubt gazing upon the yellow plains of Kurukshetra,

surveying from his shaded chariot armies left and right,

and fell into despair, and called upon his driver,

who was Jambul-skinned Krishna, Lord of the Universe,

Husband of Fortune, Chief Herdsman, Protector of Cows and Souls.

Bhagavan Krishna, the Supreme Purusha,

to cure the prince’s heart-sickness,

arrayed His Divine Form to Arjuna,

that world-destroying Time, Ishvara, in celestial gowns resplendent, Ishvara,

into whose myriad flaming mouths go all the heroes of men, and have gone, and will go,

as surely as the moth and mosquito.

As Arjuna beheld terrific Lord Brahman on the lotus,

and trembled with consent,

So had I looked upon the coxswain and his portal,

the bow-ramp’s jaws drawing open for me.

 

Of the third idea,

it was the same as yours, Waynaboozhoo,

returning with the wild rice cupped in your hands,

returning to the village troubled with long winter,

returning with news of hidden crops in the river.

You told your families so they would not go hungry,

so they would not starve that winter.

I, too, found those seedlings adrift in the unconscious sea.

This was the third notion I had,

unbuckling my haversack in slow thrashes,

staying myself above the wine-dark waters,

to tell of those seedlings among salt-lettuce and cloudy silt,

whose names I hold in my heart, and cannot speak aloud without weeping.


R. Charboneau

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