Luke Hankins

 

 

(USA)

 

 

 

Mechanism

 

Robert McNamara:

     I was on the island of Guam […] in March of 1945. In that single night we

     burned 100,000 Japanese civilians in Tokyo—men, women, and children.

Errol Morris:

     Were you aware this was going to happen?

McNamara:

     Well, I was part of a mechanism that in a sense recommended it.

     –“The Fog of War”

 

When I was born into the mechanism

it sheltered me like a second womb of steel.

I was given the choice of toys, and I chose not

the ball, not the blocks, not the wooden flute,

but the blowtorch, and I practiced welding

on the hatch until I finally sealed it.

 

There were others in the room—What I assume,

   you shall assume a face on the wall said.

It knew how to turn a phrase. Its features

were hardly discernible anymore, integrated

into the wall, and it spoke with all the authority

of the mechanism. I kissed its pseudo-lips.

 

There was reason to remain in this chamber,

and I soon forgot there had ever been a door.

I grew in stature and influence as the mechanism

asserted itself through me. I began by leaning

on the walls, wanting desperately to be among

the molecules of the wise, glistering steel.

 

A periscope dropped from the domed ceiling!

I took the mechanism’s perspective as my own—

how else could I even see the world? From here,

I saw the nations glaring at one another

through their own periscopes. The eyepiece melded

with my skull and I screamed in pain for a long while.

 

When I got my breath, I said Thank you,

oh thank you! and my voice was more powerful

than it had ever been. I tested it. I flipped a switch

on the viewfinder to see inside the chamber,

and said Move. The others stepped into a corner.

I said Beware and they were afraid.

 

I said Love and they trusted me. I looked on

the world again—Danger. The periscopes turned

toward me and the peoples of the earth trembled.

The inevitability of the next word vibrated

in the walls of the mechanism, it hummed

with purpose, it knew its end, and I said War.

 

A chorus of the dying rose outside the walls.

Because the mechanism recommends it I said.

Those outside were not us or ours, so the means

of war were justified in the minds of those inside.

We did what was necessary to safeguard our way of life.

Then another was born into the chamber.

 

I flipped the switch, I heard myself say Welcome

to the human mechanism. She replied

How I love you though she turned her face away.

 

 

 

Without a Word, Without an Image

 

How does one hold it in the mind? An idea without words. It is there after the words, in the mind without even a trace of an image. An idea or a question, bodiless and wordless, after the words which arose from it in the first place. How does one go on feeling it without a word, without an image?

 

You are doing it now. If these words ended here, if all the words in your own mind fell away, it would still be there. The very question of how one holds a question in the mind—you are holding that in your mind and still would be if you ceased to think it in words.

 

It is neither words nor images. It is pure abstraction, and any words that come arose from it. You hold it in the mind, that feeling, that idea, that question. The question came before the words that pose it. This is the soul, holding it. Even now, it is there without a word, without an image.

 

 

 

Dispatch from the Field to Headquarters

 

It appears that a mistake has been made.

We are currently stationed in existence.

To be precise, at a point

in evolutionary history

when the human mind

can become overly absorbed

in the quest for meaning

and in the fear of death.

I repeat: A mistake has been made.

It is hard to carry out our mission,

with these metaphysical preoccupations.

Nor can we agree on what our mission is.

Some of us have clearly been misassigned.

Many of us. Perhaps all.

There was no warning.

And I hardly need remind you

that we did not volunteer for this—

we were drafted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

____________________________________________

 

Bio: Luke Hankins is the author of a collection of poems, Weak Devotions, and the editor of Poems of Devotion: An Anthology of Recent Poets (both from Wipf & Stock). His poems, essays, and translations have appeared in numerous publications, including American Literary Review, Contemporary Poetry Review, Image, New England Review, Poetry East, and The Writer’s Chronicle. He serves as Senior Editor at Asheville Poetry Review.

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