poppies for peace

Laurelhurst poppy field

Off MAX the other night, walking home, I passed a memorial of balloons and notes tied to a pole near where that 18-year-old senior was run over and killed by a charter bus last weekend. This week, a smiley-faced freshman was shot and killed at Reynolds High School over in Troutdale where my friend Jeff used to teach English. I see dead animals on the roadside every day on highways during the carpool between jobs in North Portland and Northeast Vancouver—possums, raccoons, hawks, skunks, cats, dogs—lying on their sides, their bodies most often turned away from traffic, though no one cares about a small animal dying alone and in pain on the side of a road, then flattened and decaying each week into nothing but a pile of dirty fur, millions of such animals each year across the country. Americans can't live without their guns or their gas. It's all part of the suburban consumerist package most everyone's swallowed—had advertised and politicized down their throats since birth. That's what it means to be an American.

I stood on the Steel Bridge during Portland's Rose Festival last Saturday, looking down at the big gray military ships docked for Fleet Week, soldiers giving deck tours while a small Coast Guard vessel pointed its machine gun at the leisure boats passing on the far side of the river—Death celebrated, exalted. Few Americans can see themselves as if lit up from the inside with neon signs: accessories to mass murder, death-dealers-by-proxy, accomplices in the many wars of nationhood, then of empire. Few care to consider the civilian dead from U.S. wars on the other side of the world, children, whole families. Maybe it's a natural cycle once civilization flowers, but America, like oil, is past peak; as bullies, as aggressors, as resource-grabbers we will be found on the wrong side of history, now riding the downslide of the roller coaster.

I lived for two years in South Korea where private gun ownership is banned, and for that and other social-norm reasons I felt physically safer there than I do here in the U.S., this narcissistic teenaged empire that refuses to learn from others' mistakes, who won't accept that other countries or cultures with longer histories might have better ideas about anything, such as environment preservation or gun laws or social safety nets or education policy, who can't imagine that one day, sooner than later, that empire will be knocked off the pedestal like Rome and Britain. Empires never last. I was born into the wrong country—if only we had a choice about such things. It's too late to leave, though. Americans are pariahs abroad. Better to fight the disease here than carry it elsewhere.

Like the Reynolds High School shooter's family, my Mormon, Fox-News-watching family love guns, like all good ultra-conservative American fundamentalists who worship both Jesus and the Second Amendment. One of my brothers has a concealed weapons permit. This is a strange fact to recall during Christmas, season of peace, while we're sitting around talking in front of the TV, that this brother whose diapers I used to change is packing something truly lethal under his baggy pants. He legally owns several: a Glock, a rifle, an AK-47, presumably others, locked up in a gun safe, of course, when not in use. None of us has any kids to worry about, at least. This brother is an Eagle Scout survivalist type who would have joined the Air Force but for his bad eyes and who helped my mother and his father buy themselves a gun for home protection right after Obama was elected, but I tend to forget about that particular gun in the family because it's hard to picture my invalid mother shooting up anything but a wall or her foot or my step-father, by accident. Basically, though I love them, I grew up in the wrong family. We agree on virtually nothing, not even the weather (global warming). More and more years, I can't bear to go back for the holidays, which is its own small tragedy.

Laurelhurst poppies

The British Commonwealth has long used the poppy as symbol of remembrance of those dead in the World Wars, an image taken from a poem describing wild poppies reappearing in European fields sewn with the blood of dead soldiers, life energy changing forms. But as an educated atheist American who has given up car ownership, who marched against the Iraq Invasion and its many official lies, when I think of poppies, I think of my grandparents' garden, as well as the opium poppy fields of Afghanistan, which are said to again be flush with heroin aimed at the West. 

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