Just hours before I returned to the “Physics of War” for the 5th reading, I was listening to the Top 40 songs of the 60’s on an LA radio station- remiscent of the days in Vietnam when we had rare moments of respite from the rumble of war. On New Years Eve 1968, with a crummy transitor radio pressed to my ear I was listening to Casey Kasem’s Countdown on Armed Forces Radio. The tune etched in my musical memory is the hit song by the Rascals, “People Gotta Be Free.” The lyric, “peace in the valley, people gotta be free,” synced with the sky lit up by illumination and tracer rounds has been embedded in the recesses of my brain to this moment. I was on perimeter bunker duty that night with the 7th Marines. The joy was short lived, as we returned to search and destroy patrols and killing the next morning. Enter, “The Physics of War.” The revelation here is that 24 hour period in the life of one grunt Marine is where the notion of “parallel lives” may have had its origin. Moving from the elation of music to a lean, mean, killing machine in such a compressed fashion, is where the poet Bourret is at his best in corraling the consequent emotions. Few poets, novelists or essayists are as adept at penetrating these this dual state of being as does the author Peter Bourret.
His metaphoric concept of PTSD being “shrapnel through time,” leaves me speechless. One line, “with the abacadabra of an exploding mortar round, Nam magic turned you into Humpty Dumpty,” captures the night I was clocked beyond any literal diary entry. Ergo, the potency of poetry. Bourret has the right stuff and the bards knack to dive deep into those subterranean caverns of war experience. “Words fly away like geese in winter.” Bourret leave the veteran of war in a spiritual clearing with the primal knowingness that we are not alone in our memories of combat.
The soul is the center of our conscious life. No one can see it or calculate its existence, but we can ,”see it feelingly,” in the words of Shakeaspeare in King Lear.. Philosophers define the soul as the, “me” at the center of our sense of self. In one sense our soul liberates us from our surroundings, and brings forth the ethical “I” we call ourselves. Free to be and choose. In war, the the tribal mission reduces the soul to a nothingness that is replaced with a collective identity with power and tradition. Again, the advent of the parallel lives of a combat veteran.
“The alphabet only has two letters tonight, VC.” says Bourret. The intense singularity of focus needed to survive and defeat the enemy vaporizes all ancestral notions of the life of giving thrust of the soul and turns one into a highly trained collection of instincts. The only way home to the the restoration of the soul and the remerging of those parallell lives is by way of the potency of poetry and , “The Pysics of War.”
An evening spent with the collection of 47 poems will elevate and reconnect the civilian with the soldier in a mutuality of understanding of the pschic costs of war… “The Physics of War”, by Peter Bourret can be found on Amazon Books
Michael Patrick Brewer/ Squad Leader/Mortarman/ 1st Batallion 7th Marines/ Vietnam 1968-69.