Art and War
Very rough draft. A reminder to all intelligent crit is always, always welcome.
At fifteen he decided he was going to be a painter. His mother said he could be anything he wanted to be. His father being dead didn’t have much of an opinion on the matter. He was not a frivolous boy and meticulous by nature. Not exactly the normal primary colors of nature assumed by an artist but he was diligent, patient and in two short years was something of a well known commodity in his small uncultured town.
The mayor commissioned him for a fresco on the south wall of the newly built library and although it was not his favorite form he loved Diego Rivera mightily and with that in mind captured a very nice adaptation of Day of the Dead . This lead to a public showing of all his canvas work that fall coinciding with the annual High School football team’s corn boil; where afterwards over a dozen of the town’s residents proudly displayed his work on the walls inside their homes and offices-he was within their limited confines now fairly famous.
The finished product was never really something he cared for; never had been. It was the process of creation, the discipline, the exact skill of line and colors all coming together for the common goal that was the voice that called to his heart. He felt as he gripped the brush in his hand and slowly stroking the canvas with firm deliberation that he was creating something that would never be created exactly the same again. Not by anyone; even by him.
The summer he turned eighteen he found Jasper Johns while on a trip into the city with his mother. The walked among the colonies of writers, musicians and artists in the village and stopped at a showing of the man’s work going on in an open air gallery.
He wandered among the explosions of color and form wide eyed. He came across a piece called False Start and stood for a full fifteen minutes staring at it without blinking once. Never had he seen something so brilliantly ambiguous and concrete at the same time. He would, he knew then, paint something just as perfect one day.
The mail came one Saturday late that summer. He had been eighteen for almost 3 weeks and they had called his name. His mother cried and fretted and then cried some more and then, twelve weeks later he marched along with the rest of his green laden brothers on the sweltering airport tarmac in Vietnam.
They marched together, all thirty of them, in perfectly synchronized olive steps. Their faces, both black and white, barely able to carry a beard let alone a gun and their eyes were full of both known and unknown fear. All except his. His eyes were soaking up every detail. The sky was a blue he was sure he had never seen and as he marched enjoying the unifying cadence of the group he found the lush landscape before him on the outer reaches of the airfield so beautiful and rich that he formed a mental painting of them instantly.
A week later his company was ambushed in the morning as the crept though a dense jungle while he was noticing the throbbing large veins on the leaves as he brushed them away from his face. As he fought the enemy mortar blasted in the earth around him shooting up spectacular showers of black earth, the bullet fire rushing past him seemed to leave behind light trails of smoke as they passed.
Later, when all was quiet again, he held a boy named Tim, from Muskegon Michigan, in his arms as rivers of ruby blood poured from the boy’s body like the spreading tributaries of an ocean delta. He cried as he stared at Tim’s perfectly severed leg, directly above the knee, and he traced the line of the round bone with his eyes as it protruded from his leg like some ghoulish country ham.
He wrote his mother by flashlight that evening telling her, among other things, that he wanted to be a soldier. Several weeks later, as a white jungle moon danced across the starlit treetops a bullet tore through his brain as he walked point and as his soul floated up to meet the heavens an airplane landed carrying a mother’s letter telling her son he could be anything he wanted to be.