Well, David had saidit was snowing outside and his voice contained
many registers of anger, disgust, and wounded justice, I think it's crazy.
I'm not going to be a sacrificial lamb.
In Greece sometimes, a friend told me, when she walked on the high
road above the sea back to her house from the village in the dark, and
the sky seemed immense, the moon terribly bright, she wondered if her
life would be a fit gift.
And there is that poor heifer in the poem by Keats, all decked out in
ribbons and flowers, no terror in the eyes, no uncontrollable slobber of
mucus at the muzzle, since she didn't understand the festivities.
And years later, after David had quit academic life, he actually
bought a ranch in Kentucky near a town called Pleasantville, and
began to raise sheep.
When we visited that summer and the nights were shrill with crickets
and the heat did not let up, we traded stories after dinner and he told us
again the story about his first teaching job and the vice president.
When he bought the place, he had continued his subscription to The
Guardian and Workers Vanguard, but they piled up in a corner un-
read. He had a mortgage to pay. He didn't know a thing about raising
animals for slaughter, and so he read The American Sheepman with an
intensity of concentration he had never even approximated when he
was reading political theory for his Ph.D. orals.
The vice president of the United States, after his term in office,
accepted a position as a lecturer in political science at a small college in
his home district, where David had just taken his first job. The dean
brought Humbert Humphrey around to introduce him to the faculty.
When they came to David's office, the vice president, expensively
dressed, immensely hearty, extended his hand and David did not feel
he could take it because he believed the man was a war criminal; and
not knowing any way to avoid the awkwardness, he said so, which
was the beginning of his losing the job at that college.
But that was the dean's doing. The vice president started to cry. He had
the hurt look, David said, of a kicked dog with a long, unblemished
record of loyalty and affection, this man who had publicly defended,
had praised the terror bombing of villages full of peasants. He seemed
to David unimaginably empty of inner life if he could be hurt rather
than affronted by a callow young man making a stiffly moral gesture in
front of two men his father's age. David said that he had never looked
at another human being with such icy, wondering detachment, and that
he hadn't liked the sensation.
And so in the high-ceilinged kitchen, in the cricked-riddled air drenched
with the odor of clover, we remembered Vic Doyno in the snow in Buffalo,
in the days when the war went on continuously like a nightmare in our
waking and sleeping hours.
Vic had come to work flushed with excitement at an idea he had had in
the middle of the night. He had figured out how to end the war. It was
a simple plan. Everyone in the countryin the world, certainly a lot
of Swedish and English students would go alongwho was opposed
to the war would simply cut off the little finger on the left hand and
send it to the president. Imagine! They would arrive slowly at first, the
act of one or two maniacs, but the news would hit the newspapers and
the next day there would be a few more. And the day after that more.
And on the fourth day there would be thousands. And on the fifth day,
clinics would be set uporganized by medical students in Madison,
San Francisco, Stockholm, Paristo deal with the surgical procedure
safely and on a massive scale. And on the sixth day, the war would stop.
It would stop. The helicopters at Bien Hoa would sit on the airfields
in silence like squads of disciplined mosquitoes. Peasants, worried and
curious because peasants are always worried and curious, would stare
up curiously into the unfamiliar quiet of a blue, cirrus-drifted sky. And
years later we would know each other by those missing fingers. An
aging Japanese businessman minus a little finger on his left hand would
notice the similarly mutilated hand of his cab driver in Chicago, and
they would exchange a fleeting unspoken nod of fellowship.
And it could happen. All we had to do to make it happenVic had
said, while the water for tea hissed on the hot plate in David's chilly
office and the snow came down thick as cotton batting, was cut off our
little fingers right now, take them down to the department secretary, and
have her put them in the mail.
Robert Hass, The Apple Trees at Olema: New and Selected Poems, Ecco Press, 2010.