This week, we talked a lot about politics and revolution, which, as we know, was a subject that was close to Whitman’s heart, and is reflected in the poetry of his Spanish speaking “descendants” — Lorca and Neruda. In Whitman’s eyes, it would have been a sin above just about all others to discredit or forget the causes, consequences, tragedy of the Civil War, of all the young boys who died in his arms. It was this idea of remembrance, driven by Martin Espada’s poem “Rain Without Rain” that really touched me this week. Hold on, whilst I get up on my soapbox for a minute.
Each nation, including America, has had its own problems of oppression, intolerance, genocide, war, and revolution–there is no denying that. However, I think that Americans in this age have blinders on when it comes to understanding the true horror that other countries have witnessed, and many still witness today. The last war to be fought on our soil, right in front of our very eyes, was over a hundred years ago, and rarely talked about (except in Whitman class). Yes, there was 9/11, a heartbreaking and unnecessary mass murder that boiled my very blood…but one in which the killing lasted a single day. What about the Rwandan Genocide? What about the sex trade and female mutilation that still exists overseas? What about the Nazis? What about the injustices expounded upon by Neruda? These terrible tragedies lasted for months or years. There is no American equivalent, and it seems that our memories of anything close are dying out rapidly. For example, my grandfather served on a battleship during WWII. He is 93 years old and attends the U.S.S. Cleveland reunion each year. And, each year, there are a few less than the year before. Soon there will be none. Less than 10 years after 9/11, and I am already finding people who just see it as a hazy dream.
This is why Espada’s poem fueled me so much. He points out that those who mourn for Neruda should remember to mourn for all others who died for the same cause, and that we must also teach our children to see history not as just a memory, but a scar and a learning tool. We must not be like the one who “blinked with the camera’s flash, shutting his eyes forever.” We are the little girl who reads Neruda too fast, and we must slow ourselves so we can truly understand.
I’ll end with this: I’ve been to Europe several times, and although WWI was nearly 100 years ago, I can tell you that many countries, especially England, still remember the pain. I have never seen so many flowers on a memorial on a day that wasn’t a remembrance holiday. Americans could benefit from such a mindset, and not just in terms of our own country. We are lucky that we are comfortable, and free, and mostly whole, but we should not be blind. We should be grateful.