Shawn Fawson is the author of Giving Way
Shawn Fawson contributed poetry to The Puritan’s fall edition, Issue XXVII. For The Town Crier, she writes about war culture and the challenge of closing the gaps left open in war’s aftermath.
This poem, Piazza with Fountain and Statues, came into being under the influence of two writers: Larry Kent Graham’s work on war and its aftermath, and Edward Tick’s book, War and the Soul: Healing our Nation’s Veterans from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. When I began to think about the costs to my family in relation to war, I remembered being at a WWI memorial with a loved-one who is a veteran. Thus, in this context, the poem began.
I have learned that war is never over. It creates environments, orientations, mindsets, identities, and they become so close to home we forget where we got them—we don’t see them coming directly out of war, but they in fact shape us, our consciousness, and culture. At times, war is a hidden social, cultural, historical, and political reality that influences our consciousness in ways that we are not always aware of.
I think it is never too late to talk about war and it is almost always helpful to do so, especially if we can do it in a mutual speaking and listening context of respect. Once we all catch on that we are all in the aftermath of war together, and that someone doesn’t have to be crazy to have normal fears, hostility, distress, and guilt, then maybe we can talk about pain normally and openly without it being so costly, unusual, and stigmatizing.
Maybe we can recognize how much war separates people, and how war leads to unrecognized knowledge and gaps between people who otherwise expect to be close, to understand one another, and to be in sync. I think there are some gaps that aren’t recognizable and knowable, and we have to understand that. Other gaps are recognizable and knowable and can’t be closed. Other gaps can be worked through, closed, and reconciled. We can’t assume all can be healed if we “just get it together.” We can’t assume all gaps can never be closed. This is the situation that we have to explore and understand. We can respond by being open to a variety of possibilities.
I don’t know the best way to create safe environments for healthy engagement about radical differences and commitments to war in general, or to particular wars in a nation’s history, but I think we should talk about this together. We really go to war with one another about going to war against others. This is tragic to me. There is much to learn before we can start to prevent damage by having things in place before damage is the only, or most likely, consequence. It seems that the buffers between society and the carnage of war inure us to how truly crushing human violence organized through war and conquest really is. Dare we see it? Can we bear its horror?
The bottom line for me is that there is always room for love, and love can never fail us, even though we don’t always know how best to articulate and embody this love. Yet, in conversations like these we can deepen our understanding, revise our approaches, and hope for the best in the future.
Shawn Fawson resides with her family in Denver, Colorado. Her book, Giving Way, won the Library of Poetry Book Award and was published by The Bitter Oleander Press in 2010. Her MFA is from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.