Acoustic Shadows, book cover image by Jean A. Dibble
excerpts from Acoustic Shadows,
Section IV, “Acoustic Shadows”
. . . and it’s not analogical at all—
for in mirage you see the line of troops that isn’t there
and vanishes at your approach, whereas
Great-grand-sire Albert C. could hear the voice
of Ambrose Bierce from far away, deep in an Indiana outfit late
to join in the advance, but, like Grant and Sherman,
not the cannonades & fusillades that slaughtered thousands,
would have signaled strategies obscured in shadows
of the mind obscured by inability to hear
cannonades and fusillades that shattered adjuvant brigades.
No one heard the screaming wounded, Rebel yells, although
they saw well enough, in terms of awe and terror, all—as if some
silent movie, not yet technically achieved, played before the eyes
of Edward Shiloh, named by Albert C. for the balls-up horror of the
battle before Chickamauga and retreat to Chattanooga after that. Sidebar 1
Albert C. enlisted at sixteen, McComb, Ohio: Company K,
65th Ohio Volunteers. Ambrose Bierce, born in Meigs County, same state,
and just a little older . . . It is possible they met.
It is possible they met through an acoustic shadow, which allows
a man at great distance, now and then, to hear quite well what a man
up close to the event itself cannot—
For example, me; for example, now.
And maybe Albert C. just there, just then; Biercings audible enough,
but not the roar and crash of civil war.
Ambrose Bierce, we need you at this hour!
But not in the version of The Old Gringo, Carlos Fuentes,
and the movie—no acoustic shadows—staring
G. Peck and J. Fonda—box office failure I’m told—for which
some text from The Devil’s Dictionary
on a billboard all illuminated by
archaic gaslight might well serve anticipation.
Almost arbitrarily I put my finger down on Valor:
“Why have you halted,” roared the commander
of a division at Chickamauga, who ordered a charge: “Move
forward sir at once.” “General, said the commander of the
delinquent brigade, “I am persuaded that display of valor
will bring them into collision with the enemy.”
We need you, Ambrose Bierce, man who disappeared.
Short news story, graphic
with the highlights of
a major one, something
with the judge, lawyers,
sometimes the parties in
the case, which the jury
doesn’t hear. Listen up.
What I saw at Shiloh, Shiloh,
wasn’t what I’d name my
own offspring for, I can
sure tell you that. Came upon
the dregs of failed advance,
several thousand wounded
and defeated, beaten, cowed.
Deaf to duty, dead to shame.
All unconscious of their clay.
You may have built a family
on this chaos; me, I built a
style: None escaped, least
of all the earth. Bits of iron
stuck out of every tree,
knapsacks, swollen biscuits,
blankets beaten into soil
by the rain, rifles bent and
splintered stocks, waist-belts,
hats, heads, arms and legs, a
a foot left running by itself,
an ear pinned to a wagon by
a broken bayonet, eyes of
one clutched in his open
hand as if on offer to us as
we passed him by and heard
the bugle-call, “assembly.”
“All rise,” says the bailiff
when the justices march in.
What justice for the dead?
No one rose, your honor, once
they fell upon the field, though
many prayed to god, the devil,
or (like me) the dictionary.
A file of troops is not like a line of verse
or a mirage in its advance/retreat and shape-changing
A troop is not a trope though Grant and Sherman
sought to make a metaphor of early blunders
rather than to face a fact in plenary: a little boy with
wooden sword playing among casualties
and lost to what they both could hear and see but
A. C. Matthias & Lt. Ambrose Bierce,
child private and the brash volunteer recently
promoted to the tent of General Hazen as the new
topographical engineer, riding out alone to take the
measure of terrain, the good fields and bad
the good and bad possibilities of an advance, retreat
a retreat observed by the child with a wooden sword
an advance likely to become retreat
a treat for Christmas or his birthday, a wooden sword
although the engineer carried his sophisticated tools
he wrote, Common paces 18:
50´ = 2 7/9´ 2 7/9´ = 2´ 9 1/3
& preferred to pace rather than to use the chain
but liked his compass, leveling stick, circumference,
with the brass plates and tube to mount it.
Mountains were the worst for both of them, the enemy
dug in, entrenched. “Taking the high ground” was not
a figure of speech like shadow in acoustic shadow.
It was not a situation where one wanted to encounter,
for example, grape shot from artillery. Some commander might
insist one take the hill—
some commander like the one they called “Oh, No!”
or “General Prayerbook,” the “Christian Officer” who managed
to outflank himself, his actions covered up at first but
called in good time “The Crime at Pickett’s Mill.”
Before that my forebear wrote: We are very poorly clothed
I have one blouse in rags, one pair of pants all full
of holes, and one pair of stockings which are always wet.
I feel sometimes that we ought to give the Rebs the South.
And we may have to do that anyway with generals
like our own who do not manage things. I advise, I do,
all men to stay at home, hiding if they must. We
forage here for all our food. Some have died of thirst.
The news is that Jeff Davis is in Murfreesboro—
while jumping backwards over time and space, the voice
jumping an acoustic shadow, his who had enlisted as
he left Ohio, trudged south from Elkhart—
These were men.
They crept upon their hands and knees. They used
their hands alone, dragging their legs.
They used their knees only, their arms hanging idly
at their sides. They came by dozens
and by hundreds, made gestures with their hands,
spread their palms upward in a kind of prayer.
But there was no help for these men
except for the child who walked among them
with a wooden sword and seemed unable to speak,
Unable to hear. He made unholy sounds—
Gabbling like a turkey, chattering like an ape—
All the wounded took this as the voice of doom, Goddamn
death itself, dandified in costume, toy soldier come
to life, bearing upsidedowndrawn cross.
God damn the Goddamn damn.
Edward Shiloh used to shout, stuck on an “opinion.”
Was he his father’s son?
Dear Son, wrote Albert C., dedicating
William Hinman’s Story of the Sherman Brigade.
Carefully preserve this book that future
Generations of descendants
read and profit by it. I pray your generation
may know peace. But this is a story
of our suffering and tribulation. As Edward Shiloh
cursed and tore his hair, I’d open Hinman’s book
and align my lead soldiers in configurations based on
battle maps: Shiloh, Stones River, Chickamauga
and Resaca. I collected hundreds of these poisonous toys,
and sometimes even licked them with my tongue,
loving them so much I’d want to taste them. I’d make
the hills and mountains, placing objects
underneath a carpet, then set up artillery and units of
reserves at the rear of both defenders and
the ones who would advance into the gatlings & grapeshot.
Then the cavalry at unexpected angles for
anticipated hit and run. With care I would align
Albert C’s poor infantry, lines and lines of them, and then
some snipers in the trees. Finally, gray defenders
took their places in the hills. E. S. M.’s stone house was
on San Juan, named for yet another battle. Shiloh on San Juan. Sidebar 2
I think my grandfather had a kind of writer’s block.
He could no more advance against his obstacle than my
lead version of his father could. I would never proceed to
the battle. I’d set them up according to my strategy,
which sometimes took me hours with the maps.
Goddamn the goddamn damn.
The house was so big, and I was so far away, that
sometimes I’d see him in a window where the walls
turned back on themselves, outflanking sense,
but not hear the blasphemies. I was in the library,
surrounded by three thousand books. Do not lend was
stamped on the Ex Libris plate of The Story of the Sherman
Brigade. In Van Wert, before the family moved
to the capital, his books outnumbered those in public
collections. I loved the smell of them. I still do.
Edward S. outlasted all of his contemporaries
on the court, setting records for tenure. He was remote.
His opinions are still read today. He killed himself
by jumping out the window where I’d watched
him pace and curse. At about the same age Ambrose Bierce
disappeared in Mexico. Or so they say.
Dear Justice E. Shiloh—
fuck you and your Jingo
vets. Ambrose Bierce here.
Here, there and up your—
well, whatever. I know
full well you never got
beyond some kind of
scout camp in Ohio,
but I knew your old man.
There was a brave hombre!
You, I’ve no idea. You were
Commander-in-Chief of what?
War vets? You, who never
fired a shot, were never
fired upon. Here’s a bit I
wrote just for you. You
and John Marshall, your
son; John Edward, your
grandson, and even Ian
Bendoly, your great-grandson.
I was no leftie, Commander-
In-Chief, far from it, but the
Loss of the Old Republic that
T. R. and you and Hearst
achieved—talk about “fake news.”
Said Citizen Hearst, my boss
at the time: “You write the stories,
I’ll provide the war.”
You fell for all of it. Granted,
you were young. But when you
were very old you still believed
the shit you thought when
you’d recite “A Toast to the Flag,”
in much the spirit Maoists waved
the “little red book” when your
grandson was in college.
Before the Journal made me
change my tune, I said “the
warmongring press has already
broken out like a red rash
in the papers, whose managing
Commodores are shivering
their timbers and blasting
their top lights with a
truly pelagic volubility.”
Here’s the opposite of
an acoustic shadow: noise
precedes events, sound moves
faster than light, blather,
blather, bosh, and blah blah blah.
Watch this column for
another sidebar soon.
My mother used to claim, “It jumps a generation,” and
that is, unlike mirage, analogous—I mean it’s like the notion
of acoustic shadow in its way.
I will explain. Or maybe I already have
but failed myself to hear, as a result of concentrating
on the explanation in the way “Oh. No!”
actually outflanked himself in spite of Bierce’s
work as master of topography, frogs of leaping neurons
all befogged by conscious thought and not the fog
of war, attempts of will to jump the synchronizing
synapses, crossing over Oostanaula River in the night,
or jumping now a generation. It was the habit of
a magpie Song of Self derived from cuts and clippings.
We were our own press agents, Edward S. and I,
with scissor blades made for just the purpose of assisting
young poets and distinguished jurists in pursuit of
newspaper reference, blades almost the length of swords
that now reside among my fireplace tools on the
imitation Delft tiles that I unsheathe now and then
just to poke and prod a winter fire.
We both, Edward S. and I, would cut and slash,
pile the clippings in a box or paste them in a book.
My father didn’t do this; his was the generation skipped.
Oostanaula River was below Resaca.
On a visit in my youth, I skipped stones across it.
Albert C. and Ambrose Bierce did not have
time for such child’s play—
nor to download and print out a clipping from
abroad telling me again it skips
a generation as it skips across the sea out of
entombment in the etymologies: “deadline,” for
example: a pile of mortal men beyond which
no advance is possible. Cf. “Lime pit,” dug by survivors
after battle into which the rotting dead were heaved.
Albert C. downloaded a small ball and masticated wad
to hold it in the barrel while he peered
around a tree looking for an enemy to shoot.
But he was shot himself, his forearm left all dangling
from the elbow. Hillman writes that
Corporal Matthias, who was scarcely more than a boy
Was wounded fighting only fifty yards from the
Confederate lines, but Albert C. himself
has written in the margin: Our position was a mere
Twenty paces from their stone fort.
So his last battle was Resaca. The wounded arm
lasted, hanging paralyzed, for many years,
as he practiced medicine, sometimes riding
with a sidearm out to vaccinate
Ohio skeptics against smallpox and against their will.
In time, they cut the arm off at the elbow. He put
it in a bottle of preservative and wrote
a will, Goddamnit, saying that the arm must be
buried with the rest of him. Ambrose Bierce,
also wounded and experiencing hallucinations, migraines,
double vision, and the PTS they didn’t understand
when they told him, “Goddamn it, pull your socks up,
soldier!” didn’t march with Sherman to the sea.
For a while, he couldn’t see to march.
Nor could Albert C. “get a grip on himself,” as he
Was told—unable to move his hand or feel his arm.
“I’ll wait till I see what I hear,” Edward S. would say,
preparing for an oral argument, putting down the brief.
He’d come downstairs, exhausted, browse
Among his books, thumbing favorites absent-mindedly,
while I, waiting to hear what he saw, continued crawling
on the floor and moving toy soldiers in accordance
with the paragraphs about campaigns that I
only understood as fiction, sometimes confounded by
some facts my Grandfather mumbled when he
took in all my strategies—“Father, Johnny, wasn’t
where you’ve got him there. He was only twenty
paces from the stone fort of the enemy . . .
You’ve put him too far back. Goddamn lucky
(blasphemies of a judicial origin applied)
“he saved his life to start our clan.”
Later, “Bitter Bierce” as he was called when
he began to write, was quoted in the Hangtown Gibbet
or the Weekly Howl saying, for example, in obits:
the cause of death was galloping Christianity of the
malignant type . . . or: After church last Sunday afternoon
a Chinaman was stoned from the steps of the
First Congregational Church. Other Christians drove
a crowbar into yet another’s abdomen out of
sheer amusement. One arm was riven from its socket
by some great convulsion of nature. As the deceased
was seen enjoying his opium pipe and his usual health
just previous to the discovery of his melancholy
end, it is assumed he came by his death by heart disease.
This was San Francisco, where Bierce arrived, marching
to the sea in a direction opposite of Sherman.
By the time I pulled his Devil’s Dictionary from the shelf
of Edward Shiloh’s library, I could laugh at “Regalia”—
the Justice had so much of it that I’d try on,
admiring myself in the mirror on his closet door:
Knights of Adam; Visionaries of Detectable Bosh; Ancient
Order of Modern Troglodytes; League of Holy Humbug;
The Blatherhood of Insufferable Sloth; Associated Sovereigns
Of Mendacity; Dukes-Guardian of the Mystic Cesspool;
Order of the Undecipherable Scroll—“the distinguishing
insignia, jewels and costumes of such”—
and many more along with Edward Shiloh’s Mason’s
robes, his Captain’s uniform as failed soldier
in the Spanish War, and in the backmost darkmost
depths of secret walk-in closet’s secrets—Reliquary:
arms and legs, ears and eyes, fingers, teeth,
the beards of many generals, a penis, a pancreas, a spleen.
Albert wore his sanguinary arm just like a gifted relic,
hanging at his side. There wasn’t much
a doc could do, even with both hands, for the sick
in Gilboa or McComb, towns where he set up
his practice having learned most of what
he knew from a long convalescence from the wound
in Nashville, Jefferson, Cleveland and the office
of a Dr. Dean where he apprenticed when
still a patient himself. But for diphtheria, typhus,
even measles, there was little to do but watch.
Dean told him, “They feel better when
I walk in their door, but then they understand
we can’t do anything but be there.” It was
Dean who told him, “Pack a gun when
you vaccinate in the countryside. That way
they’re less likely to keep you from their kids.
The hell with stupid parents. If they want to
die from smallpox, let them die.” Bierce would
have liked this last remark and maybe even have
quoted it in his Town Crier column, or under his Sidebar 3
pen name, “Ursus,” in the Grizzly Papers as he
started being read. Even Albert C. read him
in Ohio, knowing him as veteran of the
battles he himself had fought and knowing him as
former resident of Meigs County. In McComb
and Gilboa, Bierce was read by some
who knew him or his reputation: One paper
called him “wise, witty, lively and severe.”
Another was shocked at the “Rabelaisian audacity
of his homicidal prose.” Albert C.’s books
ended up among the hundreds that I browsed
on Edward Shiloh’s shelves. Right next
to Hinman’s The Sherman Brigade, Bierce on
Shiloh, Chickamauga, Coulter’s Notch, Resaca,
and the hanging at Owl Creek Bridge.
His journalism flayed the privileged and the
stupid and the blind, especially if they happened
to be Christian. Albert C. was Christian
but not dumb. He wanted to be paid. He had
a card for patients headed “Your Physician,”
reading thus: He is a friend when a friend
is most in need. He does not like to disturb the ill
by collecting through the law. Make him feel
that he’s appreciated. Promptly pay
his fee. He is a skilled and tired and busy man.
A copy of this card marks a place in Bierce’s
book. He’s drawn and doodled in the
margins of his card: A wading marsh bird with
a long beak holds a kind of dangling banner
saying: “Ambrose Bierce. I met him after Chickamauga.”
It marks a place where the handwriting changes
in the margins of the book itself. There’s a story called
“Killed at Resaca,” and A. C. M. has written his
familiar and insistent “Twenty paces from the enemy.”
E. S. M. has written under that: “Not killed, but gravely
wounded. In and out of hospitals for months.
He always said he’d lied about his age.” Blood ran from
the doctor’s practice and from Bierce’s books: In one
story swine stand on the bodies of the dead
and wounded, eating off their faces, one by one.
Some telegrams (later to
be known as “tweets”): For
example (dictionary): Realism,
The art of depicting nature as it
is seen by toads; the charm of suf-
fusing a landscape painted
by a mole; a story written by
a measuring worm. Reality, I
say, is the dream of a mad
philosopher or what would
remain in the cupel if one
should assay a phantom—or
the nucleus of a vacuum: Rear
in the military is that exposed
part of the army nearest to the
Congress while To reason is to weigh
probabilities in the scale of
desire. And then there is Ink:
a villainous compound of tan-
nogallate of iron, gum-arabic and
water, chiefly used to facilitate
the infection of idiocy and
promote intellectual crime. It
may be used to make reputations
and unmake them, to blacken
them and to make them white, but
it is most generally and acceptably
employed as a mortar to bind
together stones in an edifice of fame,
and as a whitewash to conceal
afterwards the rascal quality of the
material. All of this for you, A. C. M.,
E. S. M., J. M. M., J .E. M.: Gilboa, Columbus,
Elkhart, South Bend, other towns of
the great American Midlandmind
unhinged on hinged porch swing
& madly swung by some phantom
swinger pushing patent medicines
and shouting arm, to arms, to arms.
Bierce courted an unlikely girl. Who would have guessed
he’d be smitten by a debutante, and even swear
to friends he was in love? “Love” in his Dictionary: “A temporal
insanity that’s cured by marriage.” It’s not even clear
that he enjoyed sex, though Mollie did—and
possibly at first she liked his tales. Eros, for him, manifested
in his monologues, although eventually he told his stories
to his drinking friends and the pages of his books.
As Railroad Baron Jingoes took up absolute command,
he brooded, gasped for breath when asthma hit him
in the chest like bullets from a firing squad. He felt the full
force of panic, something Albert C. treated efficaciously
in Edward S. and might have treated in his friend from
Chickamauga. But who would start another war so soon after
the catastrophe that nearly killed the Union? Cuba,
the Philippines, Dewey’s battleship . . . Bierce told his
wife about “A Horseman in the Sky,” “Four Days in Dixie,”
“One of the Missing,” “Coup de Grace.” When he met
Teddy R., the Rough Rider told him that his story called
“The Son of the Gods” inspired him on San Juan Hill,
up which he crawled on hands and knees like all the others
gasping for their breath, no equestrian at all, a question
maybe for E. S. who ended up with all the books
but never learned their lesson. Nor did I when I abandoned Sidebar 4
toy soldiers on the carpet and put on the uniforms. Death
to the Old Republic, I might have cheered: Hurrah
for the Empire being born and my grandfather’s trek
as far as training camp, but not beyond. It was a short
kind of war. Unlike Albert C., he never fired a shot,
was never shot at. Still, I loved the uniforms.
As for the Reliquary, Bierce omitted one left arm.
The Dictionary, though, lists the ears of Balaam’s ass,
The lung of the cock that called Peter to repent,
a feather from the Angel of Annunciation, and the head
of Saint Dennis, arrived in Canterbury to explain
that it was seeking a body of doctrine, but thrown into
the Stour. Another head was ordered straight from Rome.
As for the arm, my own belief is that it took on life
and spent no time at all as relic in the closet, but after
amputation gave, ahead of its time and fully avant-garde,
a Fascist salute. Viva la Muerte was in fact a slogan
of Falangists. Oh severed arm, you had your own ideas
in spite of the will and determination of Albert C.
I see you stand up on your hand and walk toward the
horizon. Which side are you on? the old labor movement
song enquired. I ask again, but cannot hear a reply
as I see you wave, salute. Eventually I hear
when the acoustic shadow lifts: Didn’t I say, old boy,
Viva la Muerte, Viva la Muerte, Viva la Muerte.
. . . a bar where I ordered Sarsaparilla,
not the straight shot of whisky that the
gunslingers downed before a
shootout on some dusty crossroads
in a movie set, or, acoustic shadow,
in slow-mo, TV. Me, I grew up with radio,
and that seemed miracle enough.
Half-asleep, I’d half-hear the extra
innings of a baseball game, waking in
the morning half-remembering who won.
On radio there’s no acoustic shadow,
and you either listen or you turn it off.
I’d turn off kids outside my room
who called me to go biking down the glen.
More and more, I stayed up in my room.
I understand, long after, that family
members were “concerned” about me,
that is, about my isolation from a normal
childhood. They wanted me out playing
with the others on the street. I did
that now and then, but something was
always missing. I tried to see what
it was, but only later heard it. It was
a summons to the past. Every other kid
was looking forward, only I was hearing
back. The voices grew familiar, but
broke up in storms with inexplicable
noises, sometimes static simply due to
awkward fingers on the dial. Who had won
the game? Who had won the war? Who
conquered history and parsed the past?
I did, now and then, have the sense I’d seen
some things before the words arrived to
tell me what they were: The breasts of
the girl next door, the boy with a
broken nose running home without
his bike shouting some abuse about
the bully down the glen. The sound,
the sense of it, came late. Many things
I saw confused me, and so I shut myself
in my room to listen, waiting for a
door into the basement, time. Down
there my father shoveled coal, my
mother washed my dirty clothes
by hand. But when they rose into
the present and I saw them with
the others, why did they strike poses,
war-memorial like, why were they
walking in broad day? I listened to
the radio and opened wide my eyes.
“Infidel,” said Ambrose, reading
from his book: “you who fail to revere
the cenobites, vicars, rectors, robots,
fufis, pumpoms, acolytes, imams,
beneficiaries, clerks, confessors, beadles,
fakirs, fakers, motherfukers, parsons,
Persons of Importance, priors, padres,
canons and divines. You hear, my brother,
who will wait to verify, you sleepy eye?”
I’ve ordered the CD from Netflix, put it on, but turned off
the sound: and there he is, Gringo Viejo, complete with
acoustic shadow. It’s clear there’s another war, there always
is, and massive casualties, there always are. Mexicans are
falling off their horses, people getting shot. Some
hacienda’s set on fire, and there’s the hero, or I suppose
the anti-hero, Bitter Bierce himself, Mr. Peck straight
from his gig as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.
This time crows and vultures do the mocking, Oh, and
there’s the Virile Revolutionary, straight from central
casting, and his Poncho Villa cadres, all very fierce
in their sombreros. Jane Fonda’s the schoolmarm, come
to teach the kids of Mirandas, teaching, or so it
seems, the poor who have inherited, if not the earth,
the ranch. Peck’s a little old for her, but she allows
one kiss. There seem to be prostitutes following
the progress of the volunteers, and plying their trade
from an empty railroad car. Jane takes some
lessons from them in art of sex, ends up of course
with the “General,” self-appointed, leaving Gringo Viejo,
Bitter Bierce, as father figure, not a lover.
To figure all this out requires no sound at all, unlike
those battles where acoustic shadow led to
catastrophic military errors. And this is how the past
comes at us, overwhelming us in image without
sound: old photographs, portraits, battle maps, nightmares
and silent films. I’d sit with others watching
home movies in my grandfather’s house, and the
oldest would say: Oh, there’s Granny Crouch, there’s
Uncle Jim. We kids would shrug at these unspeaking dead,
walking there as if alive. We watched them talking
to each other, but of course we couldn’t hear.
What did they say? What does Fonda say to Peck
and the Virile Revolutionary who, I think, may
be the black sheep of the Miranda clan who had owned
the expropriated hacienda. Me, I’d rather
sleep with the pretty whore than the schoolmarm.
That’s what Bitter Bierce does in the end, gifting Jane
To “the revolution.” At least that’s what it looks like.
There are photographs of Albert C., but no scenes
with him in the movies. We only know what he said
from his letters and his dedication of
The Sherman Brigade. And there are newspaper clippings
in a box. We know what Bierce had to say
from his published stories and his rants. We don’t know how
he ended up, and it’s only speculation that he went to
Mexico at all. Still, why not think so? Writing this, I see that
the Virile Revolutionary’s shot Mr. Peck in the back.
Jane is horrified, holds the dying man in her arms. If
I turned on the sound, I’d know what they were saying.
She maybe calls him “father.” Peck couldn’t
get his pecker up, although the whore let him feel
her breasts. Jane’s “real” father died in Cuba
in the Spanish War. I can tell that from a flashback
without sound. Or did he? Maybe he just left
her mother for sexy Cuban girls and disappeared in dust
left over from the Spanish War. I turn on the sound
and Las chicas cantan, girls and whores. Shadow
blows away in a wind that gathers on the dry
horizon. Jane will bury Bitter Bierce in what
was meant to be her “real” father’s grave. Peck
died at sea in Moby Dick, but this time no such luck.
This time he’s Bitter Bierce, not Ahab.
Though already dead, he’s tied up with the virile chap
who is, like revolutionaries everywhere, eaten by the movement.
Villa has them shot together, son and father one
is meant to think. What’s a girl like Jane to do? She knows
little about Cuba, less about the Spanish War. Villa has
the gringo and the bastard Miranda shot together: what fun,
the end of a story, end of an Hacienda’s line.
Unlike the others from my own Hacienda, I’ve no
love of Edward Shiloh’s memory, just his house
and library, both now destroyed or lost along
with all my toy soldiers and his uniforms.
The war he trumpeted, like William Randolph Hearst,
was the end of something beautiful: The Old Republic,
saved by his own father, Bierce, and others
from Ohio and Indiana, ripe for betrayal by the
New Imperialists. Remember the Maine, they sang.
But Las chicas cantan. It’s a different song
and one I’d rather sing. The Filipino jungles look
to me like those in Vietnam. In both they used
the water board, often just for fun. What would the good
doctor, A. C. M., have said about it all?
I’d throw his severed arm at the whole jingo lot of them.
The movie ends with Jane and Bierce’s body on
a bridge over the Rio Grande. It’s sunset, of course.
We are the stuff that beams of light are
made of; the stuff of reams of paper printed with
the ambiguities of words. We don’t
hear very well. At least not what we see.