David-Baptiste Chirot

El Colonel sits in a field where butterflies drift among flowers.

       for Murat Nemet-Nejat
Finally, they resolved to write a play.
The difficult thing was the subject.
—Gustave Flaubert, Bouvard et Pecuchet

El Colonel sits in a field where butterflies drift among flowers. Smoking, he watches as they settle here, there and–sometimes—as if by accident—land on the open hand of a corpse whose wounds gleam, sticky stigmata flashing in the sun. Decapitated, the corpse has lain there a while, hauled ashore for identification purposes by a member of the Heroic Patrol. It arrived from the North, upriver, where some fighting still goes on. Its blasts echoing among the range of small foothills bunched along the slowly winding stream, the battle now and then shoots up black crow forms of smoke.

Echoing the smoke, El Colonel lights up another cigarette and puffs a few times into the breezes, watching the curling forms give him the direction and velocity of the faintly sounding air. The battle’s echoes and flying crow smoke emissions are deceiving. The fighting is farther away than these signs make it appear. How far may be easily calculated by measuring the breezes’s speeds . . .

El Colonel is meditating on a line recalled from a play seen long ago, while he was a young orphan forcibly impressed into the National military that had murdered his parents. “Rather than descant upon my shadow in the sun . . .” the line went. It was from El Colonel’s favorite play. Culled from burned libraries, bomb battered private collections and the remains of book stores and stalls, there exist three copies of it in The Library of Alexandria, the ironically named assortment of volumes the Heroic Patrol has assembled under his direction. El Colonel is wondering—where is the decapitated head that might for this corpse descant up on its shorn shadow in the sun?

El Colonel smiles. King Richard offered his kingdom for a horse. What might the corpse be dreaming of offering for its head, there among the omnivorous butterflies?

El Colonel smiles, quickly rolling on his side as he hears a shout from his right, to the North. One of the Heroic Patrol has sighted a severed head dancing, bobbing and weaving like a punch drunk boxer, fighting its way downstream among battle debris, rock enforced eddies and the continually gleaming silver sword strokes of the sun’s reflection on the surface of the shallow waters.

El Colonel rises agilely to his feet and sets out towards the cries, wondering if there among the silver dancing gleams of reflected sun this head is descanting—not on its shadow so much as on its own reflection, separated from its body by the sword strokes of the silver gleaming sun’s reflections dancing on the shallow waters . . .

Coming to a gentle bend in the river, like that of young girl’s indolently curving elbow, El Colonel sights the head, a John the Baptist specimen indeed, carried on its silver platter made of light and water. Ringed round by this light, the John the Baptist head is provided with not only its own platter, but a halo, gleaming boldly among the glimpsed slim bellies of small fish, white and smooth as the streambed’s stones . . .

El Colonel’s slender form enters the water, striding straight for the head. Lifting it dripping from its platter, he bears it aloft to the shore. The hair is matted above the dead fish eyes that stare dumbly at him. This mute look of incomprehension is unbefitting the severed head of a soldier, El Colonel murmurs to himself. Better to give it a look of life before bearing it to be joined with its body splayed among the butterflies.

El Colonels smiles, lighting another smoke. With a few quick adjustments El Colonel gives some simple shifts and changes to the skin and hair, moves the eye sockets slightly, and produces the semblance of a nobly dead combatant. As his fingers move nimbly among the death-distorted features, El Colonel finds his awareness flooded with streams of vivid memories . . . watching a young whore put on her makeup before a mirror stolen from a traveling theatrical company . . . his first small roles as an actor in an agit-prop group . . . quickly creating different characters with the minimum of make-up . . . the arts of maquillage and camouflage that blend together and can make of any solider a dandy in a flash—or turn him into a stalking wild cat, hidden in the thick grasses of high pastures . . . a guerilla soldier . . . a dictator . . . a poet, a thief, a stiffly standing adjutant—and—why not, someday—a Colonel?

El Colonel, ever mindful of his role, snaps himself awake from the narcotic effects of memory and, “returning to the Theater of War, emerges into the butterfly strewn pastures with the carefully held head of a dead and as yet unknown soldier . . . ”

El Colonel mounts slowly the incline of the foothill and, finding the butterfly besieged corpse, tries fitting the head to it. It seems to go quite easily with the stump whose blood is furnishing a meal for countless insects since his departure. Some are even dying. trapped in the coagulating blood, their spindly legs furious scratching at the air. Some expire slowly while others are crushed between the maws of slightly bigger beings . . .

Seeing this furious army of the dying, the sated, the devouring and the still scrambling hungry, El Colonel begins methodically cleaning out the stump, so as not to dishonor the head waiting patiently at his side for its neck. Not to deny Nature taking its course, he carefully removes the blood along with the captive insects and, at a slight distance, rubs it into the grass at the edge of a series of small stones which may at one time have functioned as markers for a boundary, or signs along a long vanished trail . . . there, the bugs sport and play and like sure eyed drones the watching birds will swoop down for their share of the feast . . .

This last scene, this last image, of the drones attending a feast gives El Colonel a pause—wondering at the number of weddings and ceremonies attacked by drones, whose launchers later claim the ceremony participants to be the most wanted members of various organizations . . .

El Colonel again shakes himself from his thoughts and proceeds to mount the made-up head to the cleaned out stump and stand them up as “one man, at attention, about to receive orders on his dying day.”

El Colonel smiles. Marching the corpse down the incline in his arms, he imagines the scene as a kind of “Dance of Death, a Last Waltz”, conducted by two maladroit comedians to amuse themselves in the midst of a horrific civil war. Finally coming to the waters, he lays the corpse down on the slight, sandy shore and stares in to the distance, his eyes searching for something . . . .

Down river, there are several closely clumped stations for the National Reserve, called up, according to intelligence, to swarm in at the end of the battle to the North. Carefully pulling out a slim cylinder, El Colonel slides it into the open neck, packing it down deep into the cavities torn into the corpse’s torso. Sliding the head on like a cover to a platter, El Colonel then launches this Unknown Soldier slowly into the silver gleaming waters and waits . . .

John the Baptist announced and baptized the Christ. El Colonel smiles. This Unknown Soldier sent by an unknown “actor” will make its own soon to be heard announcements down river.

El Colonel smiles. The butterflies, deprived of their prey, wary of the birds, drift away. Are their moving shadows on the high plains grass descanting in the sun? Is somewhere a kingdom being offered for a horse? Is there a dramatist loose among the traveling actors, composing the scripts for the untold, the Unwritten War?

El Colonel smiles, and, using the grass stem held in his teeth as a pen, begins writing his play on the sheets of the passing clouds . . . dipping his quill in the silver gleaming waters to write scenes soon to be drenched in blood . . . .

David Baptiste Chirot "Essays, reviews, prose poetry, sound and visual poetry, performance scores, Mail Art have appeared in print and web 60+ different journals in over a dozen countries. Participated in 350+ Visual Poetry and Mail Art exhibitions, Calls. 3 books, 3 chapbooks and in many print and e-anthologies. My work is with the found, everywhere to be found, hidden in plain site/sight/cite. http://davidbaptistechirot.blogspot.com". Also: Cronaca Sovversiva Feneon—Faits Divers & Fate's Divers.

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