Friday, April 6, 2018

Day 6: Charles Rammelkamp on "When I Crossed into Canada"

For Day 6 of 30 Days of the Five-Two, Charles Rammelkamp's commentary on Robert Cooperman's "When I Crossed into Canada". —Gerald So

While the war in Afghanistan is often called America’s longest war, sixteen years and counting, by some accounts the War in Vietnam lasted at least eighteen years. It certainly hung like a cloud over my youth, and, moreover, it was mainly fought by American kids who’d been conscripted into the army without any say in the matter.

Ken Burns’ recent 18-hour PBS documentary film series renewed an interest in the war, which has never really gone away, despite the nearly forty-five years since American withdrawal. Bob Cooperman's recent poetry collection, Draft Board Blues, likewise evokes that era in vivid detail. Hundreds of thousands of lives ruined for a war politicians deemed necessary and continued to support only because they didn't have the courage to admit their mistakes. Many died, many more were permanently maimed, scarred physically and psychologically. Others went into exile.

But Cooperman's Five-Two poem, “When I Crossed into Canada,” from October 2017, which is not in his collection, addresses the situation of draft dodgers who fled to Canada and makes their sacrifice relevant again. He describes the people he encountered in 1968, "glancing over shoulders, / as if fearful ... they’d be thrown out, scooped / up by the draft like strays by dogcatchers." They wore "the hollow look of exiles," forever denied their friends, lovers, home.

And yet, watching the KKK and Nazi sympathizers running amok in Charlottesville, the narrator gets in touch with an old friend from Charlottesville, now seeking asylum himself, in Toronto.

"You should get out too," he advised,
"while you still can," paranoia a sane response,
ever since the early morning of November 9th.

—Charles Rammelkamp

1 comment:

charriss said...

Charles Rammelkamp's reviews are always relevant and meticulous. I always learn from them. This one is no exception.