Feeling some reserves about humanity in the “Reservist”

I wish I could feel the stir of patriotism when I hear military music or swell with pride as I see the national flags waving as a backdrop to an airshow, but instead some of the lines from Boey Kim Cheng’s poem, “Reservist” come to mind.

“We will keep charging up the same hills, plod
through the same forests til we are too old
too ill-fitted for life’s other territories.”

The lines sum up the war experiences of the last century, the same experiences we now see flashed across our phones with the up-to-the-minute news from Aleppo or Ankara. Why do we keep watching death through war, civil strife, rebellions, armed conflicts, terror attacks — and why do we have to keep feeding Death by providing his servants the implements of destruction?

“We are quick to obey,” Cheng observes, and do not notice or care that we are simply hearing “masked threats,” facing “monsters armed with the same roar.” Could it be we have another option? Might there be something simpler, easier to face, behind all thosethreats? Could the monsters only be armed with a loud noise — a noise we might silence by taking another course of action?

In the “Reservist,” the possibility of another reality is not held up as much of an option. In Cheng’s words, one feels like the child placed on the rising and falling beasts going round and round on the carousel, too high up to get off. We don’t have the power to forge new trails. Instead the “same trails find us time and again.” Without new trails, we can’t get into other territories. Instead, like Sisyphus, we deal with the monotony of the same task, but instead of carrying the boulder to the top of mountain, it is something equally stupid but infinitely more harmful: blow up, then re-build.

The tone switches, though, in the poem’s final three lines. Hopeful images of “new trails,” “open seas” and “daybreak” come at the end, but only where our old trails — the ones we keep following blindly in allegiance to dead fairy-tales like, finally break.

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