When the Cicadas Return






Gil Fagiani
Rain Mountain Press, 2007

Now that Journalists are finally asking some hard (but basic) questions about what really led the nation into the latest phase in the war in Iraq; questions of how individuals are prepared to fight wars may be better left to the poets. No poet is better qualified to ask these questions than Gil Fagiani. In “Rooks,” his second collection of poetry, Fagiani, take the reader on a bare-knuckled tour of Pennsylvania Military College, against the backdrop of the Vietnam war.

Fagiani’s work, like the PMC itself, is tightly controlled. The freshman (rook) year is best thought of as a factory where young civilians are forged into elite officers, eventually to command and pass the abuse onto the next generation of cadets. In Spit Shines, Fagiani recalls the discipline and punish that makes mountains out of molehills:

At the morning muster, Sergeant Kotowski
Swaggers up to me
Points to a speck of dust on one shoe
“Hey, douche bag,
what did you polish your shoes with,
Brillo pads?”

The trick of military discipline is to give orders for everything, and consequences for the smallest deviation. The mechanics of battle and brutality, above all an ability to obey orders without question, are tested at the college. That’s the only logical reason why cadets are sentenced to a thousand humiliations daily ranging from a sentence of eating dinner under a table, to demerits and restriction for failing to remove grease from the interior of a radio. Fagiani describes the process that renders men into parts of the machine:

When the door opens
And Captain Doyle and his entourage enter,
We stand throbbing with pride:
Brass bright
Shoes like burnished marble,
Gray uniforms crisscrossed with white belts.

Fagiani isn’t writing protest poetry, at times his writing verges on journalism. He lets the reader draw his or her own conclusions, which much more respect than what was given to him in military college. While never once raising an accusatory finger, Rooks can only be read in the context of the era in which is was published, the War On Terror, not the Vietnam era. Rooks is a stunning, sobering, blueprint of a corner of the militarized mind, and as such offers the kind of subversion essential for dignified living.

Bob Holman
Bowery Poetry Club








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