Goya's Mired Men Fighting with Cudgels

The violence done to the mind by the weaponized 
word or image is bad. 
We can live with it, though
We can understand it. Or we can try. And we 
can consider ourselves lucky, which we are. 
Nothing can be understood 
about the blunt-force trauma to the head. 
The percussion grenade. 
The helmet-to-helmet hit at an aggregate speed 
of forty miles an hour. 
No concussion protocol comprehends the self’s 
delicate apparatus crumpled in the wide pan of the brain.
The roof collapsing in Aleppo. 
The beam slamming the frontal lobe. 
The drone, the terror by night and day. 
He wanted to remember it all, 
to fix the image cradled inside the image 
of itself, itself, itself
down the facing mirrors of future and past, 
and then he wanted to be left to die there, 
in the ditch where he was cudgeled
down and under— 
ground water seeping into his mouth,
himself becoming ground water.
But he felt a hand reach down and grab him 
by the collar and yank him back up
and set him on his feet. 
And as he steadied himself, he thought,
This compassion he feels for me as his
mirror enemy, image, brother in wrath, 
and that I feel for him, 
this compassion is the compassion that those 
who see themselves in agony feel. 
But there is the other compassion, the one
felt by those who see agony in themselves,
which the deaf master will feel 
when he imagines us poised and ready to recapitulate
our thinking’s frozen violence—
the great deaf master, 
living in the villa of the deaf, 
where he will paint us in silent pastels.

Copyright © 2019 by Vijay Seshadri. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 9, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.