Lewis Scott is an African-American jazz poet who has made his home in Wellington. When reading the poems in Speaking in Tongues, I haven’t been able to help but hear them read in my head in Lewis’s own distinctive (for around here anyway), rich, slow, rhythmic voice. If you’ve ever seen (or rather heard) him perform, you’ll know what I mean.
The piece that touched me the most in Speaking in Tongues wasn’t one of the poems though, it was the deeply personal essay that closes the collection. ‘An American Soldier (Reflections)’ was written as a response to seeing in a newspaper a photo of a young US soldier who has died in Iraq, in whose face he saw his own.
This dead soldier was 22 years old. I was 20 when I was drafted and sent to Vietnam. My war ended 38 years ago and I have lived long enough since then to see the lies of that war.Through the essay he repeats the refrain ‘If I could, what would I say to the dead soldier who has my face in his.’ He says:
I didn’t die like you, but something is dead in me. I don’t walk around like a ghost anymore, but I did for a while when I first came back to “the world” (as we used to say in Vietnam) – every day for years.He reminds us that more US soldiers have now died in Iraq than people who died in the 11 September attacks, let alone all the people of other nationalities.
There are so many other quotable bits, but I’m sure I’m doing them a disservice – you should read them in their original context, where they build up a such a strong protest against unjustified war.