Christian Bale

One of my favorite Maxims of Marcus Aurelius is, ‘when anything tempts you to be bitter,’ to say not, ‘this is a misfortune’ but ‘to bear this worthily is good fortune.’ I don’t like to remember my dreams, because I tend to have nightmares. Even if I dream my dogs are with me, it tends to be in a situation where I am uneasy about their safety. You would think it would be easier to avoid negativity in a daydream, but for me it’s a struggle. I keep looking for ways to have daydreams that don’t entail catastrophizing, but without crisis there’s no opportunity for heroics and impressing everyone, so maybe there’s a reason for it. Maybe courage and melancholy go together, where if you tend to choose to take a stand against the odds, you often feel like the whole world is against you.

I started to collect Christian Bale movies last year, but stopped. I really admire his acting, but I found they were too dark for my tastes, I didn’t enjoy watching them. I discovered Christian in either Henry V or Empire of the Sun; not sure which I saw first, but Henry V is one of my all time favorites. Heroism might be overdone for the stage as a general rule, but never has it been more valiantly glorified or brutally undermined as a national enterprise. I rediscovered Christian in The New World, where he gives a quiet but soul-searching performance in one of the most sensitive, believable love stories I have ever seen. But of all his performances, the one I had the most interest in capturing in a poem was Rescue Dawn. It brings out a theme in his career, of going to extremes to encounter Fear in its archetypal form. I never finished the poem I wanted to write about this movie, but touched on some of the things that struck me about it in a shorter poem in hendecasyllabics:

To have survived the sleepless death of hunger,
unaccompanied but not alone inside,
to have endured the weakening conviction
that endurance is a thing to celebrate,
to have answered the night with the lowered voice
of someone who knows his words cannot be heard,
to have consoled a ghost so uselessly fear
filled me in the utterance and would not leave,
to have lived as an enemy to people
I could not have violated, concealing
my hunger from help at every turn, knowing
war as I never imagined it, total,
to have returned to grace and the fellowship
that surrounds a man without being noticed,
is to carry that hunger inside, alone,
anxious to remember unsharable things,
and yet be at ease with grim contingency.

The start of the narrative poem is worth sharing, since I don’t have the stamina to finish it. This is also in hendecasyllabics.

The language of captivity came easily,
for I was not at ease and this appeased the men,
the meek eyes on their guns, the supplicant raised hands,
these gestures of submission were instinctive, clear
and seemingly respected – they took me alive.
To come into their village raised my hopes – I smiled
at seated women, children and the elderly,
convinced that here among them I could count upon
the nature of a civilized society
to govern and soften my lot, as a human.
In truth I smiled to see them well and self-absorbed,
exotic and in their own way beautiful, proud.
The neatly woven integrity of their world
and the confident abundance of artifacts
as intricate, trim and colorful as shop goods,
proving their world was made and not hacked from wild things,
impressed me greatly. They scarcely looked up at me,
and those who paid attention kept their composure.
But I was not so gently minded, I was tied
spread-eagled on the ground and left to shit myself
despite my saying, whispering, as though the shame
conveyed by whispering could say, I had to go.
I raised my voice when I had voided, angrily
demanding their attention – but they were watching,
they had listened, their eyes said they had understood.
What had they understood? The comprehension there
was still obscure, their feelings for me were too strange,
for me, none of their intentions were foreshadowed.
I sank back into neutral rapport with a child
twirling a beetle over my head on a string,
my attitude passive, my nerves jangled by noise
from the desperate clockwork of wings, captivated.

When we left the village I confronted my death.
I did not face my execution grimacing
in anticipation. But the spray of gun shots
should have murdered me, the shock of transformation
from a prisoner to a dead man ripped through me
with wounding certainty and stole my body’s voice
to shout into my brain that I had been destroyed
just the same. I was enraged to have survived it,
yelled. The executioner who failed to kill me
so deliberately and with an understanding
stared back with his black glasses, fired by my ear.
The pain was deafening – I watched him shout until
the sound returned and stood still at attention, stunned.

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Filed under 3:10 to Yuma, Acting, Classic Crowe, Dream Ensemble, Gladiator, Poetry, Roll Credits

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