Alexander Long

On Two Scenes from The Deer Hunter


Because B.’s a line break that hasn’t come yet. Simply because.
Because grief stills his image, his image that breaks like a silver
wave or a blue vase on a gray marble floor. I will always have
words to fall back on, though they‘re rarely right. They form after
they shatter in the eye and ear. But my grief’s purpose? To recover
a white beach’s fleeting panache and wash, to piece together an
indigo vase shattered and shimmering, to get to the line that never
breaks too soon, as if it were in a script composed under this winter
sky…? No. I can’t explain grief. It is its own end.


One of the last frames stills the gang over scrambled eggs and beer,
a full-room shot of those who‘ve remained, more or less. “God
Bless America,” and at the end Cimino zooms in on Streep, who,
for a moment, smiles before memory turns on her and changes her
face into that side-glance of grief directed at no one, nothing, the
floor. Light shrouds her, and, for a minute, while it’s wrong, I’m in
love. Then, a guitar I see in blues and grays. Her glance hovers.
The tape rewinds. The TV turns to snow. The glance, the guitar,
the light blue twitching across the floor flashes above my eyes,
flecked and flowing, never the same way twice.

This is the grieving mind in memory, a white hush, the guitar’s
ellipses and the ellipses of stars gathering outside, which I don’t see
right now, but remember well enough, when I imagine them stuck
in a sky that’s plain and dark.


Somewhere in the middle of the film, DeNiro’s Michael returns,
says take care to his friend’s wife, who's long since been trapped in
her dread, mute with cyclones of imagination, what some may call
a lack of closure. This friend, her husband, loses his legs to Charlie
and the Red River, lives in a VA hospital now, doesn't want to
leave because it's like a resort; they've got bowlin' and basketball. A
third friend, AWOL, plays Russian Roulette in a Saigon basement.
He dies. There’s nothing involuntary. There's nothing subtle. It
has to be. DeNiro brings him home. And later, because they can't
speak to each other, they sing. If no one’s home, I cry and cry and


What do you want me to say? Go ahead. I deserve, like you, to be
judged. Let me say that I evolve to infancy, that it’s self-inflicted,
that I’m grasping at the unreachable root tip of suffering, image
and after-image, free from harm, welcoming pain, gazing
astonished into the mutable past, into a foreseeable future that
transcends its identical twin: a stare of bewildered infatuation with
the present. It’s only dangerous because the stares so closely
resemble each other.

Last summer I went home to Philadelphia and, to tell the truth, I'm
not sure what I went looking for. I visited a church, but I didn't go
in. I didn't have to because a friend killed himself on the steps of it.
You almost know his name. You know this already. And though
I like to repeat myself, it is tiresome for me too, like wind. He was
baptized in that church, knew nothing of that day except from
pictures and the little sky-blue folder holding the certificate in the
sacristy. Bland declarative sentences. Catholics. Too many times
he turned the other cheek from himself and found, waiting there,
himself. He didn't talk about doing it. It's none of my business.
Now he's mine. Now he's a line break that’s taken me years to get

"On Two Scenes from The Deer Hunter" first appeared in Poemeleon.