M*A*S*H Slash Awards 2004, Third place:
Okay, today's story is brought to you by Mr. T.S. Eliot.J The man must have been thinking of
Hawkeye when he was writing this. Combine Eliot and "Apocalypse Now" (Coppola and Eliot sharing
one source of inspiration after all, Mr. Joseph Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness'), then the mood is set.
Imagine, that after six years of trying and never getting past the first half-hour, I finally made it through
Archive: at mash-slash, T'Len's & Lady Charena's place, and all ye who ask shall receive!
Disclaimer. MASH belongs to 20th Century Fox, the poems to T.S. Eliot and those who are entrusted
with his legacy, and I really, really don't make any money with this!
"Non sum qualis eram."
(I am not as once I was)
- title of poem by Ernest Dowson (1867-1900)
(We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!)
The lines blur before his eyes and he rests the slim volume on his chest, briefly allows his head to fall
back on the pillow. The thin, striped, lumpy Army-issue pillow perpetually smelling of sweat and
mildew. Does he want to know exactly what kind of microorganisms are living on the fabric? No. If
anything, he reasons, they have a far happier, much less troubled life than them humans and rightfully
deserve the pillow. They live on it, after all, only to be disturbed occasionally – very infrequently – by
the dark head that comes crashing down on them.
(Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar)
The past few days have once again reminded them of their limited abilities, emphasized once again
(every time is one time too many) that they're men, not gods.
The notion that all their hard work, their sacrifices, has been for naught is too much to contemplate
right now. Screamed orders, muffled curses, names of people and surgical instruments…quiet and
Tense moments elapse as his hands become slick with sweat in the afternoon heat. He wipes them on
his pants, then wipes his face with the discarded shirt. His throat feels desiccated and scorched, he
decides that he needs another drink.
Soon it'll rain.
(Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion)
Shapes and shades, waiflike beings drifting through the camp, khaki-clad chameleons blending into their
surroundings as they hurry through the mud. He hears a jeep passing at just-above-regulation speed and
the vehicle hits a (by the sound of it sizeable) puddle. Someone's angry shout follows. Give it an hour,
and the evidence will be gone, tire-tracks and footprints and dirty clothes. The monsoon effectively
erases all traces of their actions.
With the exception of shell-craters and graves, the surface of Korea remains untouched. There will be
no permanent record of their presence here.
No footprint will remain to tell of some frantic run to the OR, no tire-mark to document the never-
ending trek of ambulances. Even the memories of paralysis in the face of carnage will fade.
The only record there'll be are the scars they leave on the bodies and the gratitude they receive when
'the bodies' regain voice and thought. That is proof that life cannot be blotted out completely, the proof
they just have to settle for.
Demanding more would be…well…
Turning the page, he smiles, but without a scintilla of humor.
Four surgeons at the 4077th. And of each of them, there are two. One a doctor…and one a victim just
like the boys they're trying to heal. They have long since become *them*, casualties treating casualties.
Now where did that thought just come from…?
Like many of the great literary minds Eliot exquisitely captures the unique essence of horror, unchanged
throughout history. However, college professors and books fail to paint the picture beneath the words
in its true colors...and he feels a little nostalgic for his lost student-naïveté.
Maybe that's why Charles keeps the book around. To recall days when words were just words and
rats' feet didn't involve actual rats?!
He appears to mull the question over for a moment, then shakes his head.
(Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death's other Kingdom
Remember us -- if at all -- not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.)
Do they remember, he wonders. The men who arrive in pieces, their legs five minutes ahead of their
arms, their guts two minutes after their maimed torsos – what do they remember? Pain, for sure,
voices, noise and mindless fear. Yeah, they probably remember fear most acutely. There hasn't been
one man yet in whose eyes he's not seen fear. Fear is universal.
But do they also remember those who tried to save them? What kind of memories are they allowed to
bring with them to that other place? Maybe there's some kind of censorship.
If there is, they'd better remember family, ice-cream and apple-pie, somebody singing 'Happy Birthday'
to them, and not the smell of ether and their own screams fading with the steady hiss of the gas. Not
the faces hovering above them, each 'I'm sorry, kid' hidden by a white mask.
If they do remember, are the memories sharp images or just phantom shapes in blood-spattered white?
And are they aware that they take pieces of their want-to-be saviors with them when they cross over?
They are who make them the hollow men, one death at a time.
(Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
In death's dream kingdom
These do not appear:
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column)
Much like the eyes looking back at him on those rare occasions when he decides to shave properly and
deigns to use a mirror. This must be what it's like to pay for one's sins while still alive. If only he could
remember what it is he's done wrong. Stolen apples…no, the upset stomach afterwards usually was
sufficient punishment. The occasional broken window…which Dad paid and he got grounded for.
Minor infractions in a world of grown-ups. The things adults do are far worse. And their eyes (blue,
brown, green, gray) tell the tale, tell the truth.
(There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind's singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star.
Let me be no nearer
In death's dream kingdom
Let me also wear
Such deliberate disguises
Rat's coat, crowskin, crossed staves)
Or khaki. Or white that becomes red. Only the skin is real. And sometimes even that feels like a
disguise. How long can fragile skin hold together what's locked inside? Uneasy and restless, he shifts
on the narrow expanse of his cot, the metal creaking softly, and absently he wonders where their
loyalties will ultimately lead them. With every line, the darkness from outside encroaches further upon
his circle of awareness until reading becomes something of an effort in the dim yellowish glow of the
(In a field
Behaving as the wind behaves
No nearer --)
Behavior is a matter of training, governed by external stimuli, and the same thing goes for politics. Age-
old patterns taught, and learned, and applied, patterns of power and ideologies. They might as well be
reenacting another chapter of 'Gulliver's Travels'. He only vaguely remembers the book, but a sigh, an
off-hand remark in the OR always brings it all back. Swift's poorly-disguised criticism that is too real in
its fictitiousness, the author's voice too distinctly heard in the narrator's words.
People go to war over the strangest things. Communism, democracy, racial and religious issues…on
which end to open an egg.
The things they fight about…are they worth fighting *for*?
People die on either side, so supposedly everybody's right, no exceptions are made when it comes to
the loss of life. They are both right and wrong and fighting for the biggest nothing in history. And in
spite of their combined efforts, they fail again and again, soldiers and surgeons alike. Nobody wins.
They're stalks of wheat in the battle-field, flexible and strong, but the wind blows mercilessly, and they
can only bend this far…
(Not that final meeting
In the twilight kingdom)
There and there alone the final decision on right and wrong is made. And when they're dead, who cares
if they were right or wrong? Maybe it's a good thing that the only enemy he has to worry about is
Death. Capital D.
(This is the dead land
This is cactus land)
No cacti here, this is Korea.
Eliot never got here, only his writings, here in his hand, and it reads like a summary of everything he
won't allow himself to feel. It feels good to let someone else do the feeling.
(Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man's hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.)
They certainly get many of those. Dead men's hands. Supplications are more frequent than supplies and
the only things twinkling are things of steel, scalpels, dog tags, bullets and shell-fragments.
Bright and shiny things, both of the life-giving as well as of the life-taking kind. Odd that they're so
similar in their inorganic, precise beauty.
If they survive, maybe these people – who arrived as supremely confident-looking men and now have
been reduced to wounded bodies with equally wounded souls – will find a moment to share this
particular expression of their doctors' worn humor, this cynical outlook on life.
*If* they survive.
After all, what else is 'if' but a middle word in 'life'?
(Is it like this
In death's other kingdom
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.)
There are too many people who have already gone there, to that other kingdom. It's not as if they let
them. They just…go. Some because most of what made them living human beings is missing when
they arrive here, others because they simply want to be dead with their friends.
Slow, shuffling steps outside, then the door opens to admit another hollow man, fatigue in his eyes and
his silence, it's wrapped around him like a garment. One already too threadbare and fraying at the
Maybe that's why they call Army clothes 'fatigues' in the first place.
"Lost five in Post-Op", is all he says before dropping onto his cot and turning his back on the world.
He doesn't need to watch his friend's face to see it change, see boyish features settle into planes and
hard angles. Later that night, he knows, he'll wonder yet again how a face of stone (_Broken stone…_)
can have lips that soft. And how deep within the tears might be buried such as not to break through.
(The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms
In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river)
With a sigh of resignation, he puts down the book and rises. It hurts…maybe it's weariness, maybe the
alcohol, or maybe both and something else entirely. Whatever it is, it hurts. His muscles protest as he
moves over to stand by the other cot and gazes down at the inert body.
The cure for his pain…for the symptoms at least.
Human kind cannot bear very much reality indeed. And love is simply another complication. It's not
B.J.'s fault, it's just the way it is. Hollow plus hollow doesn't equal full, they'd be foolish to think so.
Once he'd believed it possible, but that was taken away from him in a hung-over haze of heat and tears
and a nervous kiss to his cheek ("He's gone, Hawkeye."), and now – today – he is too frightened by the
thought of what he might do to feel another hollowness again…just once, one more time. And he rids
himself of the temptation by yielding to it.
"Look at me. Hold me," the silence of his touch cries. B.J. turns from it, refusing. But it is never a
question with him. Another caress of the shoulder, fingers combing through thinning ash-blond hair,
brings about mute surrender. Wide, slate-blue eyes gaze up at him. Tired, so tired…
No visible tears. B.J. never cries and he has long since stopped wondering why. Now it's a fact he
accepts, just like bad food, the smell of dirty socks, and frightened eyes that close with a flutter,
sometimes forever, when the black rubber mask comes down and the gas takes effect. Sometimes,
there are tears…the patients cry whereas their doctors can't. The only time he remembers B.J. crying
was in the aftermath of a letter.
One hand creeps into his and holds it.
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Of death's twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.)
The stars are the eyes watching them. They see what human eyes tend to – choose to – overlook, all
the flaws of existence. Observant, never missing anything. Never judging, and yet he feels naked, on
the outside as well as the achingly hollow inside.
His thumb gently strokes the hollow of the other palm. _Twinkle, twinkle, little star…_
There's no wishing on stars here, not for them. Even less so today when the sky is heavy with clouds
ready to release the afternoon monsoon.
They sit, and even though it's hot and humid, they are both cold and shivering, and their hands stay
clasped together, Hawkeye silently telling B.J. that he shares his pain, and B.J. replying in kind. Their
eyes are open, but their voices are closed.
And the first drops fall. Strangely enough, they aren't red.
(Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o'clock in the morning.)
A children's nursery rhyme…something B.J. might - *should* - tell Erin as he stands in the playground,
pushing the swing. And Erin laughs and says she's a bird. Higher, Daddy, I have to fly higher…
"Beej." There's no need to say anything else. He tries an encouraging smile and surprises himself by
"Hawk." The reply is just as concise, as is the motion with which he makes room for him. Everything
else is said through the kisses that now follow.
(Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow)
The shadow hides the action. The rain hides the sound.
(For Thine is the Kingdom)
And for as long as they're here, they're each other's.
(Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow)
'For though I walked alone in the valley of Death –'
(Life is very long)
It is. And it isn't. Some lives stretch into forever, days into months, and others end abruptly,
unexpectedly. It's a daily guessing game…what'll it be today? Will today be the end, or will there be
another day? With every passing day, the 'when' in 'when they get home' looks more and more like an
'if'. And with every passing day, denying it becomes harder.
(Between the desire
And the spasm)
— is Korea
— is too much
— is them
— is the memory of someone else, but he's officially gone and gone now, B.J. can taste it on
Hawkeye's lips, hear it in the sighs breathed into his mouth.
Such a very inconsequential bit of contact and yet they feel as if fresh life is flowing into their bodies.
They bend beneath the wind once more, each pouring what he can spare of himself into the other's
hollowness. Filling it up…only to drown in it.
(Between the potency
And the existence)
What is there that can possibly fit between those two concepts? Or between them? The question
rapidly fades from Hawkeye's mind, though.
(Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom)
— and the power and –
(For Thine is
For Thine is the)
— the glory, forever and ever.
(This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.)
…as do they.