On War

Nathan Gehoski

I write.

There was something.

Or had been something.

Preventing a clear consensus on.

What is war?

The question, seemingly simple enough, begging another:

Why is “War … an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will.”

How do I write about war?

That piece of human history, that hard to believe, destructive to feel, march on Prussia where the Russians lined the women up by the side of road and raped them in groups, assembled them into trains. Cut and stuffed them into blankets, shot them, beat them, murdered and married them. Drinking from canisters of wood alcohol, wine barrels, vodka bottles, they kept falling down drunk trying to fuck or kill their way out of something they only partially understood, like good sex or Quaaludes, spontaneity of error permeating across taboos, becoming that first lump of a distant thought.


Without recourse to law or order many women kill themselves or the children they are left with when the soldiers move on or die (exposure a preferred method of disposal) letting the thaw reveal them as shapes of cloth and ice.

Many end up in the snow.


Many women and children end up buried in the snow.

“More than a paradigm and something other than a symbol”

Word arrives from home: We are starving. We have no food.

Soldiers send home German spoils: chocolate, liquor, wrist watches, and gold.

Weight limits vary for enlisted men, officers, senior party officials, and NKVD troops.

20 kilos. 40 kilos. Pianos. Radios. Sausages. And bread.

Clothes. The men send home clothes for their women to wear, while in Konigsberg women are discovered, shot in the head, with signs of sexual assault.


Women at home began asking for divorce.

The soldiers’ soviets, responding to this, lobby to have divorce banned while a soldier, taking a second, or third, or fourteenth (in one bizarre case) wife on the front can squeeze fattened bellies between hands, thinking of the sons and daughters he will never see.

And the women watch the snow fall outside.


Scavengers saw the legs off cadavers. “For the boots,” they say.

Crusty leather.

Bloody frost.

They thaw the limbs in giant kettles, gently prying the footwear away, scraping off dead skin and muscle into the water—don’t think of them as human!—heating and stirring and smelling.

Smoke cigarettes. Drink vodka. Fuck something. Write home.


In that order.

Take two and visit the infirmary in the morning. Everything okay? Yes. Are you suuuuuure, not having any second thoughts are you? Any doubts. No. Right as rain. Well, good. Off you go then. Back to the front? Where else but the front? Silly.


Any numbness? Any pain? Can you move your toes? Can you turn your head?

Nod if you can and suggest a new policy of semiotics, let rape, as Stalin calls it, become a little fun with a woman. The violence of bodies becoming nothing more than the application of superior arms, a myth abstracted from the value of mimes—subject as agent, agent as unitary other, constructed silence providing the destabilization of identification at a moment of historicity or grounded alterity

add words to create the illusion of sense

of understanding.


A boy chokes his mother when his father writes home: I have been shot. My leg has been taken. I cannot fight.

“I must leave him,” mother says.

Junior chokes.

“He is no good,” mother herself a victim of systematic abuse weighs the algebraic norms of filial duty against bruises and harm and says “I must find myself another man.”

Junior chokes.

Rolls up his sleeves, wrings her flabby neck. Why did she stay? How could she leave?

Crippled men, aged forty-three years or more, return home first, riding on trolleys bedecked with flowers and images of Stalin—THE FRIEND OF ALL CHILDREN—the comrade who told them “no.”

No more fighting. No more hate. The time of free thinking and profitable racketeering—the black market having by that time appropriated over 500,000 tons of meat, flour, rubber, liquor, boots, clothes—was over and it was time to reconstruct


How easy.


A woman. Blonde. 19. 4’10”. 5’1”.



Hair done up. Dress clean. Freshly laundered. Her shoes the color of brick. Her face dusty with wheat germ and rubble. Two men. Big men. Taller than her by a foot and a half, approaching. The older—sun burnt and mustached—ribbing the younger man (who will rape her) and laughing, go on! Go on and talk to her! And the younger (the one who will rape her) smiling and prancing some capering Slavic steps as he approaches, his Asiatic features a nested horror—of this horror!—a psychological, cultural fear of the mongoloid. The repressed other, the Eurasian steppe itself creeping up to bugger her from behind the aesthetics of that Eurocentric ideal pushing her into a room. Handling her back. Moving her inside. Using a dresser to block the door. Shooing away his older friend. Ignoring the pounding and laughing outside.


Smelling of diesel and dirt— a tank man then, one of over 400,000 enlisted during the war 300,000 of who would die before the end.

He is going to rape her.

Push her down. Pull her open. Split her trousers-

Syphilis was a communicable disease prevalent in the Red Army during World War II. Spread from infected sores. Oozing bodies (split cocks) in (her) dry (and now tearing torn) vaginal canals (her) serum quickly lubricating pain, ensuring (spread) transmission. Viral load (blood) moving across membranes of skin, this (mostly) complete act of infection promising (her) many years of wondering (about) who to tell or what to say or how or why


Some types of virtuosity-

From And.



His member. His cock.

Porous contact between abstractions


Don’t blink.

Pixilated prophylaxis




Talk about. It.

Across the wooden benches

spanish lunetas

eager expectant buttocks spread











Cumming point can-








Say something.
































Please just say something nice.























Du bist sehr schon.














You are very beautiful.

He speaks enough German to ask her name—Greta—and tell her

she forgets what he tells her.

He has a tooth she watches. Near the back of his smile. Very straight. Very white. Perhaps fake. Not like the others, the ones all stained and crooked and exposed, gums receding, cracking, bleeding.

Dying roots the color of fry oil.



How do you?

Wie bist

How do you?

Ich heisse


Wie heisst du?


I tell myself to make sexuality patriarchal. Eat. And eat. And eat. Nevermind the significance of being here or there.

There is a covalent grid of force here, an impossible quite-othering in which the normalized gendered relations and oppressions of society collapse and allow for the fully deconstructed and explicated truth to emerge and disseminate

Make sense.

In war.

The grid isn’t here or there but between those segments of self responsible for recognizing and interacting with non-self. The “other” identified or self-identifying with not only the physical but cultural identity of a body.

A cunt is taught.

A slut learns.

To be judged successfully one must first judge oneself. If you are not guilty in spirit you are guilty in body and a body can only ever be punished, broken, and destroyed


To discipline, habituate, and control a body one must first conquer the mind. The mechanism of the panopticon is exactly this: the creation of a self-regulating system capable of conditioning bodies to the expectation of discipline.

You are wrong to read this literally. Rape. Your condition is not slavery but choice. Rape. This is in your power to accept.


Ivan Ivanovich.

That’s what he said.

His name.

The sound a type of setting for others outside—tromp of boots. Hammer of fists. A military truck arriving full of soldiers knocking at the door. Light pouring in from the windows.

One voice. Like another voice, allowing her to guess their location, their size, the state of their inebriation and violence of intent.

Let us in.

Let. Us. In.

Lettuce sin.

She’s not sure where she is. There are many books on the floor. Wobbly stacks thumbed through, picked over, torn apart and used for fuel and fire. First and second editions of Poe, translated from English to French, Baudelaire’s work she’s sure. Algebraic polynomials. “What is Enlightenment?” Jules Verne. Lewis Carrol. Some smutty pulp rolled to tinder, edges curled, just burnt, crispy, flaked, the flash or smile of tits.

She lives in a halfway house further down the road. The women share rooms to avoid the men. They keep heavy pipes across the doors. The windows are to be shut at all times. Greta helped paint over them with shoeblack and tar, insulating the rooms from the cold and prying eyes of soldiers and bombardiers. She thinks of the smell, not just tar but hidden luxury: the scent of perfume, sandalwood and incense. Lavender. Beeswax.

Some spend hours with a candle heating compound to smear over cheeks and eyes. Wearing fine dresses. Listening to pretty songs. A different house, a sacred space preserved from this rape by another and another


She fucked the landlord to keep herself fed. Many women did. She felt sorry for the mothers and daughters who came to know or had known or would come to need to know the economy of fleisch, how so many pounds of skin and bone and lean cadaverous meat could equate to a price. How ribs and hips and elbows and skulls could find capital in the provenance of this dissolute, penurious home. How she found herself willing out the word “wait.” That was a surprise, to find it commanded such strange respect, her landlord (rapist) suddenly unsure, uncommitted and confused by her offer of palaver over “our indiscreet happening” as she called it, gown slipping down off deflated ass, the spindle of arms and crooked table legs hardly working bending over a couch, a chair, buried on the floor, panting, trying to breath under a Georgian, a Uzbek, one perverse Frenchmen who insisted on using a child’s voice, a little boy, a catamite, please, papa please! And that word again—rape—becoming gargantuan, still only half thought half and wholly obscured, scars visible only in certain types of light, the filaments of specific bulbs, the shadows of given lamps, grease candles, whale blubber, her father would read Moby Dick to her by such light, insisting they were using the great whale’s very own fat huddling with her on the bed, reading in voices that could hush or shout as needs be, mustaches lifting like petticoats over his smile faeries and elves and guttural trolls hiding in the back of his throat. He let her make up the endings some nights and even try the voices out herself, a pip’s squeak for blind mice, an owl’s shriek for Gretel’s witch.


The most extravagant of her affectations, requiring a swab of grease, some cotton, and a thimble of whiskey to numb her gums before she could drawl his lines, half of her face falling asleep to the delight and wonder of her father who laughed, childlike, at her expression.

The subject (rape) constituted by the object (Greta) under construction in this instance entailing the very same representation—or re-representation—of the feminine (rapee) as always already (raped) defined within the masculinated (raper) field of representation.

Fine dresses, pretty songs

For example:

Greta’s mother Frau Hammersmit was a thin woman who suffered from ulcers and contorted bowels who looked down on Greta and Greta’s father for telling each other stories—criticizing Herr Hammersmit as encouraging PRECISELY the sort of behavior that got young ladies in trouble, yes! Yes! So very much trouble! and Greta and Greta’s father would share looks ja, ja, mutti, ja ja leafing over the pages reading into and through them while her father tried to explain to his lovely wife that it wasn’t about IMPROVING the stories, no, no, no, so much as making something new! and Greta could see by the light of the lamp—that spectacularly yellow and smoky and resinous light—that her mother’s scars showed most cleanly at night when the soldiers came pushing down across Alsace-Lorraine in 1914 and Frau Hammersmit then known as Madame Ponty, the young wife of the local tavern owner Monsieur Ponty—that pretty young thing he kept behind the bar working the stiff shiny nozzles of the tapped kegs, blonde hair twisted into braids, tied behind ears, stretching on long legs to reach, over bar stools to see, just to see if one of those perfectly round tits might slip out—Gott im himmel!—was positively inconsolable after her husband was killed one night, after midnight, walking home from a friend’s by a pair of German soldiers and all anyone would tell her is that things had gotten out of hand: there was a struggle, some fighting, some shots fired, a death, and they felt justified in killing Claud, leaving Madame Ponty without husband, child, or patron until the young Herr Hammersmit, then an officer in the Kaiser’s Army, saved her—that is, made an honest woman of her—following her home all the time all smiles and chocolates and wrist watch-flirty-courting-ships winning her over to his suit in August 1918, just before things collapsed on the Western Front once and for all and Greta was born when the American stock market crashed and herself had to find a good husband only he wasn’t so good and


Light at the windows. Pounding at doors. A divot in her ear, perfectly straight, gleaming like that tooth in her Russian’s smile, the only good one in his head, biting cleaning into her breasts, mumbling attempts at German compound words, one in particular, over and over: Schweinenfick.

Fuck Pig.

Imagine him in his dirty uniform, huddled in his tank with a cheap dictionary stolen from a convenience store or tourist bureau on the border—Russian to Polish to German to French to English back to Russian—trying to formulate a word for it, a etymology for the supra-transnational-proletarian-State-of-Rape; a fuck pig, a pig to fuck, pouring out of him and into her, his transfigured and transgressed body becoming one with her own history of anachronistic, bourgeois personal suffering. Exploding apart her normative sense of East and West. North and South. Everything cut and quartered and stewed into a partially hydrogenated slurry of capitol shipped across owned seas on missions of Syphilization.

Let us in.

Leet ooze fin.

Lapis aught tin.

What is it where?

She suddenly questions, wondering aloud into the sweating neck of the man atop her, her Russian Ivan, her peasant, her serf, who’s crying now about how little he remembers from before the war: A mother, a son, some sheep, an old cow with sour milk and teats distended with crop and scabies. She wonders aloud about HER mission, HER place, trying out words for things that hardly make sense next to his.


Fick. Schwein.

Greta trying to shift the heavy weight of HIM off HER, friction recalling itself painfully to her stretched and bruised, torn and bleeding, infected, idealized, vilified, and commoditized genitals.

“Oh, schade!” the Russian exclaims, frankly aghast at all the blood he finds pooling on the floor and on his penis. Covering the soft shaft and head.

She tenses as he pulls out.

Someone honks outside. Flashes the lights of the Studebaker, a legacy of lend-lease, in Morse-code, in pig Latin.

Let US in.

Let US in.

Let US in.

Historicity and manufactures

industry and production

only violence which shatters myths empties thoughts.

The light, streaming through glass, becoming variegated like the rainbows of fire streaming out of a burning carriage on the side of the road, fleeing ahead of the Russians back in ’45, everyone running for their lives, Greta alone, family lost, watching it burn, watching some two-bit huckster trying to scratch enough geld together selling oil of amnesia and homeopathic birth control to a steady, pumping, vaginal stream of refugees piling out of Prussia pulling West toward a vague idea of AMERICA—a place to surrender, a place to give up somewhere they haven’t heard, haven’t seen soldiers in leather boots and graying lapels swinging babies by their feet, smashing skulls to pulp like lions or tigers, killing the young before mounting the mother, the sow, the white-fuck-pig woman-

AMERICA could still forgive, might still forget.

Running like everyone else to forget where they came from, remembering instead all the lights and how they collapsed in her belly to fart out air and semen and blood.

Saying something across the hollowed ring of her belly, reminding her of the borderless steppe between her legs and the yellowish-pink discharge she can feel working inside of her—No! No not now, because right now she is trying to visualize that light of sunshine and corduroy amber angst boxed up and burning in the carriage offering a hue to the puckering of skin, rejecting some scars, remembering others, finding arrangements of time and space for this moment to coexist with and within the lacerated ribbons of her violate womb—already filled, already grooming another life for those snow banks outside that white snow outside—with the feel of her father’s mustaches or how ahhhh-special it made her feel when that old huckster waved her over to ask for water, dipping his fingers into her canteen, turning the stale swill to wine—well, Greta thought, isn’t THIS special before helping herself to some and they sat drinking together. His hand on her thigh. The alchemist pointing out a group of young boys clustering at the edge of a ravine playing Death Korps with unexploded ordinance. Tossing loose shells and grenades into gullies trying to see what would happen, ducking down and peeking up through curtains of grass, scaring the bejeeesssus out of each other and the train of refugees when one actually explodes oooooooooohing at the clouds of dirt and terrified affect of the adults—Stop that! Stop that! Get away from there!

Her wizard’s grip tightening on her thigh when she tried to leave, no, no, let them play.

And the boys, crystalline, transparent in that light, watching the bombs detonate, creating a problem for her—the logos stimmt veraus—nichts—aus, gefunent, brecht, swollen—was mochtest du? Nicht gefunden. Nicht gewollen. Nicht. Nie. Never. No—that gelled with Ivan and his conversational Deutsch.

“Ich liebe dich, ja? Wie heisst du? Greta? Ich liebe dich auch-”



Berry berry mulch!

Something in language

something apart

kissing the sore quiver of her thighs. Rubbing his penis against her ass

she quite liked thinking of men as boys

another symptom of war

on the side of the road watching one boy pull the pin out of a grenade

always already

stuffing it into a friend’s hand

a consensus on war

running away—bam! Bam-bam!—hot potato! Catch, catch, catch!

domestic strife

the eventual pop

an act of force

domestic strife

explosion of sparks and concussive force

recurring re-presentation

—Ah! Ah! Ah!— a 9-year-old skipping around waiving the stump of his missing hand

already dead

in circles, screaming mama mamamaamamamamamamamama

and people talking

and speaking

and saying

west—to get away

with those boys

milling about outside

wait your turn



du bist very nice, schon

her Russian with bad teeth

meine comrade sind grosse schon Frau, schon grosse

hard again, throbbing, pushing back inside, fucking, raping, again, ein mehr, bitte, ein mehr

patting thighs

Have a little fun with a woman.

Some experience of what is Other cast as Other cast as Self


Hurry the fuck on!

Head lights flashing

the shape of men against blinds

picked over

thumbed through

flipped over

torn apart

determining what was necessary for the work

as a product of what was transmissible

to public

its own narrative

inaugurating reason to audience

parts of speech

and audience to reason

now separating

to a particular frame of time


to finished


Ivan finished. A second time. Quite limp now. Pulling away now. Muttering something. Shouting something. Two things. The same breath. Coming/Cumming. Telling her again how nice she was. How pleasant. How schon. Backing away. To the dresser. The door. The pounding sound.

Kicking over stacks of books.

Moving obstacles aside.

Leaving her to let the next one in.

Leaving her. Letting the next one in.