Monday, April 24, 2006
Lance Corporal Nicholas G. Ciccone USMC October 4, 1980 - October 13, 2003
Right before Easter an email appeared with a subject line that simply said Please Read. I didn't recognize the sender's name. Since starting this blog I've recieved messages from many new folks, so that by itself was no cause for concern. So, with some trepidation, I opened Please Read and the reason for the writer's urgency instantly became crystal clear. The writer, Matt, informed me that he'd just found my site and the graphite drawing of his step-brother, Lance Corporal Nicholas G. Ciccone. Whenever I'm asked what I believe to be my finest work unhesitatingly comes the reply that it's this portrait. Matt also informed me that his beloved brother committed suicide in October of 2003.
Matt's Please Read was followed by a flurry of emails from an extended network of family and friends. I had the privilege of speaking over the phone with LCpl. Ciccone's father and mother. Among other things I learned Nick's birthday, October 4th. October 4th is also the anniversary of the day my own father joined the Marines in 1938, and passed away in 1981. I can scarcely tell you how humbling and gratifying it is knowing how touched his family is by this portrait. The common thread through all their heartfelt messages is a healing sense that they've regained a piece of Nick they thought they'd never reclaim. They also wanted me to share his story-To keep before people's eyes those wounds which are rarely seen, heal the slowest, and often kill; the wounds that pierce the very soul of a person.
Here is LCpl. Ciccone's portrait again. It shows him the very instant after dropping his pack, putting down his rifle and taking off his helmet. He and his platoon have just stumbled exhausted into the blasted remains of the Kandahar International Airport terminal building after a nine day patrol among rugged Afghan mountains deep in winter's icy embrace. They had originally planned on being out for just twelve hours, but they found a huge weapons cache and the bad guys wanted it back. For nine days they battled the Taliban. For nine days they worked to destroy the cache. When they retrograded back to Kandahar they possessed what war correspondents simply call "the look". After returning to the States I had my film developed and sorted through the pictures. Ciccone's photo jumped out. I now realize why. His gear is off, but the weight's still there. Ciccone had "the look" in spades.
I personally call what had settled on Ciccone's face the "young/old" look. Walt Whitman, the greatest American poet, spent most of the Civil War as a nurse, a changer of bandages. After the war he added a chapter to his core work Leaves of Grass titled Drum-Taps. These eloquent poems are as close as you're going to get to photo-realism in poetry. Whitman, an avowed pacifist, honored the sacrifice of the soldiers he served without artifice or agenda. There's no taint of "but".....no editorializing or moralizing. He writes from a stool set beside a dying boy and not from some comfortable soapbox. Whitman wrote a poem that speaks of this young/old look called A Sight In Camp In Daybreak Gray and Dim. The poet has risen early and walking about a Union encampment comes upon the bodies of three dead soldiers laid out under heavy brown woolen blankets. Whitman pulls the covering away from each face in turn and speaks of what he sees. I give you the last stanza:
Then to the third — a face nor child nor old, very calm, as of beautiful yellow-white ivory; Young man I think I know you — I think this is the face of the Christ himself, Dead and divine and brother of all, and here again he lies.
This is the face of Nicholas G. Ciccone. At Easter each year we are reminded of our connectedness to the divine, to those who have suffered for us and hopefully to the healing that comes from awakening to the realization that we share a common lot with each other and with God. Christ's suffering upon the cross was in its finality more about abandonment and seperation, more about psychic than physical wounds. So to you Nick we say what Marines often do when pulling the blanket over the face of a fallen buddy, "go easy my brother, semper fi".
His father told me the story behind finding the drawing. His stepson Matt was up late unable to sleep thinking about his dead brother. So he did what many of us do during dark midnights of the soul, we google. Matt googled Nick's full name and up jumped a half dozen websites where the drawing is featured. A ray of light entered the dark night. I know this is not about me, but I must tell you again how profoundly moving it is for me to know that those closest to him find him alive in this drawing.
I mentioned in the previous post that I was down in New Orleans. I'm posting a photo I took there that I think is appropriate, and self-explanatory.
As always, your comments are greatly appreciated.