Poetry Dispatch No. 311 | February 16, 2010
Intro: Words and War
Some of us with a literary bent, with a history and love of contemporary literature under our belts and in our hearts, still wait for news from the current war fronts, Iraq and Afghanistan, hoping to discover the truer tale, the latest chapter on man’s inhumanity to man in those two theaters of violence.
I’m not a great lover of war literature, though I respect and admire the best novels, poems, plays and essays that came out of prior confrontations, from WWI to Vietnam. We all have our favorites from this times and battlegrounds.
But it all seems so quiet out there since we set foot in Iraq. Where are the writers? Where’s ‘the’ or one of ‘the’ novels? Has no one but Robert Bly cried out to the nation as he did in August, 2002 with the poem, “Call and Answer” (which he was kind enough to allow Cross+Roads Press to reprint in its broadside series, “Broadside Beat #5, 2005) ?
click the cover above to see the back please…
Or is the work being done—but just not receiving the attention it deserves? Which I suspect may be the case. Keep the voices down…bury them in the small presses, little magazines, street literature. But why? Nobody’s listening? Nobody cares? Publishers see no market in it? Are political and corporate factions more concerned with bringing down government, destroying democracy rather than listening to our varied voices? Talk shows are hungry for hot-headed politics over reflective novelists, poets, essayists. If a Vonnegut came along today, would anybody care? Recognize him? Norman Mailer? James Jones?. Where’s the next Tim O’Brien? Michael Herr? Has our once great literature of national significance been reduced to celebrity trash, the manufacturing of mystery /thrillers ala James Patterson?
Has anyone ever heard of Brian Turner? Has he appeared on any major talk shows, network or cable? Have there been any articles about him in People Magazine? Vanity Fair? Maxim? Any “war writing buzz” whatsoever?
Here’s some poetic news from one of our current fronts. Just in case you miss him sometime on Oprah.
A murder of crows looks on in silence
from the eucalyptus trees above
as we stand over the bodies—
who look as if they might roll over,
wake from a dream and question us
about the blood drying on their scalps,
the bullets lodged in the back of their skulls,
to ask where their wives and children are
this morning, and why this hovering
of flies, the taste of flatbread and chai
gone from their mouths as they stretch
and rise, wondering who these strangers are
who would kick their hard feet, saying
Last call, motherfucker. Last call.
Two Stories Down
When he jumped from the balcony, Hasan swam
in the air over the Ashur Street Market,
arms and legs suspended in a blur
above palm hearts and crates of lemons,
not realizing just how hard life fights
sometimes, how an American soldier
would run to his aid there on the sidewalk,
trying to make sense of Hasan’s broken legs,
his screaming, trying to comfort him
with words in an awkward music
of stress and care, a soldier he’d startle
by stealing the knife from its sheath,
the two of them struggling for the blade
until the bloodgroove sunk deep
and Hasan whispered to him,
Shukran, sadiq, shukran;
Thank you, friend, thank you.
If a body is what you want,
then here is bone and gristle and flesh.
Here is the clavicle-snapped wish,
the aorta’s opened valves, the leap
thought makes at the synaptic gap.
Here is the adrenaline rush you crave,
that inexorable flight, that insane puncture
into heat and blood. And I dare you to finish
what you’ve started. Because here, Bullet,
here is where I complete the word you bring
hissing through the air, here is where I moan
the barrel’s cold esophagus, triggering
my tongue’s explosives for the rifling I have
inside of me, each twist of the round
spun deeper, because here, Bullet,
here is where the world ends, every time.
[from HERE, BULLET, Alice James Books, Farmington, Maine, 2005]
BRIAN TURNER earned an MFA from the University of Oregon before serving for seven years in the US Army. He was an infantry team leader for a year in Iraq with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. Prior to that, he deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina with the l0th Mountain Division (1999-2000). His poetry has been published in Poetry Daily, The Georgia Review, American War Poems: An Anthology, and in the Voices in Wartime Anthology published in conjunction with the feature-length documentary film of the same name. He currently lives in California.