Here is an expanded version of Inquiring Mind’s Spring 2014 War & Peace poetry,
featuring poems by Fredrick D. Kakinami Cloyd, Hugh Martin, Alla Poberesky,
Ted Sexauer and Jon Turner.

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WAR & PEACE POETRY

 

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For Kiyoko, Epitaph/Chikai*

Mama’s silent hand in mine
we remember       traverse
history’s       ten million wars.

Her Last breath
passes        through me
survival’s constant fire.

I,      her Occupier’s baby

tremble       in black       yellow
through tombs
            ancient colors
                                   falling

bombs      Mama      persimmon blossoms.

Time      after time
Kiyoko becomes
                         sword
                                  desire
                                           wounds
                                                             rain.

 

*Chikai: Vow, promise (in Japanese). Without Kanji characters and written in hiragana or katakana, this can have the meanings “near” or “close” as well as “attic.” So Chikai means: a promise, a vow, near, closeness, the attic (which connotes things put above and kept as mementos). Historical and personal continuities, relics, secrets, baggage, intimacy, preciousness.

 

Fredrick D. Kakinami Cloyd is an independent scholar, writer and performer. His book Dream of the Water Children: Black Pacific Memory through a Black-Japanese Mother/Son Relationship will be published in 2014 by 2Leaf Press. “For Kiyoko, Epitaph/Chikai” was first published in Kartika Review (Spring 2012); it is used here by permission of the author. Learn more at http://waterchildren.wordpress.com or read excerpts from Dream of the Water Children at http://swordglint.wix.com/waterchildren.

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This Morning, We Carry Body Bags

1.

brand-new, still sealed in plastic wrap,
pile them in the back of the truck.

The dip bulges from LT’s lip and I imagine

2.

bullets against the truck
like horizontal rain.

Before dawn, four men shot
six Iraqi soldiers dead

as they slept on cots,
dragged outside the checkpoint hut

3.

because it was too hot.
At the Jalula hospital, traffic stops. Men smoke

in white dishdashas that wave
in the wind like bedsheets. From the hills,

a Black Hawk rises. We close eyes,

cover faces, not wanting to feel

4.

flying pieces of earth. Four men run
the first body to the chopper;

it bounces on the green gurney
beneath an IV bag held

by a hand to the sky.

From The Stick Soldiers by Hugh Martin (New York: BOA Editions, 2013).
Copyright © 2013 by Hugh Martin. Used by permission of the author.

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Responding to an Explosion in Qarah Tappah

A boy’s father builds IEDs in a dark corner of the family courtyard. One
night, the eleven-year-old explores his father’s work: he curls a det cord in
small hands, rubs the smooth body of the blue mortar, feels a cold firing
pin, gazes at the array of cellular phones. He touches something the wrong
way, a round explodes, the boy—all over the courtyard. Second platoon
hears the explosion; they drive toward the sound. When the father comes
home, they blindfold him, zip-tie his hands behind his back, take him
away. We drive through the empty hills, the ground so hard, so stale, it
crunches under our tires as if made of sun-dried bones. We have come to
assess what is left: the remaining shells, the pieces of phone, the coils of
wire. We don’t speak to anyone, not even each other. As we walk through
the courtyard, behind three old women in black abayas, we see two small
girls in flowing, flowery dresses, the hems swaying against their feet. The
girls cry softly, moderately, like sorrow was something they were trying
for the first time.

From The Stick Soldiers by Hugh Martin (New York: BOA Editions, 2013).
Copyright © 2013 by Hugh Martin. Used by permission of the author.

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The Summer of Crawling


We low-crawl across the yellow
grass of the practice grenade-range:
sixty boys, arms and legs, holding

hard to the earth. Drill Sergeant Barnes yells,
We’re getting ready to invade Iraq
and Saddam Hussein wants you dead.

He throws a smoke-grenade: a mist of red
floats above our bald, sun-burnt heads.
The smoke means crawl. Faster.

Barnes yells, All of you will go. Half of you
will come home horizontal.
I study
a small dandelion-weed inches from my face,

spit the taste of canister-smoke
onto one of the leaves. Barnes tosses another:
a white cloud grows above the ground. We crawl,

groan, reach, our bodies sop the dirt
with sweat. When he lets us stand
in formation and march down the asphalt road

to the bayonet-assault-course, he makes us chant—
our shouts billowing against the miles of forest
at Knox—gotta train, gotta train, gotta train to kill Hussein . . .

From The Stick Soldiers by Hugh Martin (New York: BOA Editions, 2013).
Copyright © 2013 by Hugh Martin. Used by permission of the author.

Hugh Martin is a veteran of the Iraq War and the author of The Stick Soldiers and So, How Was the War (Kent State University Press, 2010). His work has appeared recently in The Kenyon Review, The New Republic, and The New York Times’ At War blog. Martin has an MFA from Arizona State University and he is currently a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University.

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Atlas

My father still screams some nights
And packs with him
A handkerchief, an apple, a hat, a small bag of nuts, a silver Swiss army pocket knife,
and a parachute
—always prepared, always ready

Anxiously he rocks from one foot
to the other
Foretelling the forecast, the outcome of the baseball game, politics, the state of Israel,
and the war

My father, just short of 5' 7"
Is a giant
A gigantic giant
strong as Atlas
he carried my family across
state lines, countries, walls, laws, men and suits, swastikas, foreign languages, silences and
sirens, cold floors, and roach filled rooms

he stood at the brink
of the world
washing windows on street corners
with homemade Windex
and crawled out of trains
and trenches
and passport checks
and death…

He bears arms, shame, guilt, fear, and wool sweaters
Whispering
“This ends with me”

and I used to think he could fly
all so I could one day say:
“Ya Americanca”

Alla Poberesky is meditation practitioner on the Buddhist path and a certified mindulness facilitator. A refugee who immigrated from the former Soviet Union with her family, she grew up in New York City and graduated from Syracuse University. She resides in Santa Monica, California. Contact her at apoberesky@yahoo.com.

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Death of Paul Duffy, by Rope, Alone

I sit quietly, alone.
I acknowledge an unseen mechanism
to stave off this kind of news.
Somehow it’s not possible, not real,
not there, a myth.

Of course it’s all illusion.
If there’s any meaning in this life
it can’t quite pass the mind
that knows—it’s illusion.
We “make stuff up”.

Still, his wife is real,
though I don’t know her.
No note, no warning sign;
I can bear anything except that
“failure to communicate”.
Are we really all alone here?

If you have an inclination to end it
if you share that with someone
they’ll try to stop you—to intervene
but if you die alone
you leave those who love you—alone
and distant friends like me—alone

You leave wakes and ripples
whatever you do, but death
holds this ultimate weight,
creates a void, a great displacement.

It’s why we who have been to war
can’t quite leave it behind,
not only the experience of death,
that’s no surprise, except how close it came—
but rather, how big it is around you—
how alone it makes you
how all alone and wary

 

 

This is number nine of friends,
veterans, who’ve gone that way—
Frankie the Maineiac rode his Harley off a cliff,
insurance in place to send three sons to college.
Nicko, long slow death by alcohol
and he wouldn’t stop, god damn his bones;
then add in David Cline, same damn deal.
Add Jack McCloskey.
John Mulligan published his novel,
stepped off a curb to kiss a truck.
And great happy Air Force rescue pilot Steve
biggest smile ever, done in by business sharks;
and rescue diver Dan who lost his boat
and broke his heart.

And mother’s second husband Art, Navy WWII Pacific,
by rifle—he was on his way out,
refused to die in a hospital—
but no note, where was the love?

What’s over there? Only one way to know,
but what’s the hurry? Pain. Maybe impulse?
Still, the one main thing the military teaches us—
endure and survive—and never volunteer
You don’t go there ’til you’ve tried everything.

Keep hope.

Ted Sexauer was a combat medic in the Vietnam War and is now an activist for nonviolence. He is a charter member of the Veteran Writers Group mentored by Maxine Hong Kingston.

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Mark Time

I had a friend
who in Fallujah
kept a stone in
his pocket

to rub each time he
felt nervous
By the end of siege
he nearly turned

the stone into a small
bowl for collecting
tears from the death
that stained his eyes

We no longer dream
we no longer speak
but chase imaginations
through insomniatic

streets in our minds
of women and
crying boys
longing to dance

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A Torch Is Lit

We used to laugh at him,
Staff Sergeant
Platoon Sergeant
The old crooked man with a lisp
who kept one eye open as he slept,
We all thought he was just crazy.

He said to us, 
      “Where do you think you’re goin’,
       Hawaii?  No, you’re goin’ into harm’s
       way.”

He spoke very little about the invasion in 2003—
       we watched as his eyes had changed,
            They were not angry anymore
                      They were hurt

We never laughed after that
We listened and he
      stopped yelling
We learned quickly
      that if you are being taught how to fire
      a weapon, how to clean a weapon,
      how to carry a weapon in formation;
it is best to listen—

War is only the next place you may be
and shooting stars are not the only counts of death.

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Shadows That Weep

At night I walk alone—
still thinking of gliding over rubbled streets
turning corners where nothing awaits
though belief remains that an enemy
is sitting on the roof top peering down

waiting for my feet to step over the curb
and his finger to detonate the littered bag
in a sewer drain, like it did for the snipers
and Ramon, whose life became a smoke stain
beneath Persian stars and dim lit streets,

against cob walls and decadent alleyways.

At night I grieve and walk with my dog—
who did not let me pierce vein or collapse
from too many pills, as war embodied my
heart. I think of them, the ones
            who never said goodbye
            who never told their children goodnight
            who never kissed their wives
            and whose families still cannot say
                 the word Iraq—

I think to myself alone in the woods—

where God transcends his presence through simple
call and folly of thrush and spotted fawn,
where emotion reveals itself next to a river’s tide
and pool in the pale brown foam drifting next to moss

I think as my wife and children walk before me—

Why did I live?

Jon Turner has used poetry and other forms of creative expression to understand his wartime experience in Iraq. He served two toJurs of duty in Iraq as an infantryman with the marines, as well as a humanitarian mission in Haiti in 2004. Currently Turner lives in Vermont with his family, working to build sustainable food operations with local farmers while further transcribing his memories with veterans. His poem “Mark Time” will be included in a book to be published Prashanti Press later this year; it is used here by permission. To learn more, visit www.peacepaperproject.org.

© 2014 Inquiring Mind