...it's not dark yet, but it's gettin' there...

January 11, 2006

Wednesday Is Poetry Day

For the first poetry day of 2006, I've selected my favorite poem by Brian Turner, perhaps the best known poet of the Iraq War.

Turner is a fantastic poet, and it's no surprise to me that his Masters of Fine Arts from the University of Oregon is in poetry .

Turner—also known as Sergeant T. or 'the professor'—was a team leader in the first Stryker brigade to be sent into the combat zone, and was stationed, for much of 2004, near Mosul. He wrote his poems secretly. People in the Army knew that he had a master’s degree, but no one ever asked him what it was for—it was an M.F.A. in poetry, from the University of Oregon—and he saw no reason to advertise it. Noncommissioned officers, he says, are the 'backbone of the Army,' and 'it’s hard to be hard-nosed if you’re writing poetry.' He didn’t want his underlings to think he was writing about 'flowers and stuff like that.'
That was from a New Yorker bio of the poet. Wikipedia adds that the seven year Army veteran served with the 10th Mountain in Bosnia-Herzegovina during 1999 and 2000.

So Turner's soldier credentials are solid. "But Annika," you ask, "what's his view on the war?" Just enjoy the poem first. It stands on its own regardless of anybody's politics.


Camp Wolverine, Kuwait

Staff Sergeant Garza, the mortuary affairs specialist
from Missouri, switches on the music to hear
there’s a long black cloud hanging in the sky, honey,
as she slices out a Y-incision with a scalpel
from collarbone to breastplate, from the xiphoid process
down the smooth skin of the belly, bringing light
into the great cavern of the body, in the deep flesh
where she cuts the cords which bind the heart,
lifting it in her gloved palms, measuring the organ
for its weight, though she can’t help but wonder
what this heart has known, the secrets it holds,
how fast this heart beat when he first kissed
Shawna Allen, her lips the soft pink carnations
of spring, how they woke at dawn in Half Moon Bay
to make love in the ice-plant dunes, their hair
tangled in salt as the foam washed in, this heart
heavy with whiskey and the long midnights
driven by rain and all that life humbles in us,
a heart made of the times his father woke him
to see a meteor shower, telling him stories
of the moon, of how the Arabs believe it gathers
the souls of the dead when it fills with light,
how it carries them to the sun once it’s full,
that’s what this heart holds in Garza’s hands,
thirty-four years of a life, a montage of America,
the long caravan of moments we gather
in an unwritten epic we carry within us, what is given
in ash to the earth and sea by caring hands
if we’re lucky, by someone like her,
who sings low at the chorus, saying
there’s a long black cloud hanging in the sky,
weather’s gonna break and hell’s gonna fly,
baby, sweet thing, darlin

Author’s note: Italicized lines are from “Black Wind Blowing” by Woody Guthrie.

More Turner can be found at The Georgia Review. The .pdf page is here.

As a veteran, what does Turner say about the War?

History may prove me wrong, but at this point in time I cannot say that the lives lost have been worth the cost. As a country, are we learning from this experience? In regard to love and relationships and personal development, I think it worth noting that there are many returning veterans who will need help for PTSD [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder]. There are many organizations which are trying to bridge the divide and offer assistance to those who need it.
I'd say Turner leans toward the tradition of Owen and Sassoon. Not my view, but that's pretty decent company for a poet to be in.

Posted by annika, Jan. 11, 2006 | TrackBack (0)
Rubric: Poetry


That's why we don't put poets in charge of our national defense.

Posted by: Jake on Jan. 11, 2006

I think I might start a Poetry Wednesday on my blog in your honor :)

Posted by: Jennifer on Jan. 11, 2006

All war poetry that isn't jingoism leans toward Owen and Sassoon.

All who sacrifice must ask, "Was it worth it?" Today, it is too soon to tell. For those who pick up the tab, it is hard to justify the cost. The hard part is dealing with both the grateful and ungrateful freeloader, neither of whom understand. One's effusive thanks is annoying, the other's willful ignorance is galling. Making the adjustment back to life as it was before is unringing the bell.

Posted by: Casca on Jan. 11, 2006

Thank you, Annie, for a fine introduction to an important new voice.

Posted by: Hugo on Jan. 11, 2006

I may have already posted this for you ... it's my favorite ... next time I'll post a baseball poem ...

Edna St. Vincent Millay - Afternoon On A Hill

I will be the gladdest thing
Under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers
And not pick one.

I will look at cliffs and clouds
With quiet eyes,
Watch the wind bow down the grass,
And the grass rise.

And when lights begin to show
Up from the town,
I will mark which must be mine,
And then start down!

Posted by: irishlass on Jan. 11, 2006