Day 23 brings us Brian Turner, with two poems from his second collection, Phantom Noise (© 2010, Alice James Books).
THOUGHTS ABOUT THE POEMS
In his first full-length collection, Here, Bullet, Brian took us into the world and psychology of 21st century combat, and guided us through a harsh desert landscapes fraught with military, civilians, causalities and hallucinations.
In Phantom Noise, he brings us home to the “clarity of rage” that punctuates our daily lives, and weaves threads between worlds until the “double-headed nails” in a hardware store become “firing pins,” and the opening and shutting of a cash register is the sound of “machine guns being charged.”
The first poem below, “Howl Wind,” comes and goes in an instant, but leaves a sour taste as we watch for the high angle of hell and wonder where the mortar will land. The second, “Insignia,” focuses on an unfortunately familiar war story, and Brian does a wonderful job serving as witness to it.
I see people riding on shrieking horses,
steering clouds of sparkbelching fires
on their way to flame life out of you
—Mahd Al-Aadiyya (4000 BCE)
Launched from its tube, the mortar round
accelerates to the apogee of its flight,
rising fast to what the gunners call
the high angle of hell, the round
suspended over the city lights below,
where any one of us might find ourselves
deep within the very last day of our life,
but wholly unaware of the fact—unaware
that the steel-hard visitations of death
hang from the heavens above,
and if there’s someone we would kiss
good-bye, or a few words we’d rather share
than leave unspoken, then now is the time,
because just as missiles were hurled in fire
from catapults of old, a mortar round
howls a night wind over the city,
and just where it lands
we will see.
One in three female solders will experience
sexual assault while serving in the military.
She hides under a deuce n’ half this time—sleeping
on a roll of foam, draped in mosquito netting. Sandflies
hover throughout the night. She sleeps under vehicle exhaust
and heat, dreaming of mortars buried beside her, three stripes
painted on each cold tube, a rocker of yellow hung below.
It’s you she’s dreaming of, Sergeant—she’ll dream of you
for years to come. If she makes it out of this country alive,
which she probably will. You will be the fire and the hovering
breath. Not the sniper. Not the bomber in the streets. You.
So I’m here to ask this one night’s reprieve.
Let her sleep tonight. Let her sleep. Pause a moment
under the gibbous moon. Smoke. The gin your wife sent
from New Jersey, colored mint green with food dye
disguised in a bottle of mouthwash: take a long swig of it.
Take the edge out of your knuckles. Let it blur your vision
into a tremor of lights. The explosions in the distance
are not your own. In these long hours before dawn,
on the banks of the Tigris river, let her sleep.
In her dream, your eyes are pools of rifle oil.
You unsheathe the bayonet from its scabbard
while she waits. On a mattress of sand and foam, there
in the motor pool, she waits to kiss bullets into your mouth.
A Poet a Day is a month-long celebration of poets and poetry, in honor of National Poetry Month. Writers reserve all rights to their work, and all work appears with their permission.