Brian Turner earned his MFA from the University of Oregon before serving for seven years in the U.S. Army. He was an infantry team leader for a year in Iraq with the 3rd Styker Brigade Combat Team, and Infantry Division. Prior to that, Turner deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovnia with the 10th Mountain Division (1999-2000). Turner’s poetry has appeared in Poetry Daily, The Georgia Review, American War Poem: An Anthology, and in the Voices in Wartime Anthology published in conjunction with the feature-length documentary of the same name.
Here, Bullet, Turner’s first full-length collection, was published in by Alice James Books, an affiliate of the University of Maine at Farmington. The following five poems are from this collection, and appear with the author’s and the publisher’s permission.
© 2005 by Brian Turner. All rights reserved.
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.
The ghosts of American soldiers
wander the streets of Balad by night,
unsure of their way home, exhausted,
the desert wind blowing trash
down the narrow alleys as a voice
sounds from the minaret, a soulful call
reminding them how alone they are,
how lost. And the Iraqi dead,
they watch in silence from rooftops
as date palms line the shore in silhouette,
leaning toward Mecca when the dawn wind blows.
DREAMS FROM THE MALARIA PILLS (TURNER)
This time it’s beautiful.
He’s in the kelp beds somewhere
off the California coast, floating
where green leaves touch the sun,
as if he’s disentangled
from thought itself, as if the mind
has come this far, up from the depths
to release him to the crests and shallows
drifting wave by wave back to shore.
He knows there are bombs
washed up on the beach. There are limbs
of people he has never met. Bandages
soaked in blood and salt.
He knows the Qur’an and the Bible
have washed page by page to shore,
their bindings stripped loose, their ink
blurred into the sea.
And if people are crying there,
wading out in the surf to carry it all
back in, then he hasn’t seen them yet.
The ocean sounds in the bones
of his skull, and the albatross fly
reconnaissance over the waves,
searching for a route home.
OBSERVATION POST #798
It is in the watches of the night
that impressions are strongest
and words most eloquent.
Tonight, we overwatch the Market District
by the ruins, where we know of a brothel-house:
green light above the door, windows shuttered
in French panels swung open, gauze curtains
hanging translucent in the heat.
It’s over a hundred degrees, even at dusk.
I scan each story with binoculars
and a smile, hoping to glimpse the girls
drawing open the curtains,
their silhouettes edged in light.
When a woman walks out onto the rooftop
smoking a cigarette and shaking loose her long hair,
everyone wants what I hold in my hands,
but I am stilled by her, transported 7,600 miles
away, as a ghost might gaze upon the one he loves,
thinking, how lovely you are,
your pain and beauty a fiction
I bend into the form of a bridge, anything
to remind me I am still alive.
It is a condition of wisdom in the archer to be patient
because when the arrow leaves the bow, it returns no more.
It should make you shake and sweat,
nightmare you, strand you in the desert
of irrevocable desolation, the consequences
seared into the vein, no matter what adrenaline
feeds the muscle its courage, no matter
what god shines down on you, no matter
what crackling pain and anger
you carry in your fists, my friend,
it should break your heart to kill.