what i did in the war

“. . .keeping the company of ghosts. . .”

Matt Borczon says he didn’t fight during the war in Afghanistan, but he’s fighting in its aftermath.  You can read more about this fine poet and his chapbook A Clock of Human Bones here.

it’s hard
to explain
to civilians
that my
gun was
locked up
in an iso
container
for the
whole time
I was
in Afghanistan
that I
did not
fight this
war I
worked in
a hospital
at the
craziest
point of
the war
but no
I did not
fight the
war
I watched
it from
the distance
of a
severed arm
watched through
the holes in
marines chests
and stomachs
through the
eye sockets
of children
shredded by
hellfire helicopters
but I
did not
fight the
war
I prepared
gauze for
wounds and
vacuums to
suction blood
I cleaned
dead bodies
for coffins
for planes
for home
for broken
families
I bleached
mattresses
between patients
and served
meals to
soldiers with
no hands
to eat with
but I
did not
fight the
war
I searched
for missing
limbs and
spoke with
angry village
elders and
was hit
by an
Afghan prisoner
for trying
to help
him stand
but I
did not
fight the
war
and it
wasn’t until
I was in
Kuwait at
a stress
debriefing
that I
ever heard
the words
compassion fatigue
or secondary PTSD
so I came home
unaware of
how it
would feel
to hear
helicopters
at night
or how
nightmares
could make
me soak my
sheets with
sweat and
how panic
would make
me ruin
my children
or how I
could lose
days upon
days in
memories
keeping
the company
of ghosts
fantasizing
about my
own death
in order
to feel
like an
end was
in sight
but I
did not
fight the
war
I inhabited
the war
was forced
by blood
to adapt
by death
to adapt
by shock
and awe
to adapt
until the
day they
sent me
home with
no gauze
no bleach
no morphine
pump no
tool or
instructions
to readjust
to turn
it off
to forgive
or forget
so no
I did
not fight
the war
but I
am still
fighting
every single
day

– Matt Borczon
First published in Fried Chicken and Coffee

Better in French

D. E. Green is right.  Everything does sound better in French.  See if you don’t agree.  You can learn more about Doug Green, and read more of his poetry here.

for Diamonique Walker

Why does everything sound better in French?
Wittier? More pointed? More apt and apropos?
You know, with savoir faire and all that merde.
A woman I know from Cote d’Ivoire
likes to say how much she hates things,
but she does it with panache. Sometimes
she even says, je vous déteste. Sure, she’s saying
she hates me, but, god, doesn’t it sound
great? I mean I could be hated all day
by everybody as long as they said, je vous
déteste. And I want to do some je déteste-ing
of my own. Je déteste le sandwich de pain rassis.
It’s just stale bread, but it sounds like something
you’d hear at the United Nations, even the Louvre.
Wouldn’t it change the whole sorry dining
experience to walk into a MacDonald’s
and say, je déteste votre Big Mac? To tell
a bombastic politician, Assez, monsieur! Assez!

D. E. Green

 

Things to Believe in

“. . .the generosity of apples.”

A hopeful poem for Easter and Passover, by Patricia Monaghan, an activist in the women’s spirituality movement.  You can read more about her life and her impressive list of publications here.

trees, in general; oaks, especially;
burr oaks that survive fire, in particular;
and the generosity of apples

seeds, all of them: carrots like dust,
winged maple, doubled beet, peach kernel;
the inevitability of change

frogsong in spring; cattle
lowing on the farm across the hill;
the melodies of sad old songs

comfort of savory soup;
sweet iced fruit; the aroma of yeast;
a friend’s voice; hard work

seasons; bedrock; lilacs;
moonshadows under the ash grove;
something breaking through

– Patricia Monaghan
First published in Grace of Ancient Land

In Lieu of a Photograph

“. . . she curved to her task with deft, balletic grace.”

I wish I knew the full name of this poet.  I found this poem several years ago in one of the monthly Goodreads contests, with the name “Jordan” as the author.  Every time I read it, I fall in love with the images all over again.  If anyone knows more about this person, please let me know.  Google has been no help at all.

 

I am no good at photography.

I lack the necessary subtlety–I am too literal.
I shove the lens right into the center of my subject,
Like a punch to the gut,
Causing the context to crumple around it.

But I sat once at close of day, looking up at a bridge where
Women, silhouetted against the setting sun, made their graceful ways home carrying
Great buckets and baignoires on their heads.

You will have to imagine, I’m afraid, the way their dark bodies were made darker in relief
And the herd-like elegance–not of mindless association,
But natural interconnectedness–of their movement.

A familiar noise made the baby look up from the mat where we were playing.

I followed his gaze to find my sister framed in the doorway, the sheer curtain fluttering between us.
She was folded over a calabash bowl of rice
Making the starch-laden rinse water cascade across her caramel-colored arm,
Which she curved to her task with deft, balletic grace.

There are some–employed by National Geographic, no doubt–
Who could have captured the beauty of this moment–
The way the early Fall light made everything jewel-bright–
With a single “click” of a camera shutter.

But I am no good at photography.

– Jordan

I lost summer somewhere

Sorry.  Gotta take a “me” moment in this month of celebrating mostly other people’s poetry.  Poetry Breakfast is one of my favorite online journals, and they honored me by publishing one of my poems this morning.  You can read it on their site along with other fine poems (and follow their site to get a poem for breakfast every morning) or read it here.

I lost summer somewhere
in the wildflowers, woke
to trees blushing at my disregard,
wind hurrying the clouds along.
I should have seen the signs.
I watched geese abandon their twigged
April nests, pin-feathered goslings
ripple ponds listless with July. Now they rise
gray against the gray sky, skeining south
before first snows.

I’ll stay here, I tell them. I’ll air out
cedared cardigans, chop carrots
for the soup tonight, cross
the threshold of the equinox,
try not to stumble.

Sarah Russell
First published in Poetry Breakfast

 

P.S.  New prompts are up on the Prompts page.

Old Photographs

Gabeba Baderoon is a South African poet who teaches at Penn State in Women’s Studies and African Studies.  I love to go to her readings.  They are always evenings of insight and passion.  This poem is from her newest book of poetry.  You can learn more about Gabeba through this great article about her.

Old Photographs

On my desk is a photograph of you
taken by the woman who loved you then.

In some photos her shadow falls
in the foreground.  In this one,
her body is not that far from yours.

Did you hold your head that way
because she loved it?

She is not invisible, not
my enemy, nor even the past.
I think I love the things she loved.

Of all your old photographs, I wanted
this one for its becoming.  I think
you were starting to turn your head a little,
your eyes looking slightly to the side.

Was this the beginning of leaving?

– Gabeba Baderoon
  Previously published in A Hundred Silences

 

Double Shift

The diner glows fluorescent at 2 a.m.

IMG_1963

The diner glows fluorescent at 2 a.m.,
beckons boozers and truckers, runaways,
women between men.

Mary receives them
as her namesake received Gabriel,
pours coffee unbidden, tends
to coconut cream and lemon meringue,
eggs over easy, a malt for the guy
with stringy hair, jittery for a fix.

She saves her tips in a pickle jar
under the grill — enough, she hopes,
to post 50 bucks for her old man’s bail
come morning.

Sarah Russell
First published in Kentucky Review
Photo:  Diners, Delis & Dives

P.S.  New prompts are up on the Prompts page

Winter Hawk

 

IMG_1955

He holds vigil in a ravaged tree,
his fields, once tall with corn,
now snow-tipped stubble.

He accepts the unforgiving wind,
the cold, thin light – not wishing
for tomorrow or warmth or spring –
alive only in what is.

I close my eyes, clear my mind
of stubble in my own fields,
gather Now around me like feathers,
like breath.

When I look again, he rises
on fierce, decisive wings –
his crimson tail as brilliant in the January sky
as truth.

 Sarah Russell
First published in Prey Tell

Leaving West Virginia

The road curls snug against the hills,
dips into hollows, rises up through stands
of oak, rough against dun clouds
that promise snow.

Old Jimmy waves goodbye, and Maude
is backlit in the door. Homesick starts here
on this gravel road, I guess — nuzzling deep
in sun-sweet quilts, an owl keeping himself
company at midnight, clanking the old stove
to life come morning.

The world is raw, waiting where the road
goes flat and blurs in a rush to get somewhere.
I watched for dawn this morning, breathless to be gone.
Now I want to salt away this place the way it is,
the way I was.

Sarah Russell
First published in Kentucky Review
Winner, Poetry Nook Contest

Photo by Cerys Lowe

P.S.  New Prompts for the week here.

If I Had Three Lives

After “Melbourne” by the Whitlams

If I had three lives, I’d marry you in two.
The other? Perhaps that life over there
at Starbucks, sitting alone, writing – a memoir,
maybe a novel or this poem. No kids, probably,
a small apartment with a view of the river,
and books – lots of books, and time to read.
Friends to laugh with, and a man sometimes,
for a weekend, to remember what skin feels like
when it’s alive. I’d be thinner in that life, vegan,
practice yoga. I’d go to art films, farmers markets,
drink martinis in swingy skirts and big jewelry.
I’d vacation on the Maine coast and wear a flannel shirt
weekend guy left behind, loving the smell of sweat
and aftershave more than I did him. I’d walk the beach
at sunrise, find perfect shell spirals and study pockmarks
water makes in sand. And I’d wonder sometimes
if I’d ever find you.

Sarah Russell
First published in Silver Birch
Winner of the Poetry Nook contest

Republished in Autumn Sky Poetry Daily