Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Poems for Veterans Day - Kevin Powers, Brian Turner, and Yusef Komunyakaa

I know Kevin Power's work from his brilliant novel The Yellow Birds. The book was indeed written by a poet as his new collection of poetry attests. Here is one which begins and ends in love.

Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting

I tell her I love her like not killing
or ten minutes of sleep
beneath the low rooftop wall
on which my rifle rests.

I tell her in a letter that will stink,
when she opens it,
of bolt oil and burned powder
and the things it says.

I tell her how Pvt. Bartle says, offhand,
that war is just us
making little pieces of metal
pass through each other.

             Kevin Powers

Brian Turner is an Iraq war veteran who is both a stellar poet (Here, Bullet and Phantom Noise) and recent memoirist (My  Life As A Foreign Country). Brian is also a friend whom I have known since our graduate school days in Oregon. I say this only to underscore that this man is a poet who I know to be up to the task he's set himself: to chronicle the war that will define our generation. 

Here, Bullet

If a body is what you want
then here is bone and gristle and flesh.
Here is the clavicle-snapped wish,
the aorta’s opened valves, the leap
thought makes at the synaptic gap.
Here is the adrenaline rush you crave,
that inexorable flight, that insane puncture
into heat and blood. And I dare you to finish
what you’ve started. Because here, Bullet,
here is where I complete the word you bring
hissing through the air, here is where I moan
the barrel’s cold esophagus, triggering
my tongue’s explosives for the rifling I have
inside of me, each twist of the round
spun deeper, because here, Bullet,
here is where the world ends, every time.

                                          Brian Turner

From Komunyakaa's collection War Horses, I've included this prose poem which the he states was the initial one that sparked his collection. You can listen to him talk with KUOW's Elizabeth Austen about this poem and others. He also mentions how today's war machine resembles something of a car dealership. You can to his wisdom and strong voice here.


There's no rehearsal to turn flesh into dust so quickly. A hair-trigger, a cocked hammer in the brain, a split second between a man & infamy. It lands on the ground—a few soldiers duck & the others are caught in a half-run—& one throws himself down on the grenade. All the watches stop. A flash. Smoke. Silence. The sound fills the whole day. Flesh & earth fall into the eyes & mouths of the men. A scream trapped in midair. They touch their legs & arms, their groins, ears & noses, saying, What happened? Some are crying. Others are laughing. Some are almost dancing. Someone tries to put the dead man back together: "He just dove on the damn thing, Sir!" A flash. Smoke. Silence. The day blown apart. For those who can walk away, what is their burden? Shreds of flesh & bloody rags gathered up & stuffed into a bag. Each breath belongs to him. Each song. Each curse. Every prayer is his. Your body doesn't belong to your mind & soul. Who are you? Do you remember the man left in the jungle? The others who owe their lives to this phantom, do they feel like you? Would his loved ones remember him if that little park or statue erected in his name didn't exist, & does it enlarge their lives? You wish he'd lie down in that closed coffin, & not wander the streets or enter your bedroom at midnight. The woman you love, she'll never understand. Who would? You remember what he used to say: "If you give a kite too much string, it'll break free." That unselfish certainty. But you can't remember when you began to live his unspoken dreams.

                                                                                             Yusef Komunyakaa

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