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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veteran Brian Turner’s Poetry

Brian Turner. (Alice James Books)

Brian Turner. (Kimberly Buchheit)

Army Veteran Brian Turner turned his experience in Iraq into poetry. His book, “Here, Bullet” captured several awards and also helped to earn him the Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Scholarship. Under the rules of the scholarship, he is required to spend a year outside North America. Turner also contributes to the Home Fires blog on the New York Times website. Below are some selections from “Here, Bullet.”

“A Soldier’s Arabic

This is a strange new kind of war where you learn
just as much as you are able to believe.
—Ernest Hemingway

The word for love, habib, is written from right
to left, starting where we would end it
and ending where we might begin.
Where we would end a war
another might take as a beginning,
or as an echo of history, recited again.
Speak the word for death, maut,
and you will hear the cursives of the wind
driven into the veil of the unknown.
This is a language made of blood.
It is made of sand, and time.
To be spoken, it must be earned.

(From “Here, Bullet.” Copyright ©2005 by Brian Turner. Reprinted with the permission of Alice James Books.)

“Sadiq”

It is a condition of wisdom in the archer to be patient
because when the arrow leaves the bow, it returns no more.
—Sa’di

It should make you shake and sweat,
nightmare you, strand you in a 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.

(From “Here, Bullet.” Copyright ©2005 by Brian Turner. Reprinted with the permission of Alice James Books.)

“Body Bags”

A murder of crows looks on in silence
from the eucalyptus trees above
as we stand over the bodies—
who look as if they might roll over,
wake from a dream and question us
about the blood drying on their scalps,
the bullets lodged in the back of their skulls,
to ask where their wives and children are
this morning, and why this hovering
of flies, the taste of flatbread and chai
gone from their mouths as they stretch
and rise, wondering who these strangers are
who would kick their hard feet, saying
Last call, motherf*****. Last call.

(From “Here, Bullet.” Copyright ©2005 by Brian Turner. Reprinted with the permission of Alice James Books.)

“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.

(From “Here, Bullet.” Copyright ©2005 by Brian Turner. Reprinted with the permission of Alice James Books.)

“Observation Post #71″

Balad, Iraq
Owls rest in the vines of wild grapes.
Eucalyptus trees shimmer.
And from the minaret, a voice.
Each life has its moment. The sunflowers
lift their faces toward dawn
as milk cows bellow in a field of trash.
I have seen him in the shadows.
I have watched him in the circle of light
my rifle brings to me. His song
hums in the wings of sand flies.
My mind has become very clear.

(From “Here, Bullet.” Copyright ©2005 by Brian Turner. Reprinted with the permission of Alice James Books.)

“Eulogy”

It happens on a Monday, at 11:20 a.m.,
as tower guards eat sandwiches
and seagulls drift by on the Tigris River.
Prisoners tilt their heads to the west
though burlap sacks and duct tape blind them.
The sound reverberates down concertina coils
the way piano wire thrums when given slack.
And it happens like this, on a blue day of sun,
when Private Miller pulls the trigger
to take brass and fire into his mouth:
the sound lifts the birds up off the water,
a mongoose pauses under the orange trees,
and nothing can stop it now, no matter what
blur of motion surrounds him, no matter what voices
crackle over the radio in static confusion,
because if only for this moment the earth is stilled,
and Private Miller has found what low hush there is
down in the eucalyptus shade, there by the river.

PFC B. Miller
(1980 – March 22, 2003)

(From “Here, Bullet.” Copyright ©2005 by Brian Turner. Reprinted with the permission of Alice James Books.)

“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.

(From “Here, Bullet.” Copyright ©2005 by Brian Turner. Reprinted with the permission of Alice James Books.)


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