By: Alex Ashlock
Earlier this year, Brian Turner went back to Baghdad as an Army veteran who also happens to be a writer. Turner served as an infantry team leader with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat team in 2003 and 2004, an experience that informs his award-winning book of poetry “Here, Bullet.”
Iraq also features in his latest book, “Phantom Noise.” He believes now that the war is officially over, there needs to be a new dialogue between the two countries, especially between U.S. vets and Iraqi artists.
“I was able to meet some Iraqi poets and painters, and they’re sort of waiting,” Turner told Here & Now‘s Robin Young. “They see the guns and the tanks and helicopters come, and they’re wondering where is another part of the conversation, more of a dialogue in art, that kind of constructive conversation. So if anybody is interested in that, I would encourage them to not sit by the sidelines and not get involved. They’re waiting for us.”
The War’s End
On the end of the war, Turner says that it was being forgotten even as the U.S. was still fighting there. After he came home from Iraq, he was teaching at a community college in 2005 and he said he asked the students there, “When was the last time the U.S. fought a war against the Iraqis?” And there was silence. “It makes we wonder how much attention we pay to the things we do in the world,” he said. “And that’s our job– to create a conversation, and I’m trying to do it my own form, so we preserve our memories and pass them on, so sand doesn’t wash over.”
The reference to sand washing over comes from his poem, “To Sand.”
Turner read us more of his poetry in 2009, you can read excerpts here but we wanted to re-post a poem called “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.)
- Brian Turner, poet and veteran