It’s not the happiest of days for many people, but this is a day of memory, reflection and a celebration of the lives of fallen service members (fallen in action, or not). I can’t think of a better way to spend Memorial Day than hanging out with one of my favorite veterans, and that’s just what I did. It was a fantastic weekend, really, but more on that later.
For now, I’d like to share some poetry in honor of this day. These are from Brian Turner‘s amazing book, Here, Bullet. I stumbled on it accidentally one day at the book shop and it has since become one of my favorite works.
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.
What Every Soldier Should Know
If you hear gunfire on a Thursday afternoon,
it could be for a wedding, or it could be for you.
Always enter a home with your right foot;
the left is for cemeteries and unclean places.
O-guf! Tera armeek is rarely useful.
It means Stop! Or I’ll shoot.
Sabah el khair is effective.
It means Good Morning.
Inshallah means Allah be willing.
Listen well when it is spoken.
You will hear the RPG coming for you.
Not so the roadside bomb.
There are bombs under the overpasses,
in trashpiles, in bricks, in cars.
There are shopping carts with clothes soaked
in foogas, a sticky gel of homemade napalm.
Parachute bombs and artillery shells
sewn into the carcasses of dead farm animals.
Graffiti sprayed onto the overpasses:
I will kell you, American.
Men wearing vests rigged with explosives
walk up, raise their arms and say Inshallah.
There are men who earn eighty dollars
to attack you, five thousand to kill.
Small children who will play with you,
old men with their talk, women who offer chai–
and any one of them
may dance over your body tomorrow.
Kirkuk Oilfield, 1927
We live on the roof of Hell, he says,
and Ahmed believes it, he’s watched the gas flares
rise from holes in the earth, he’s seen the black river
wash through the village in a flood of oil
as if the drillers had struck a vein
deep in the skull of God, and the old man says
Boy, you must learn how to live here–
where the dead are buried deep in the mind
of God, manifest in man and woman,
given to earth in dark blood,
given to earth in fire.
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.
Really beautiful, huh?