“Success may also be measured by the absence of chaos.”
- Frank Davis
This list could be very long, and it overlooks several people whose visions and voices were heard and vital, who were generous enough to add their energy, attention, insights and inspiration without credit. This multimedia project has been a bizarre practice of self exploration, somewhat private, thanks to the VA. It’s been a learning Thanksexperience.toall
The House of Wisdom refers to a romantic era that only really exists in translation between our imaginations.
11 November 2021
This collection started during a fellowship between Warrior Writers and The Mission Continues at The Joiner Institute’s writing workshops in 2017 and 2018 at UMass Boston. It exists thanks to a host of people and places including The William Joiner Institute for the Study of War and Social Consequences, Tom Kane, The Old Oak Dojo, Deborah Frieze, Lovella Calica, Juanita Spinnato, Erin Leach-Ogden, Adam Graaf, Deborah Kalin, Shannon Kafka, Eric Wasileski, Michael Anthony, Jose Diaz, Brian Turner, Bruce Weigl, Tim Corrigan, The Longfellow House, Karen Skolfield, Audra Jamai White, Chris Weindorf, Evan Gildersleeve, Nate Heilman, Erin Anderson, The Suffolk Poetry Center, Fred Marchant, Tom Aikens, Mitch Manning, Kevin Bowen, Marc Levy, Janet McIntosh, Andrew Fassett, The Veterans Writing Project at Brighton Marine Health Center with Ron Capps, Bob Notch, Brian Earley, Jack Cheng and The Clemente Course in the Humanities at the Codman Square Health Center, Kevin Basl, Aaron Hughes, The Veteran Art Movement and the Veteran Art Summit in Chicago, the Combat Hippies and the many connections made through Combat Paper and Frontline Arts.
who contributed art, words, prompts, edits, efforts, and ideas over the years. So much excellent work is left with Warrior Writers for a different effort.
Library of Congress Control Number: 2021946467
For the lessons and financial input, special thanks to The Ahern (not Ahrens) Foundation, Veterans for Peace, Joan Kelley, TheseMedicInTheGreenTime.comArtByDevonOKeefe.comcollectedworksareowned by the artists and writers who contributed, and shared with their permission.
Selections from the following books appear with permission: The Dear Remote Nearness of You by Danielle Legros Georges Reaper by Jill McDonnough Tipping Point by Fred Marchant Long Way Out by Nicole Waybright Yesterday’s Soldier by Tom Keating
Dedicated to the memory of Jacob David George. For his story visit
Midori Gleason painted the cover, inspired by Norse mythology about wolves swallowing the the sun and moon at the end of the world. The underpainting and texture for the painting, “Ragnarok” was created by her partner, Avi Lettvin, a graduate of Mass Art’s Illustration Department. Materials for this collaborative painting include torn books, crackle paste, acrylic paint, pencil, ink and glitter. It illustrates her poem, “I Heard a Whisper All My Life.” Find more of her work on midorigleason.com
Copy Edited by Welina Farah
The Midas Touch Courtney Wilson
Complacency Kills Craig StitchingRobertswith Smoke Reema
From the Future, with Love Elisabeth Lister
Mr. La David Bowen
IAlanOne-WheeledJillTwelve-HourDanielOutsideLaurentShiftsMcDonoughSkateboardAsselinWishIWereaHomeless Vet Brian DeathEarleyofthe Blues
The MFA Story Andrea Gregory
EverythingNicoleTheTravisAlmostAnonymousD!##-on-HardWeinerLongWayOutWaybrightSoundsBetter in Urdu Shilpi WriteTomShakedownSunejaKeatingaLetter to
The Road to Larissa Nazli Artemia
A Stateless Poem Danielle Legros Georges
73727069686664636261605857565453504948474645PROSEIMAGES POEMS Content
Views of the Emerging Veteran Art Movement
Fanny Garcia Radio HowAmberNoiseZoraWeSitIn Rooms
On the Euphrates Jon Chopan
All My Life Midori Gleason
A Hug from Aaron Weiss Jesse Rey Whipple
5 Warrior Writers at the USO, June 2017
6 Warrior Writers at Bethesda, August 2018
VIEWS OF THE EMERGING VETERAN ART MOVEMENT
9 Fanny Garcia
As part of the inaugural NVAM Triennial, the Art Summit brought some 50 artists from around the country together to share art, ideas, participate in hands-on workshops, and celebrate the growing community.
These photos were taken at the National Veterans Art Museum (NVAM) Veteran Art Summit, held in Chicago May 3 - 5, 2019.
This photo essay was originally published by veteran-art-movement.net
Return to the ProcessionBody:
The silhouette of a topless female figure (Goodwin) was visible through the curtains. Her body rolled on the floor, swaying back and forth like a baby in a crib. The sound of her voice played in the distance, echoing off the marble walls, filling the large room. The audience curiously viewed the exhibit, walking around the translucent structure.
Views of the Emerging Veteran Art Movement
A performance by Joseph Lefthand, Nicole Goodwin, and Kiam Marcelo Junio kicked off the National Veterans Art Museum’s Veteran Art Summit, a weekend of events and workshops. On the fourth floor of the Chicago Cultural Center, sheer white curtains hung high from the ceiling.
11 Fanny Garcia
Lovella Calica (right) founder and Program Advisor of Warriors Warriors, and Brendan Foster (left) director of the National Veterans Art Museum, welcomed an audience of Veterans, writers and artists. Calica hosted the open mic, which featured many veteran poets.
Warrior Writers Poetry Reading
Jeff Key Reads
Jeff Key (below) former Marine, Iraq War veteran, peace activist, and queer civil rights activist, performed his writing during the open mic poetry reading hosted by Warrior Writers.
Views of the Emerging Veteran Art Movement
The more one looks at Yeon J. Yue’s images, the more a narrative starts to unfold. In the far distance of this image a portrait of a young male marine sits on top of a shelf next to a large brown sculpture.
13 Fanny Garcia
Life at Home
Religious sculptures hang above and beneath. A book shelf is stocked with the works of author Sandra Brown, doves, and a panda drawing. The depiction elicits the home life of either a military family member, a spouse, veteran, or perhaps the service member himself.
On the first night of the Veteran Art Summit, the National Veterans Art Museum hosted an opening reception for Open/Closed, curated by Amber Zora. The gallery presented the work of several veteran artists. Displays included sculptures, paintings, objects, photographs, and writings. People took turns looking through a View-Master, which included photographs of a mysterious window, taken by the author.
of the Emerging Veteran Art Movement
Cameron (founder of Combat Paper) hosted a public workshop, inviting people to sit at the table and cut up uniforms. Participants began the process of converting camouflage into Combat Paper, removing all seams, buttons and zippers and cutting the material into small pieces.
Conflict Exchange (featuring Combat Paper)
Six military-issued, olive drab canvas bags full of uniforms were piled in Chicago Cultural Center’s Garland Gallery. A table crafted by Alicia Dietz was at the room’s center. Nearby sat a Hollander beater, which would be used to turn pieces of fabric from the military uniforms into pulp for papermaking. Iraqi-American artist Wafaa Bilal, Dietz, and Drew
Views of the Emerging Veteran Art Movement
On Sunday morning, the last day of the Summit, Carlos Sirah led the final workshop and a “story circle” closing discussion.
Summit participants gathered in a circle and passed the mic, each taking a turn briefly sharing their experiences.
17 Fanny Garcia
18 Views of the Emerging Veteran Art Movement
The Bald Eagle’s Toupee
19 Fanny Garcia
The high and narrow walls on the second floor of Depaul Museum feature Garcia’s red, white, and blue mural, depicting iconic American imagery. A bald eagle, Uncle Sam, and other satirical political images sparked discussion of social injustices. The audience then followed Garcia into a second room where they were presented with a large nest—his War Nest—made from wooden rifles.
For the final event, art summit participants traveled to the DePaul Art Museum, just north of downtown Chicago, to meet political cartoonist and muralist Eric J. Garcia for an artist talk on his interdisciplinary practice and his installation, “The Bald Eagle’s Toupee.”
Plywood weapons coming from all directions point toward the center of Eric Garcia’s “War Nest,” where a figure wearing a raccoon cap peeks up from a black couch. A trail of smoke from figure’s weapon indicates that it has been fired.
Views of the Emerging Veteran Art Movement 20
Screenprint, 2018 - Three soldiers pose for a photograph outside of a communications tent. Their faces are obscured and identities are ambiguous. The original image is from Nike missile site archives.
21 Amber Zora
drawings are sourced from photographs. Some are images from my time in the military as an ammunition specialist. Others come from the internet, books, and Nike missile site archives.
This series of sumi ink drawings and screen prints examine communication. The prints conflate time and space and are in response to international tensions, from the Cold War to today.
22 Radio Noise
Started during a 2017 residency at Virginia Center for Creative Arts in Amherst, Virginia, “Radio Noise” shows soldiers at work and communication systems. At the time, North Korea was conducting a series of nuclear and missile tests.
Very real bodies run these communication systems. Communication technology transforms periods of passive reception into offensive deployment. The soldier waits to detect signs of oncoming danger, or orders to where they are called next. These modes of communication are subject to machine and human error.The
A week before I presented this series at CalPoly in 2018, an employee at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency falsely sent out a ballistic missile alert advising residents to seek shelter. The alert concluded: “THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” Three days later in Japan, a broadcasting agency also accidentally sent an alert about a North Korean missile launch. The error was corrected in minutes. These were particularly tense events because of North Korean missile tests over Japan in 2017.
23 Amber Zora
Screenprint, 2017 - These soldiers maintain the machine with their bodies. Radars developed by the military are meant both for protection and knowledge, defensive and offensive movement. Radars hold a complex system of knowledge when other forms of treaty and rapport have failed.
24 Radio Noise
Sumi Ink Drawing, 2017 - This radar antenna is used to track space objects and ballistic missiles. The original image of this long-range radar antenna is sourced from the internet.
Sumi Ink Drawing, 2017 - This is an image from an abandoned Soviet radar site from the Cold War. There are several cases of soviet radars
25 Amber Zora
malfunctioning. The most notable is the 1983 Soviet nuclear false alarm incident. “The Man Who Saved the World” is based on this event.
26 Radio Noise
Sumi Ink Drawing, 2017 - This is an image of Roberts, my battle buddy, and me on KP duty during a field training exercise. The pot on the table is a dish we cleaned that evening. I couldn’t resist adding to the canon of portraits a “woman with a vessel.”
27 Amber Zora
28 Andrea Gregory
“I’m not writing about anyone,” he says a little more defensive than he probably has to be. He gets weird looks. “It’s not about Rochelle.”
“Why then do all your female characters all of a sudden have big teeth and small wrists and fall for the bad boy?” says Mandy. She retrieves the maroon throw pillow after it bounces off Julian’s head and lands at the far end of his Ikea carpet. “And you’re far from the bad boy you think you are.” She laughs like a bitch, but it’s supposed to be a joke.
The story is about a girl with big teeth and small wrists who comes from Salem, Massachusetts, where they burned the witches. She works in a bakery and lacks complexity and internal struggle. She naively ends up at a sex party. Uncomfortable. Out of place. A rugged man comes to her rescue. In the end, they leave together and do it in the closed bakery just after she puts a batch of something in the oven.
The MFA Story
It’s early afternoon on a Thursday. No one has class on Thursday. Julian had to TA in the morning. Early. Eight o’clock class. He was late as he is for most things that start really early and blamed it on traffic. No one else was up at that time.
“Even if it’s not about Rochelle, your style’s a little different lately,” says Dan. “I’m not sure it’s working.”
“I liked it,” says Pete. Pete is published. Everyone is quiet and questioning their original thoughts.
Rochelle is the prettiest girl in the MFA program. A first-year fiction candidate who came off the waitlist, and it shows a little in her work. Still, she is probably the prettiest girl to have ever been in an MFA program anywhere. She has big teeth and tiny wrists. Julian thinks she’s amazing. Or his muse. He’s been making her love him back in a lot of his fiction.
Dan is forty and married. His wife’s letting him chase a dream. He never misses anything when the MFA kids plan something. He’s a long-standing member of the group that meets up every week at Julian’s place. He tries to be insightful and dresses like a hipster. He’s got on dark-rimmed glasses that aren’t prescription, skinny jeans, and a t-shirt of Gertrude Stein’s face. The glasses are new. He’s also trying something different.
Julian reads from his manuscript. The pages aren’t stapled together, and he throws each one to the floor when he’s done with it. He paces in front of the television, a muted showing of “The Breakfast Club.” His living room has a bunch of writers hanging out, drinking, and smoking pot. All of them are used to Julian doing this sort of thing. It’s mostly second-year students. The ones who take it seriously. The ones who are good. Julian knows he’s not alone, desperate to be published. He’s got a few things out on submission. These damn places take so long to respond. And he thinks he’s just starting to find his voice. He wants good news before graduation.
In fact, Julian has rewritten his thesis into a weird sort of tribute to Rochelle. He just dropped the whole thing off in his advisor’s mailbox. He thinks this new stuff is his really his best.
“Stop writing about her,” says Mandy, standing up to hit Julian in the face with the only throw pillow in the room. Julian doesn’t even know where that thing came from. Someone must have left it here. “Seriously, it’s too early for this shit.”
“She just might,” says Anthony. “She’s kind of a slut.”But she’s never a slut in Julian’s stories. He liked her a little less than he used to after hearing rumors about her and Anthony, but you can’t tell from the way he writes about her. “Can we just get back to the story?” he says with a sigh and some aggravation. It’s Julian’s apartment. It’s Julian’s weed. Everyone spends a little more time on his work because of those things.
Jenna has always had interesting jobs with no real need to work. Still, a quest for living as a common person has brought with it life experience. Just before coming to the program, she was a park ranger for a few years in Arizona. She knows all about the different kinds of snakes out there. She knows how to kill one if she has to. She says when you cut one in half both sides of the body continue to wiggle for a while almost
“So, Julian’s got a muse,” says Pete. “If we forget we know Rochelle and that Julian has a warped self image, it’s a good story.”
girlfriend living a few states away. Anthony runs his fingers through his hair. It’s dark and thick. He looks like an Italian Jesus. He, like Rochelle, might just be too pretty to be a writer.
Pete likes to wear baggy jeans and gold chains like he’s in the rap scene of the 1990s. If he really likes something, he’ll tell you it’s “fly.”
like there’s a hope of reconnecting. But she doesn’t like killing anything. She’s a vegetarian. She told Sarah the other night that she thinks she’s a lesbian. Sarah said cool. They both know people experiment at their age, and it really wouldn’t matter either way to Sarah.Jenna went to a gay bar by herself and met a girl name Terri. Terri is in her apartment right now. Their one-night stand has turned into a few nights. Terri made omelets this morning, and they were delicious. Jenna wonders if she’s falling in love.
29 Andrea Gregory
She says when you cut one in half both sides of the body continue to wiggle for a while almost like there’s a hope of reconnecting. But she doesn’t like killing anything.
Jenna likes it, too. Jenna is the star of the program. She is the great granddaughter of a very well known but now deceased writer. She doesn’t like to talk about it. She believes her talent comes from her brain, not her bloodline. But she’s a humble twenty-six year old with nothing on submission. She thinks it will happen eventually, but she’s more likely to go through her family connections than the slush pile. Still, she never brags, and, really she doesn’t like to talk about it. Her best friend is Sarah. She passes the joint to her.
Lately, Sarah has been writing poems about Julian. Jenna says it’s a bad idea to share them with the group. Sarah’s got a few of them in her bag. She brought them just in case. She’s taking poetry this semester to get out of writing a term paper.
“If he says it’s not about Rochelle, it’s not about Rochelle,” Sarah says with lungs full of pot smoke. Then she blows it all out. “She’s into Anthony, onsomewhathisabroughthappyAnthony’sanyway.”notthatSarahjustthisup.He’slittleconfusedaboutsexualityandhasofacrushPete.Petehasalong-term
Anthony says, “Sorry, dude. It was just a one-time thing.”Ithappened after everyone’s favorite professor’s book signing. Drinks at the bar down the street from the bookstore. A little too much gin. Rochelle and her gin. This sort of thing was bound to happen once they were the only ones left. And Julian wasn’t even there that night.
“I don’t give a shit about Rochelle,” Julian says again. “She can fuck the whole program and all the faculty for all I care.”
“I would like to know if she’s happy working at the bakery. You really don’t tap into how she views her mundane life,” says Jenna.
Dan tells everyone his real-life wife was not his type. She grew on him, he tells the group. No one has ever met her, and they probably won’t. Different interests, Dan could call it. Bored with her, he would never say. It sounds bad. They’ve been married for five years, and he thinks they are still in love. He hopes so. And she doesn’t mind supporting him while he’s in grad school. She’s ten years younger than him but already has a master’s in social work. She has a job at a residential home for troubled teens. She tells Dan about the kids like they’re her children. The two of them have never discussed having kids. Dan’s hoping they will run out of time before this comes up.
Mandy rolls her eyes. She says it’s not realistic to have some meek character stay for as long as she does at a sex party or to even end up there in the first place. And who has sex parties, anyway? Julian’s character watches a threesome on the couch. She sits in a chair and watches. She’s invited to join. She doesn’t. And no one cares that she seems to be there just to watch.
Anthony says he doesn’t care where he fucks. He argues that going to the bakery means nothing and that Pete is reading too much into it. Anthony says he
It’s two guys and a girl going at it on the couch. And it’s a little graphic for literary fiction. Everyone wonders if Julian has had a similar threesome, but no one says anything about that.
“Of course, he doesn’t love her. If he loved her even slightly or thought there was potential to love her, he would have taken her home. At no time does he invite her into his life, his world,” says Pete. “They do it at her work. You don’t fuck people you love at work.”
can easily see himself having sex in a bakery. Then he pictures it and thinks of Rochelle.
“I mean,” says Jenna who then takes a few seconds to say anything else. “If she takes this guy back to the bakery, what does that say about her? I’m only talking about the character. Who really cares about Rochelle?”
Pete says the story ends in a good place with the smell of tomorrow’s muffins drifting out from the kitchen. Going on any longer could kill the whole story.Jenna thinks Terri’s the start of a great story. But she doesn’t think she’s a character or anything like that. She’s a real person without a job or an apartment, but she says she has plenty of friends she can stay with. Jenna wants her to go anywhere, though. She thinks about Terri in her apartment. In her bedroom. She imagines her smelling the sheets like they’re tomorrow’s muffins. Jenna wants to kiss her again and again. She wants to do it so many times that the future becomes more important than the past. She wants Sarah to meet her. She wants everyone to meet her. She wants to keep her and feels lucky to think she might be able to. But there’s such a false sense of security when instant infatuation feels reciprocated.
He’s managed to capture a nostalgia he has no first-hand knowledge of.
“I’ll tell you what would happen,” says Sarah. “He would get bored of her. She’s not his type.”
30 The MFA Story
“Does he really love her?” Sarah asks. She will write a poem about him writing about Rochelle. It’s starting to form in her head. She should really write this one down but, of course, doesn’t.
Julian, like a typical man, never gave much thought to the happiness of the girl in his story.
“Then what would happen? What would follow the bakery scene?” asks Jenna.
Dan’s real type is more like Sarah. He likes the way her cheeks get flushed in the cold and the knee-high boots she wears over legging. Sarah has long legs.
“It says she is a mild risk taker,” says Pete, who rarely has any women in his fiction. He writes mostly about an old mill town he grew up in, but the stories take place before his time. He’s managed to capture a nostalgia he has no first-hand knowledge of. “The sex party was still her sexual awakening.”
“I don’t know,” says Julian.
Jenna takes the open bottle and tells Sarah to chill out. She wants to tell Sarah about Terri. She wants to tell her about Terri in a way that sounds just like the way a great love story starts, but she knows it probably won’t come across that way. Jenna knows she’s happy and something like that is fragile. She thinks it’s best to probably wait and see what happens when Terri leaves her apartment. Make sure she’s going to come back. Please, let her come back.
follows Jenna into the kitchen to get more wine. Jenna pulls out a new bottle of chardonnay from the fridge. It’s one of those double-size bottles. “Do you see the opener?” she asks Sarah.
middle is different,” she says. “I took out the part about the cell phone ringing during the eulogy.”Noone
“Can we see something new from you, Mandy?” says“ButAnthony.thewhole
In Mandy’s story, the professor’s wife dies and this one graduate student goes to the funeral. The only physical contact between the graduate student and the professor comes at the end when she strokes his arm and tells him that his wife must have had a wonderful life. Professor Mason says it’s just not coming off the page for him.
“I think I’m going to read one of my poems to the group.”“Don’t,” says Jenna. “No one is drunk enough for that shit yet.”
the girls have a slight crush on. With silver hair tied in a ponytail and a long publishing history, the girls are extra attentive in his classes. Julian hates him.
“I’ll go next,” says Sarah. “I’ve got a poem this time. A Sarahsestina.”didn’t bring copies for everyone. She’s just been carrying around with her this sestina and a few others just in case there was someone to read it to. She’s not trying to be a poet really, but if she was, it might impress Julian.
remembers that part. And Mandy gets pretty much the same feedback she got last time. Maybe she should let this one go or let it sit and come back to it later. Shut up, Pete. Who cares that you’re publishing?
Julian has a wild man’s beard and plans for a road trip after graduation. “I want him to write stories like that about me,” she tells Jenna.
Sarah doesn’t even look. She just says she thinks she loves him. Julian has a wild man’s beard and plans for a road trip after graduation. “I want him to write stories like that about me,” she tells Jenna.
31 Andrea Gregory
Dan’s wife is five feet tall. Short body. Short legs. But he really tries to love her more than anything else. He’s already promised to dedicate his first book to her, a novel he writes when he just can’t fall asleep next to her.Sarah
Her story is about a graduate student having an affair with her professor. Everyone knows it’s based on Professor Mason, a married professor whom all
“No you don’t,” says Jenna. “He’s a dick.”
Jenna finds the corkscrew. It was right in front of her on the counter, but sometimes we don’t see the things right in front of us.
Everyone handed their marked-up copies of Julian’s story back to him while the girls were in the kitchen. Mandy is already reading her piece. Everyone’s heard this story before. And one other time before that. She keeps on revising the same story. Her advisor told her this one wasn’t her best. Leave it out of the thesis. But Mandy has daddy issues and wants to fuck her advisor as she wins his approval. She is very transparent about it in this story.
... just because you think you love someone doesn’t mean everyone has to know about it.
“There’s just not much here to discuss,” says Pete. “And who writes sestinas?
Sarah pounds her glass of wine. She folds her poem up into a tiny square and puts it back in her purse. Her heart’s still racing just as it was when she started to read. She looks at Julian, but he’s looking somewhere else, perhaps at a bakery that’s not there. Sarah wants to tell him she can smell tomorrow’s muffins when she is close to him. She says nothing. He finally looks at her still looking at him.
Why are you limiting yourself to such an outdated form?”Thejoint reaches Sarah again. Or it’s a new joint Julian rolled while she was in the kitchen. She hits it twice in a row and then one more time before giving it to Anthony. No one picks up that this poem is about how crazy in love she is with Julian. And later Jenna will tell Sarah that it was for the best and just because you think you love someone doesn’t mean everyone has to know about it.
The MFA Story
Everyone’s got a full glass of wine and is pretty buzzed. It’s around three in the afternoon by now. Jenna gives Sarah a look. She sucks on her bottom lip and tilts her head. Sarah really should have listened to her. But now everyone is going to listen to Sarah’s sestina.It’sabout a bridge and a woman who throws herself off it after being turned down by her love interest. It’s 39 lines of bad poetry about rejection. No one thinks it has anything to do with Julian. Jenna knows how to keep a Juliansecret.isthe first to respond. He says the diction is off and the syntax doesn’t flow. It’s not really working for him. Then others agree. Pete says to stick with fiction. He says Sarah will probably be the next to get published if she just sticks to what she’s good at. No one wants to hear that except Sarah. When did Pete become the authority on publishing order?
“It was a nice try,” he says to her.
Former Communications Marine Processes
How We Sit in Rooms
Interview with Nate Heilman
Combat Memories by Weaving with Concertina Wire, Stenciling Messages in Blood on Concrete
How We Sit in Rooms
Dangling in front of one wall, wires separate like the nine necks of the Hydra, attaching to the pins of nine grenades mostly hidden in chunks of cement, hanging within boxes drawn with ash. Lights arranged with care make a clock like circle, and bit of rebar sticking out of the wall looks like an hour hand.
When media offers up a threat – impending warfare, a school shooting, the collapse of the stock market – we watch it through screens, our televisions and smart-phones. “The screen is literally a box and what we see is further mediated so we can stomach whatever has just happened. We hear about a school shooting, but we don’t see bloody, dead children. Whatever the threat is, we put it into these boxes to reduce our anxiety about it and continue on with our day.”“My daughter was born on the day I left for Afghanistan. I hadn’t even seen her in person, just pictures, but being in Afghanistan and seeing children and their interaction with their world and me and what life means in these different countries, I realized that even if I had died there in Afghanistan my daughter would have a better life by having been born in the United States.”
“If the grenades drop, the chair can be pulled up and over the wires and be reduced to ash,” Nate says. “Or, it can be lowered to the ground. A child could use it to sit at a desk to learn.”
The scene critiques militarism. It suggests that the ways that the U.S. military interacts with youth at this moment will shape future news stories. “If we focus all of our time and energy on the real issue – on the children – as opposed to all of these secondary and tertiary events that are happening, then we could eliminate some of the issues we’re seeing.”
35 Nate Heilman
The square, triangle, and circle drawn in ash on the wall represent the shapes children use to learn dexterity. “You put the circle peg in the circle hole, the square peg in the square hole,” Nate said. “Each of the grenades has a line running up and above and over to the opposing wall. The wires attached to the pins are the counterbalance holding up a burnt child’s chair suspended in space.”
“Art shows, it’s the same thing as watching the news. It’s been very closely curated. The conversations that they want to have in those spaces are very specific and veterans are a minority in that world,” Nate said. “People are curious. It’s like what’s this new animal introduced to the zoo?”
The gallery evokes a bombed out bunker. A hydra projects against an interior wall in a small Mass Art gallery, installed by former communications Marine Nate Heilman. Hanging from the ceiling, nine chunks of concrete, each embedded with a grenade, cast pareidolic shadows. One looks like an anatomical heart hanging in a square. Ambient sunlight pours in, glowing off the glazed wood floor under precisely positioned track lighting. A wooden chair hangs in the balance near the windows opposite.
A chair hangs from the ceiling, attached to nine wires that run through a pulley system. The weight of the chair is balanced against grenades set in concrete hanging along the opposite wall.
If you step back on one side of the exhibit and look at the suspended grenades and ashen shapes on your left and the suspended chair on the right, they both exist in your periphery. “It is easy to do nothing,” Nate says. “Most of us exist in the periphery. We watch a sanitized version of these things happening through the screens on our phones or through television.”
36 How We Sit in Rooms
“Back home, you know and understand death in a very different way and you have to exist and live out the rest of your life understanding that, knowing that. You become complacent and it kills your opportunity to live life in the same way that everybody else does. You’re doing things differently. You’re understanding the world around you differently.”
Between the charred chair hanging at a blast off angle, and the wall of grenades, a post stands at about the height of a toddler. “Tifl” wears a Soviet era child’s gas mask.
“Tifl is the Arabic word for ‘child.’ I think it literally means squishy, or not hardened,” Nate said. “As I made Tifl, I kept it in my living room, where I interact with my daughter, and forced myself to look at it every
“That experience changed how I view my time with my daughter. Even without the direct threat to my life I still would have come back and known that my interactions with her were changed, altered for the better because of having seen how parents and children in these other places have to deal with their situation.”Thiscenterpiece of the exhibit is called Tifl. It’s simple. A short post made of concrete, burnt wood and barbed wire stands about the height of a toddler with a child’s size gas mask pulled over its top.
During a transport flight once in Afghanistan, the landing gear failed. Nate remembers contemplating his imminent death for several hours. The experience was so excruciating that one person on the plane threatened suicide. “We were burning fuel,” Says Nate. “We were going to have to crash land this plane and I was thinking that I had to say goodbye to my daughter who I hadn’t seen yet, and I still knew that she was going to be afforded a better life than some of these other children.”
day. In the process of making it I imagined what it would be like for my daughter to be growing up in a place where it is necessary to have a gas mask fitted annually.”“Thereare countries where every year, just as we bring our kids for shots, parents bring their kids to get gas masks fitted in the event of an attack. My daughter is concerned about whether or not I leave her bunny in her backpack for when she’s at school (even though she’s not allowed to have toys when she’s at school). Some children bring their gas masks to school or must know where they are kept in their home,” Nate said. “As much as we complain about the politics and the policies that we live under, we really have it good. I think it’s important that we understand how the rest of our human brothers and sisters are doing, and maybe we can do something better for each other.”
37 Nate Heilman
Text on the “Complacencybarrier,Kills” is written in the blood of a Reconnaissance Marine.
How We Sit in Rooms
39 Nate Heilman
“Whatever base you’re on, if you’re going on patrol or convoy, there are signs that say Complacency Kills. It’s a reminder that you could be killed at any moment.”“Whatdoes it mean when you come back from those situations? Say you’re 19 years old and you’re constantly being bombarded with mortar fire or you’re in firefights. The threat to your life is very real and you come to grips with your own mortality. You recognize
and understand death in a way that most people don’t until they’re at the end of their lives and then you return to the United States where that threat doesn’t exist in the same way. You can’t really shake that,” Nate1400says.feet
of barbed wire, 100 feet for each year of Nate’s service sit coiled off from the center of the room. “I would move it around in the gallery every day to show that through all of my personal experiences I was galvanized like the steel is, but you still have to be able to manipulate yourself whether you’re traveling in Afghanistan or Iraq or you’re back home. You have to be able to change who you are mentally and physically to fit into those spaces.”
“Barbed wire is a particularly tedious medium because it wraps around you as you work with it,” Nate says. “It’s humbling. It always wants to go back to the shape that it was made to be in. I’m trying to manipulate it into something that it’s not ready to be and doesn’t want to be and I think that also speaks a lot to the Veteran experience.”
“I miss the hands-on stuff that I would do in the Marine Corps, and I don’t get challenged in that way anymore in my life,” He says. To honor the experiences of his brothers and sisters in the military, he says he works hard to create meaningful conversations using difficult materials.
Blood stenciled on a white canvas by the entrance to the gallery reads, “Thank You for Your Service.” As a Marine, Nate always wanted to be called by his first name. Now he can be. Publishing artworks in progress alongside family pictures @Nate.Actual on Instagram, Nate curates his handle through the prism of his experiences as a unit leader.
The first time Nate used barbed wire for art, he says he worked until 4am. Washing his hands, he saw the puncture holes created streaming blood. “The authenticity of the materials we use matters,” He says.
“I did it in blood, especially human blood, Veteran blood,” Nate said. “If we’re going to have a conversation about warfare, if we’re going to have a conversation about what the service is, it needs to be surprising.”Anotherstencil of blood, “Complacency Kills” appears on a partial concrete barrier in the corner. The barrier is cast concrete with rebar. Zachary, a Force Recon Marine, donated blood for the letters.
The coil of barbed wire sends loopy shadows across the stained wood floor.
How We Sit in Rooms
“There’s something that’s told through barbed wire that can’t be told through another medium. Barbed wire fights back when you’re working with it, which is something I really enjoy.”
“You have a 17 or 18-year-old kid going into the service and they’re manipulated and changed, molded into the person that they need to be in order to fulfill their capacity in the service. A lot of times there’s backlash. They fight that process and that’s great because they figure out who they are in that struggle, in their role in the military, and the military understands how they fit into that puzzle.”
For more, visit nateactual.com
41 Nate Heilman PAC-MAN
“I’ve been thinking of tree rings a lot lately b/c they are all about time & change.”
43 Leslie MacWeeney Living Art
45 Danielle Legros Georges
If you are born, and you are stateless, if you are born, and you are homeless,
to call yourself landed and grounded, and free. And who is judge enough?
Who native? Who other?
if your state and home are not yours—and yet everything you know—
of blameless birth. Who are we to be so lucky?
what are you? Who are you? And who am I without the dark fields I walk upon,
And who are we who move so freely without accents of identification, without skin of identification, with all manner of identification. With gold seals of approval. With stamps of good fortune. With the accident
A Stateless Poem
This poem addresses a September 2013 ruling by the Dominican Republic Constitutional Court that stripped citizenship of Dominican-born persons without a Dominican parent, going back to 1929. The majority of persons affected are Dominicans of Haitian descent.
Reproduced with permission from Danielle Legros Georges. Originally “A Dominican Poem.” Copyright 2016.
“The Dear Remote Nearness of You.” Barrow Street Press.
Who am I to call myself citizen, and human and free? And who are you
the streets I know, the blue corners I call mine, the ones you call yours …
First night in Iraq we got rocketed seven times in a row. We were all Told to hit the ground when the sirens went off until the bombs stopped
“Complacency Kills” was spray painted on the walls everywhere to remind us that the one time we relax would be the last when we die
One night the mortars rained down. Instead of hitting the ground or running to the bunks we walked calmly outside and lit up cigarettes
46 Craig Roberts
We were mortared and rocketed many times while I was there. The biggest memory was when we all gave up and got complacent
Looking up to see if I could tell where the fire was coming from that night I realized whatever will happen will happen
Stitching with Smoke
47 Reema Baniabbasi orbitingbuttogethertryingchasesTheintonowtranscendingTempleblacknowawayIncenseintonowCreatorTobacco:breathexhaledslow...decay.cleansingevileyeclogginglungs.smokeprayerdescendssmokescreen.childmesmokethreadstosewthesecontradictionstheyslipthroughhollowedlightbulbs
Will I ever know?
What can I do from down here but smile in awe as I arounddervishthe emptiness I so Whatfear?else can I do but sit and let my thoughts do the spinning?
Is the ordriftingsmokelifeawayjustemptying toward a perfumed hospitality?
I talked to the grains of sand I asked them: what bottled message home left for me? Was it a farewell that eludes the horizon with warnings Or a mistaken call erased with the thud of the spark of an ignited barrel?
48 Yehya Barakat
I don’t know if I ever will be sincere in saying “this hurts me as well” But some masks are better left worn than baring the storied flesh. This is what being human must be, a balancing act; Tightrope between the horizon and the sun
I wish I could stop loving all the fragments of masculinity I wish I could stop touching the insides to strangle a prayer out of memory I wish I could stop saying “I need help” in the words of “I’m in love” A dead habit I wear and force the hood down to show A less deceiving face to those who need empathy.
Yet I wash my hands from the guilt I adopted This is not sainthood nor martyrdom. It’s how I survived Iraq and continue muting others’ pain It’s a price I paid, a piece of me Home claimed as its own.
This is the hourglass I failed to freeze from drowning in its quicksand, I write home a thousand letters waiting for orphaned bullets. This place refuses to leave me Like my tongue unable to forget the memory of nativity.
I dream their glowing eyes, always awake, and lash the whip to fall into the dark. Sister sun, my limbs no longer ache. My bones are stones. My teeth are broken shards. I hear your cry. You don’t hear mine. One sound and I’d be found. They’d swallow the lights, the night’s sharp stars, tall boys and cities, all devoured.
“Brother Moon, where are you?” I cried. But all I saw were blackened ash remains floating in oblong shapes. My eyes, bleached white. Peel my curling skin, I feel no pain. “Horses, run!” I cannot see ahead. I know them by their spittle which flies back, strung from dry lips, poor skeletons of dread. The wolves will always lunge when they attack, hot breath exhaled closer and closer behind. A phantom song wafts by and I drop the reins. I do not know its name or yours or mine, yet the sound assures: what’s lost, I’ll gain.
I breathe your warmth but stop, quick: Where are they?
I see the aspirations of my sighs, and hear two clip-clop ghosts lead me forth into shadows, like layers around a larvae, while I cloak you, my silent bastion hearth.
49 Midori Gleason
I’ve lost the lead, I don’t know where they’ve gone. I drop my speed, breathe. Where do I run?
I Heard a Whisper All My Life
Within their jowls I will not be alone, and in their bowels we will again be home.
Do you recognize me? You told me all those lies But I’m in charge now With the same puzzled eyes
Into words and new songs They’re not cause for rejection They are fast-growing wings Can’t you see their reflection
Shouting, “No!” Those pieces aren’t broken They are sounds in the silence To be crafted and spoken
Dear tired girl, With the scar on your breast Cancer to beat And the hole in your chest
In the fires they’ve bested In the light not yet seen I have faith in your pieces Because they built me!
I hear your thoughts ricochet Inside your skull Words you don’t dare Say aloud lest you fall
50 Elisabeth Lister
From the Future, with Love
There’s a girl I can’t see I’ve not made it there yet But I’m trying to be her Every chance that I get
Can you say I’m so bad? Do you dare call me rough? I need no clear-out gem To know I am enough
51 Elisabeth Lister
The blood in my veins Runs in sickness and health And I love you with all of it As though you were myself
Prepare yourself, girl Cause I’m what you become The road may be hard But don’t quit; you’re not done.
So quiet your thoughts And let your mind clear Don’t give up yet I’m just about to be here
52 Elisabeth Lister
A Hug from Aaron Weiss
53 Jesse Rey Whipple
I was talking backwards to the sunrise as elephant trunks power-washed my long cluttered and stuck-shut half-blind and longing to be pried open wide meager and unrelentingly tearful crimson-lined third eye I was posing questions in half-verse, babbling my way in reverse to the roots that took hold and bound me in shackles to shuffle a path across this grey-and-getting-greyer smoke-stacked and melted-ice-capped remnant of a once vibrant and flourishing God’s-green-Earth from my father’s smile and that first-crush cupcake sweet vanilla scent to my best-friend’s playbook of back-handed compliments all the things I once admired and learned to resent dragged me like grinning hell-hounds across cobblestones and long unattended pavement in some subtle attempt to repent or make amends until I realized this means was leading to a long-shot bad-odds unachievable end somewhat enlightened then I stepped back in consequence: while those ashen-wolf-tooth scars will always remain and the grit beneath my nails may long be retained it is true the wounds will mend so long as I stray away from the same repeat offenses. less blind I’m left to follow the spiral to its center only to spin back along its rim ever increasing in diameter, left to see that nothing that starts will ever really end; that all endings are just pretend and while that Neverland is a mountain most choose to ascend I’ll take something far less steep instead: I’ll embrace the infinite and with it, I’ll admit… all once without now lives within.
I paid my tithes with sweat equity No contracts, handshakes, gentlemen’s specialty Eye to eye when we tiger bone shoot Take it back to half times, Nasir chipped tooth No ties to clicks, I move slick solo Neckties and shit polo Web bait lie clicks no no Ambition refuses to die Make a way no matter what, Cully’s son look into my eyes I’m tryna school those who lost, no Betsy Devos, I’m accounted for at all costs The story that’s told is too heavy, shoulders built Ford tough, 9/6 was born ready Touching the people with this hip hop ready to battle my crew rock steady Lead by example, create my own lane and opportunities no question you already
WhyCHORUS:y’allscared to come outside? Cause the killers got guns outside? But everyone’s outside Once you allowed to go outside Sink or swim it might hurt your pride.
Back for the shit, loose stool mode Now it’s nothing but peace, truce, be cool bro Keep that same energy you spouting out Digital diarrhea eggs, living in your mommy’s house Drive by myself through the valley peaks Full tank, 1% battery I’m hard to reach 80 miles down a city street Unapologetically Afrikan blasting Styles P Success is the main motivation
Time waits for no man, timing and concentration How many times must I repeat it Circle dwindled down the middle, society is a Cekret Teeter totter, I’m done playing it Stand on the side of good or you’ll be in the way of it Half a million on my flesh to break the cycle of go fund-mes’ for one’s death
54 Daniel Laurent
WhyCHORUS:y’allscared to come outside? Cause the killers got guns outside? But everyone’s outside Once you allowed to go outside Sink or swim it might hurt your pride
“Life is to be lived not controlled, and humanity is won by continuing to play in the face of certain defeat.”
- Ralph Ellison
55 Daniel Laurent
Stand firm on my principles Violate one of three and the wrath gon’ be biblical From where conditions were unlivable Book it program helped my mind elevate to mythical Who loves company, those miserable 45 ran and fulfilled a nation that’s divisible One United, banking on principles, Interests of my community, truthfully its unconventional Break the cycle, have some traditional, Routines the kids see and pass down with the Swimming pool As a black man I feel invisible Takes Marvel wishes fictitious to make me feel Invincible Burning it down, non-medicinal Art of war, all on the line street judicial Keep the same energy or get ridiculed Neighbors on channel 7 at 11 giving interviews
56 Jill McDonough
A drone pilot works a twelve-hour shift, then goes home to real life. Showers, eats supper, plays video games. Twelve hours later he comes back, high fives, takes over the drone
Smell of burned coffee in the lounge, the shifting kill zone. Last-minute abort mission, and the major who forgets your name. A drone pilot works a twelve-hour shift, then goes home.
It’s done in our names, but we don’t have to know. Our own lives, shifts, hours, bounced off screens all day.
from other pilots, who watch Homeland, do dishes, hope they don’t dream in all screens, bad kills, all slo-mo freeze-frame. A drone pilot works a twelve-hour shift, then goes home.
A small room, a pilot’s chair, the mic and headphones crowd his mind, take him somewhere else. Another day another dollar: hover and shift, twelve hours over strangers’ homes.
A drone pilot works a twelve-hour shift, then goes home; fresh from twelve hours off, another comes in, takes over our drone.
Reproduced with permission from Jill McDonough. Copyright 2017. “Reaper.” Alice James Books.
Stop by the store, its Muzak, pick up the Cheerios, get to the gym if you’re lucky. Get back to your babies, play Barbies, play blocks. Twelve hours later, come back. Take over the drone.
A motorized wheelbarrow delivers bowling balls or boxes of smiles, or pies.
I’m losing light, frightened by how much more is revealed by the dark. What matter if I cannot read my writing.
Four short pages in about an hour. I could write a book in two weeks, easy. But then I might feel obliged to read it. What value is there in that? (It has been fun, though.) Time to go home and eat popcorn.
57 Alan Asselin
How about a one-wheeled skateboard with headlights. How about a one-legged derelict with head lice.
The overflow of toilets, scented with withScentandinIasleavingInebriatesnearlyoverwhelming,Theircrack-smokeyouthoncenowgoneclingingleftinbeditonthefloorheoverflowsstillwonderwhathappenedbetween,lazydayshardshot-filledevesofdiabeticsmixedbuttsandboozeand
And where they go from here not hard to see, we seem not hating Self-destructionourselvesease terms shortened exhaled, then the why of the despair
Living in a shelter without much Lightsshameon and morning sounds old men coughing or seemingly none
the gnaw of a toothless mouth
With protests and kicks into the great deep clean
58 Brian Earley
I Wish I Were a Homeless Vet
Continued habits led despisings air-filled smoke deep breathing
But i know already to articulate why descents occur instead of rise
That is so easily given from One above who does not race, but loves we all the more us being in this place.
it is tough to say, but loving a wrong way
But you know where to start between pleasure appointed pain
How easy is this life? Not that way, instead Whyascensionisitthis way?
It was not a goddess of virtue, maybe from Therebelow?isanother way to let you all know but be Someonenowis getting us to kill us without much effort for them
Reaching up to Eternity pulling down the Grace leaving fake news whilst
Rather, fight to get that tune, that harmonic a way way up and then even more life’s trick plays out, up glory’s ladder
59 Brian Earley
Who taught these fellows the art of living, worshipping everything except love
60 Michael G. Jones efataszevuarisrnoeautlrh
Death of the Blues
Back stateside, you walk the beach. To your right, a memorial to a soldier killed in World War One, to your left an ocean and the same water your grandpa swam in in that picture on your aunt’s wall. You walk to the store where your Nana sent you to buy smokes, where your grandpa gave you your first sip of whiskey.
Patrick Majid Doherty
I wonder if it was so he could get out of this place. I give him sips of water between his cries. Maybe it’s not so bad here, I think.
Holes from mortar shells on the dirt. A girl in the distance looks at me. This shell is one we sent. There is an old man. The old man lifts some dry branches. There are weapons, grenade launchers and such. Later the ARMY sends Apache helicopters to blow up these arms. Later, I look up to see one of these Apaches flying close enough to scalp us.
The medic in all this, thatsurrounded;evening you sit with a man, his leg mangled by a tank tread. Why did he lay in its path?
When Martin Richard, age eight, wrote: “No more hurting people: Peace” His was a timeless wisdom from beyond this world
While the minds of grown men have been poisoned By the endless siren call of our masters: We must let suffering rain down on “our enemies” Whenever those in power command it
Please Forgive Us for Martin Richard
Only to proudly drape them over our broad shoulders: The Emperor’s New Civilization
Please forgive us. We are nothing but “Naked Apes,” weaving tapestries of errors
So I apologize to you on behalf of Our Species: We do not shower you little ones with blessings Because we take our own for granted
62 Tim Corrigan
We hold Our Mother, the Earth, in bondage to business And G-d, Our Father, a captive to our man-made religions
Even with our Hubble telescope and our 20/20 vision We are truly blinded by the ways we’ve been taught to see the world
The Lebanese in Her Laughter
63 Liam Madden
She laughed too much for my comfort at how an Israeli woman was in jail because she dropped “too many” bombs on civilian targets in SomethingLebanon.about that was funny to her.
Last night, on our ride home one of the women giving us a ride was asking Maggie what it was like being a woman in the military.
I think she forgot the Lebanese in her laughter.
We started talking about Israeli women who fly fighter planes.
More Than a Sacrifice
64 Jonathan Lomax
Stunted in the arches of the VA I’m watching giants shuffle steps like newborn babies Blinded with ravaged eyes yet hearing the muffled growls of lions confined to cages
Quartered men sent to the guillotine to face fire squads of shadows of their former selves It’s really not suicide if that someone kills you from within
This foe or friend looks just like me
Thunderous sounds of war cries reduced to mumbles and murmurs of haunted daydreams Untreated pain peels the face off of weaknesses to hear their screams Brave men convicted of cowardly acts and sentenced to a thousand deaths it seems
Congested with the concoction of strange and stranger fruit Glazed and dazed and confused from what should protect me and what will aim at me to just shoot
65 Jonathan K. Lomax
Claims that the blood of my people washed out their foul footstep’s pollution That even now there is still no refuge but a hidden genocidal death as a solution
We have fought off the terror of flight and the gloom of the grave But the flag does not pertain to me in this land of the free and home of the brave
We hopelessly cling to an assassin’s guild losing value in a peasant’s wage grasping for ways to heal soul Unbeknownst chattels traded for wealth in blood noted on the devil’s page
Discarded government property that have passed their useful time given pence for our sacrifice and castrated in our prime As you decimate glorious warriors sent to desolate lands of thieves We are ousted as your pockets swell in your rapacious plan of greed
I wake up early in the morning, before sunrise, putting on my coffee stained shirt blue jeans, matched with sneakers.
“I promise it’ll pay,” they say. As five am winter winds attack my face, the holes in my jeans.
As I sit in the church pews, asking both the Lord and my ancestors to guide me, for they understood.
Sleepless nights in shelters filled with papers, essays, my child crying, reassuring myself, it is all for his future.
The system does not want me. Bearing their name on my tongue, and their pain on my back.
Numbed by Advil and antidepressants that mixed with midnight tears, fears of the flickering lights, that mocked me, of my poor state, gunshots becoming the stars.
“Work four times harder,” they say “Your headaches, back pain will go away.”
Four Times Harder
There is no time to play. There’s no time to rest. Growing up was my only means of survival. Eight dollars per-hour. Six hours of sleep.
“Work four times harder,” they say. “Promises and luck won’t help ya.”
As I cuddled with my child, holding him tightly, between his fingers, I gripped for hope, relief and momentary sedation.
“Work four times harder,” they say. You make minimum wage. You make rent.
66 Hallima Docmanov
One to be white Two to be male Three to be titled Four to be Unreachable,Americanunteachable standards
“Four times harder.” Say it. “Four times harder.”
Echo echo echo in the prison halls as the prison cells fill with bodies dark as night, darkened minds believed in illusion, that four times harder was reached.
You’ll get out of it, eventually.
I did every day of my life, “Four times harder.” Created bars bars, bars, bars, that trapped me reminded me, suffocated me, entrapped my being, chains cuffed around me
No barriers but the projects, stoned together by poverty, drugs and violence. Governmental systematic genocide of our black bodies.
As “master” mocked with freedom, integrity and safety. A black woman like me will never succeed unless I comply. While my grown son’s body will be surrounded by four bars of entrapment. His fate and mine are similar, but not alike.
“Four times harder.”
“Work four times harder,” they say. Your net worth is five dollars total. You’ll get out of it, eventually.
I am between these bars. Between that line four hundred years of struggle that I will one day redefine.
“A nigga with a book, should be feared” Unreachable, unteachable standards that have trapped the modern-day Negro.
67 Hallima Docmanov
to admire, not mine to dive into, I can’t look away. It pulls me in, like quicksand and the fate of a small animal. Their body language reads like a dictionarylike a betweenpassagemeand you, between occupy and occurrence this all occurs writ large in front of me.
I’m trying to steal a glance at the couple on the other side of the train.
But I don’t need to look at the definitions.
Outbound Train to Oak Grove
68 Welina Farah
I know them all too well.
Live long brother, storm across the sea
For Mark, of the Colosseum
Love is a fire that burns in the breast of all who know the closing aperture of the setting sun
69 Mitch Manning
Perdurabo, no weak heart shall enter, stay open to that tenderness you wrapped like ivy around your war-stained arms
Speak like silence, you who carried your sleeping sword an amulet against your warrior chest
All is blood and fire in the unfolding prophecy of fate’s resounding horn
Lives precede what inscribes them, like the sun-stained, dark ocean of late August twilight
All battles waged within you armored against the light you tried to grasp until the end
Ajax cried ‘kill me in the light’ and they say you did too, riding your stallion to the sea
Focus the lens for clarity There is the need to andtrybe able to love the fool in me
Hard as it may seem I am trying to beyondlove what I can see
The pain emerges like a creature from the sea Cradled beneath my skin dark and bleak
A ball of anxiety A breathless catastrophe A broken monstrosity I am trying to love the I am in me
Whether I am alone, lost in me Whetheror I am alone, lost in we I am trying to love the foolish immensity
Just as my self When I— feel chaotic When I— don’t succeed When I— be a desperate feen
Just as I am When my— voice shakes When my— nerves break When my— heart sinks
Scars so deep
Whether I fight it forcefully Whetheror I open my heart gracefully I am trying to believe it can be, not be
70 Nickie Renee Castro
The babel echos like a howling from a canyon Cycled within my mind boisterous and grand
A wonder of joy
Exhausting as it may be I am trying to sense a version of me I can love with extended ease
Whenever the night is bare Whenever the day engulfs Whenever the shadows loom with comfort
Whether I am okay Whetheror I am not okay I am trying
Whether I get lost in translation Whetheror I dance in isolation I am what I am meant to be Being as I am
Just trying to fortheloveIamme
Past still rages
A delightful misfit A heartfelt intellect I am trying to believe this is who I can be
The Afterlife on Squaw Peak
When you wake, you note how little seems changed. You perhaps wonder where you came from and why. You want to take off your cloths and mark where you have lain. Now the wind sounds out clearly and says this is the mountain of forgiveness, and that the work will be to traverse the empty spaces with meaning. If those you love glimpse you, it will be in the form of a red tail fox crossing at dusk into the wood stand, and because they have loved you, they will watch as long as you let them. They will not harm you, so swears the wind, not this close to heaven.
72 Fred Marchant
Reproduced with permission from Fred Marchant. Copyright 1993. Tipping Point. Winner of the 1993 Word Works Washington Prize.
No matter the machines with their silent flywheels and strange swinging on cables that helped you get here. No matter the masts of measurement and reason which the earnest have strapped to the summit. There is still the terrible loneliness of the next valley over to convenience you with its quartz and granite flashing like ice and its meadow emptied of the human. Flower blossoms—little trumpets of delight—shudder at your feet. The shale you stand on is splattered with bright lichens. You join them by laying low out of the wind to look up the flower’s name— scarlet penstemon--and you have that small, but significant human pleasure of finally knowing. This high, you have trouble breathing, and feeling sleepy, you find a place without thorns. Your eyelids tighten, and the wind carries voices that seem shaken, as if assembled at your sickbed.
I take them all With EveryUponTheReverberatingIOpenThroughDustyDownmeeveryroadeverydoorfeeltheirfootprintswoodenplanksfloor
There are faces Behind my eyes Behind my smiles So many AndStarry-eyedWithinRiddenRoughWithinEncapsulatedfaceseverymileeveryskytumbleweed
They Are With Me
The glassy The glazed The big bright eyes Still gleam
73 Deana J. Tavares
74 Nazli Artemia
I was lost when I met you on the road to Larissa.
I was lost when I met you on the road to theLarissastraight road between the cedars.
Leonard Cohen died on November 10, 2016, two days after the presidential election.
I was introduced to him in 1998 by a young boy named Peymaan. Back then, Peymaan and I were college students. But even at that time, we were more than that; we were lovers. Almost every afternoon, after our classes, he and I would aimlessly roam around the streets of Tehran, talking about literature, philosophy, and our writing. His first present for me was the novel by Albert Camus, “The Plague.”
What we did, as lovers, was just that; walking in the streets and meeting at cafés and restaurants. We dated for almost two years, yet in that time, we never even held hands. Not even once.
The Road to Larissa
So one fine afternoon, as we were walking around the streets like we usually did, Peymaan bought me the Persian translation of Cohen’s collection of poems, “I was lost.” From the bookstore, we went to one of the small parks nearby, on ValiAsr Street. We sat on a wooden bench and looked at the crisp, dark, fallen leaves. It was autumn. He opened the book and read:
You thought I was a man of roads and you loved me for being such a man. I was not such a man
75 Yvette Pino
I didn’t understand why he chose that poem, but I didn’t ask anything.
According to Peymaan, she had found him in a café in South Tehran, alone and sad after one of our break-ups. She was also a student at our college. She was writing poetry and they bonded through literature. After she moved to Peymaan’s place, nothing much happened. It was as if they were strangers, but slowly and gradually, they started falling for each other. And now, here he was: broken in pieces, not being able to decide whether he should have stayed with that girl or with me, who returned to him again. But then, something else happened: The other girl got pregnant and decided to have an abortion. Peymaan helped her.Later, he expressed how guilty he felt for what the girl had gone through. It was at that point I sensed he could not leave her anymore. I felt like I had no place in that situation. No matter how many times Peymaan told me he loved me more than her, I couldn’t stop judging him for sleeping with her. The more he tried to explain and convince me, the more it hurt. Finally, he asked me what I would have done if I were in his position. I said I would have stayed with the other girl.
76 The Road to Larissa
There was nothing more to say, but neither one of us had the emotional energy to leave. The last month of that relationship was a nightmare. Peymaan was torn between being with me or another girl, who was staying at his apartment. She didn’t have anywhere else to go.
We met and we walked. By the time we reached the highest point of the park, we broke up.
Jamshidiyeh was – and still is – one of the quietest and most romantic places in Tehran to go to with your date. Peymaan and I decided to meet there and talk about where our relationship was going. That alone, was already a break-up sign.
Jamshidiyeh was — and still is — one of the quietest and most romantic places in Tehran to go with your date. Peymaan and I decided to meet there and talk about where our relationship was going. That alone was already a break-up sign.
I haven’t been to Larissa, but I vividly remember walking with Peymaan on the narrow stony paths between elm and cypress trees of the Jamshidiyeh Park in Tehran. It was 2000, two years after our short relationship of constant on-and-offs. It was also the last time I saw him until seven years later, when I left Iran to come to the US with a one-way ticket.
But none of that could make me strong enough for not being confused about dating. I had grown up in a city where all men (outside of the family) were assumed to be wild and rapists. Even with me opening my heart and accepting Peymaan’s affections, I could never lower my guard against men.
In between all of this came my college entrance exams. I studied hard. I wanted to prove to myself that I was worthy. Besides, I really wanted to leave my hometown. I had heard many fascinating stories about colleges in Tehran: Girls and boys going to classes together, studying together, and working on projects together. I wanted to be one of those students.
He wanted to know my name, but I refused to tell. We were neighbors, so if he ever told anyone about me, I could have gotten into some serious trouble and would’ve had to face the accusations of me dishonoring my parents and family. Girls calling boys and telling them they were attracted to them was taboo at the time. I couldn’t risk it. When we talked again on the phone over some time, I started to sense the boredom in his voice. And then, it got worse; he stopped picking up the phone. From that experience, I drew a drastic conclusion: I was boring. That was it. I had always thought I wasn’t attractive. And this incident concluded not only that, but also how I couldn’t even talk to, nor had nothing to talk about, with the opposite sex. I was depressed. Depression runs in my father’s side of the family.
I looked at the opposing boy. He was tall, had a southern accent, and his dark skin confirmed he was from the south.
Before meeting Peymaan in college, I never had a boyfriend. In high school, I was attracted to a sophomore college student who was living in my neighborhood. I liked his serious face and his glasses. He passed by me every morning while I stood at the end of the street, waiting for the school bus. Finally, I gathered my courage and called his parents’ home from my grandparents’ land line. When he finally picked up the phone, I said that I was attracted to him.
77 Nazli Artemia
Why did I say that? The price of such an answer was anxiously longing for Peymaan, for the rest of the years that were about to come. I had stepped back from love. I was a naïve twenty-two-year-old girl.
Later, he told me that he fell in love with me in that session. I still don’t know how or why. But I know something very well: his affection towards me, the way he got nervous around me, his romantic, satire flash fictions (he was one of the best writers among the college students), his tilted head towards me when we walked in the streets, his charm when he opened the doors for me, his accent, the books he gave me to read, his gifts, his poetic way of speaking, and countless other things; all of them gave me my faith back. With him I learned that neither was I boring, and nor was I unattractive.
At last, I got accepted into one of the best universities in Tehran, where Peymaan was a junior student in mechanical engineering. The first time I noticed him was at a book reading at the cultural center of the university. The meeting was about the novel Gadfly by the Irish writer Ethel Lilian Voynich. I don’t remember much about the novel, nor do I remember what the speaker said about it, but I still have a note from that meeting. My close friend was sitting next to me. I passed a note to her which said “Who is this guy arguing with the speaker? What’s his point?”Shewrote back, “Peymaan something. He says the novel is not believable. The protagonist is innocently good and the others are absolutely evil.” On another corner of the note she wrote, “He says he’s tired of reading novels about western super-heroes every session here.”
So I couldn’t manage a normal relationship with Peymaan. One day, I recited romantic poems for him, another day, as I felt I had revealed too much emotion, I kept a serious face and tried not to smile. I confused him. He couldn’t tell if I loved him or not.
78 The Road to Larissa
So we sat in silence on the rocks in Jamshidiyeh Park after our permanent break-up. One of the branches of a tree in front of us was trapped under the heavy power cable. I kept staring at it, and then finally walked towards the tree. I shook the tree to release the branch. That was when I saw two officers of Islamic Guidance Patrol (or as they call themselves, ‘Morality Police’) approaching us.
Peymaan and I had never been caught by them before. I had heard from my friends, who were able to fool the morality police, that those guys were smart. They would question the girl and the boy separately. If they said they were siblings, they would ask questions like the parents’ names, home address, etc. from both of them and if their answers were even slightly different, they would take them. You had to be prepared for situations like these and Peymaan and I were not prepared at all. In fact, we never thought we would be caught since our relationship was pretty much based on the routine of walking around and talking for hours until it was time for me to go back to the girls’ dormitory (there was a time limit at nights for the girls to get into the dorm, and you had to have a very good reason for getting there after 8pm).
I had heard from my friends, who were able to fool the morality police, that those guys were smart. They would question the girl and the boy separately.
Back then, the Islamic Guidance Patrol’s job was to make sure young girls and boys were not dating. If they were convinced that you and the boy you were with were siblings, or engaged, or legally married, they would leave you alone. But if you didn’t fall under any of those categories, they would take you to the police station, call your parents, and make you sign a bond that said you would never do anything against the Islamic rules (including dating) again.
There is a traditional saying, and Persian poetry is full of it in many ways, that if a woman likes a man, she should play the game of coyness and never reveal her love. My grandma kept telling me and her other granddaughters, “If you like a boy, hide your feelings. If you don’t, he will take advantage of you, and then will throw you away like a used Kleenex.”
“Excuse me, sir. Would you walk over here please?” One of them called Peymaan. He hesitated at first, but then stood up, shook the dust off from his pants, and walked towards the man. I stopped shaking the tree as the other officer approached. “Hi Miss. May I ask what your relationship is with this young man?”
He looked up at the tree, “It’s not released yet, is it?” He went towards the tree and reached for the stuck branch. He tried shaking it. The other officer and Peymaan came closer. I looked at Peymaan’s face. It was as calm as before.
The officer was looking at my maanto (the women’s formal long-sleeved dress worn in public) which was covered in dust and dirt because of shaking the branches. I started cleaning it up. “Sorry. I was trying to release the branch under the cable.”
“What did you say?” I wanted to know. “I said you deserved a better man.”
After a few months, I stopped seeing my therapist. I was severely depressed and couldn’t handle going to classes any more. I needed to sort myself out. So I went back to my hometown and talked to my parents about my condition. My mother decided to come to Tehran, rent an apartment, and stay with me until I finished college.
I got mad with any little argument and turned it into a fight. It was as if I wasn’t even trying to make it work.
79 Nazli Artemia
kept sending me emails and text messages on Yahoo! chat saying he made a mistake, and that he was still in love with me, and later on, he said getting married to the other girl was the biggest mistake of his life. The news of his marriage changed everything for me. He was not my Peymaan anymore. He was a married man, and that was the end of our story.
“What are you doing?” The approaching officer asked the branch releasing one.
A few months later, Peymaan sent me an email. He wanted to see me. But I decided to move on and started dating one of my classmates. However, the break-up already triggered my depression. I visited a psychiatrist regularly and was taking prozak.
“Nothing.” He shook the stuck branch one more time and the tree bounced back in the sky as the branch got released. “Here,” he said with a mild smile.“Let’s go. They’re fine.” The other officer said. The officer who was questioning me didn’t hesitate. He shook his uniform and followed the other officer down the“Khoobi?hill.
Peymaan was a romantic person, but more than that, he was also a nihilist. His theory of life, which most of the novels and poems he read and favored confirmed, was that nothing was worth living for, except love. A few weeks after our break-up, I heard from one of his friends in the cultural center that Peymaan had committed a failed suicide. I felt indirectly responsible, and the guilt was eating me up. I thought I had ruined him and had killed the only beam of hope he had to live. I went into a deep depression. I failed my courses one after another and was either listening to sad romantic music or was reading novels. My psychiatrist, who was also my therapist, kept telling me not to contact Peymaan. He said it wasn’t my fault, that Peymaan had to figure out the worth of living and being a part of the society on his
“Not much. I said we were dating but today we broke up, and he wanted to know why.”
Are you ok?” Peymaan asked as soon as they left. I was fine. I hadn’t even gotten the chance to lie.“What did you tell them?” I asked.
two Islamic Guidance Patrol officers down the hill, talking to a young couple. “What if they see us?” I said.
“Then you’ll have to find another tree to shake.”
“It’s Ramadan. You shouldn’t smoke in public,” I said. He lit his cigarette carelessly. “Give me one, then.”“You always hated when I smoked.”
I nodded and grabbed the lighter from his hand. Giving it back, I touched his finger. He didn’t let go of myWehand.saw
My first trip was to Iran, I saw my parents after six years. I also visited my old friends in Tehran, and I saw Peymaan. He picked me up one afternoon at Vanak Square and we went to Farahzad in northern Tehran. He took the car in a narrow ally where he could park. We got out and hugged each other. He held me so tight that I couldn’t breathe. We cried and kissed, and all the way back to Tehran, we held hands.
The marriage didn’t last long. In the second year, he got hospitalized for a genetic mental disorder, and I took it as the chance to get divorced.
I was surprised he remembered.
We met at Jamshidiyeh Park again; seven years later, seven years older. We walked to the top of the hill and sat on a wooden bench. I told him I was leaving Iran. It was Ramadan. He looked around and took a packet of cigarettes out of his pocket.
I left Iran in 2007. Like all other Iranians, my visa was one-entry. Because of the political tensions between the two countries, I wasn’t sure if, when I went back to Iran, I would be issued a visa to re-enter the U.S. or not. In 2011, the majority of Iranian students in America negotiated with Hillary Clinton’s team to pass an order which said Iranian students could be issued multiple-entry visas. With that order approved, my freedom to travel was back.
(when Iranians get together, talking about politics is inevitable)
80 The Road to Larissa
Six months after my mother and I had lived together in Tehran, I got engaged to a college boy and moved in with him. My mother returned home. She was relieved that I was not alone anymore and had somebody who I was happy with. But I wasn’t and I didn’t know why. Six months after our marriage, I realized my husband was just a distraction for me to not think about Peymaan. I felt imprisoned. I had very low tolerance for his criticism. I got mad with any little argument and turned it into a fight. It was as if I wasn’t even trying to make it work.
That was when I decided to go back to school and get my Masters. It was the first year of Ahmadinejad’s presidency in Iran. Like many other young girls and boys, I felt I didn’t belong to Iran anymore. How could I live among people who voted for an idiotic liar to become their president? I wanted to leave. I had to. I applied for different universities abroad and got accepted for a Master’s program in the U.S.
Three days before my flight to Chicago, I sent an email to Peymaan: “I want to see you,” it said.
Yashar and I collided on one fateful night at an Iranian party, which had been hosted by a mutual friend of ours. Just a few months later I couldn’t resist. I just felt the sudden urge to write to him. I sent him a friend request on Facebook. After that, I sent a message. I told him a story about a girl who was attracted to him. A girl who could see herself with him, but the more they dated, the more boring their relationship became, and finally they, broke up.
In 2012, I moved to Boston to attend school. I drove three days from south to north, to Boston. Throughout all this time, all I was listening to was Leonard Cohen singing “I’m your man,” among his other songs.
He replied the next day, “What a sad story! But not every story is supposed to end tragically.” He thanked me for expressing my feelings — without mentioning how weird I sounded — and said that unfortunately, at that point in his life, he just wasn’t in a place to start dating.Hisreply
hit me. It hurt. But one thing that I might have learned from Peymaan’s wife remotely was that if you love a man, don’t give up. Peymaan’s wife was with him in all the hard times; when he tried to commit suicide, and when he was arrested at the students’ protest in July 1999 at Tehran University for writing ‘Down with the Dictator’ with black spray paint on a wall. So I wrote back to Yashar and invited him for a cup of coffee at Starbucks in Harvard Square.
81 Nazli Artemia
As he was driving, looking straight ahead, I looked at the dashboard. A lipstick was there. I knew it was his wife’s. I started imagining her putting the lipstick on, kissing Peymaan. I knew they were still together and filed for immigration to Canada as a couple. The thought of Peymaan and his wife together didn’t bother me. I was saddened that Peymaan and I didn’t end up together, but I also had someone amazing in my life, Yashar.
In 2011, during a trip to Boston, I met Yashar for the first time through our mutual friends. His voice was calming, his political views (when Iranians get together, talking about politics is inevitable) resonated with mine, and I don’t know why, but I instantly had a strong feeling I could get along with this man.
After leaving Iran, I dated three Iranians, a Mexican, a Colombian, two Americans, a German, and an Iraqi. But none of those relationships lasted more than a few months (some even lasted for just a few weeks or days), and each left a scar on my self-confidence, which made starting the next one that much harder. It felt like I was back in high school. I was the same boring and unattractive girl who couldn’t keep anyone interested. Once again, I took a break from men and relationships and focused on my career.
When I walked up the stairs that day, I felt my heartbeat like never before. I was about to be rejected, but at least this time, I was ready to fight for the man I liked. Yashar showed up and we talked for a while. He said he needed time to forget about the girl he had a crush on a while ago. Hearing that reply was a relief; he was not rejecting me because I was boring and unattractive. That thought alone was enough to make me want to keep on going. I told him that I understood his situation and that I would wait.
Sitting on his lap, I kissed him with the utmost passion. Yes. With that kiss, I sealed the deal...
A month later and we were on our first official date. He invited me to his place for lunch. He cooked TahChin in two trays, one with chicken (the traditional way) and one with chorizo sausage. Coincidentally, neither of us bothered to check the weather. So, while we were there, so was Hurricane Sandy. After we ate and watched an episode of “Big Bang Theory” or some other comedy, we realized I was stuck there.
on his lap, I kissed him with the utmost passion. Yes. With that kiss, I sealed the deal with myself that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with this man, and I was ready to fight for our life together.
Two days later, when we could get out, we drove to Walden Pond and walked among the broken trees affected by the hurricane. He sat on a fallen trunk and pulled me close, while grabbing my waist. I sat on his lap. He took a deep breath and said, “See Nazli? Look at the green mosses already growing on this dead tree. What is life, if not the stubbornness of the nature to fight its destiny?” For me, who suffered from depression almost her entire life, hearing those words was as if a door towards light and hope had been opened.Sitting
The questions still ring in my ears, for both men that I deeply care for and love.
I am sure the girl didn’t understand my accent. She gave me a fake smile and left. I couldn’t care less.
It was tempting to see him. I still had my U.S. multiple-entry visa and could go to Canada. In October, I decided to drive to Montreal and stay for a weekend. Yashar couldn’t go with me. He was busy with work, even during the weekends.
The day after I arrived in Montreal, Peymaan and I met at the Old Port. It was the first time we walked side-by-side without me wearing a headscarf and a maanto. At noon, we stopped for coffee at a local café downtown. It was very crowded. I was about to enter the café when Peymaan called, “Nazli!” I turned and he kissed me on my lips. My heart skipped a beat by the excitement of that sudden kiss. Gone were the days when we drove to the narrow streets of Farahzad for a hug and a kiss. There was no need for that any more.
He forced a smile.
“I love you, Peymaan. I really do. You see something
At night, we walked along the Saint Lawrence River. It was cold and no one was in the streets. It was the same as old times; we talked about books and we talked about my writing. At some point Peymaan stopped, “Nazli? Have you ever thought about leaving everything behind and coming to live with me?”
82 The Road to Larissa
Peymaan and his wife moved to Montreal in 2014. I knew because he was writing to me. “Can you believe it, Nazli? We’re just one border away from each other!” he texted me with his new Canadian phone number. He sent me flowers once and said it was his first online purchase ever using a credit card.
In the late afternoon, we walked into a bar and got drunk together for the first time. When the bartender asked us if we wanted anything else, I told her, “I was in love with this man sixteen years ago, and today is the first time I danced with him. I want to say cheers to that, and nothing else.”
I drove alone from Boston to Montreal. On my way, I listened to Leonard Cohen’s new album, Popular Problems, over and over. In one of his melancholy songs, with that thick strong voice, he sings:
Did I ever leave you? Was I ever able? Or are we still leaning across the old table?
I looked at him without knowing what to say. “Yes, Peymaan. Many, many times,” I replied after a long pause. “But we’re not twenty-something anymore. You’ve been with your wife for more than a decade now. And I am with Yashar. I love him.” I lowered my eyes. “The truth is, with you, I am a nostalgic girl, craving for an opportunity to show you the emotions I didn’t express before. You are a big part of my adulthood past. With Yashar, I make the present, and hopefully, the future. With you, I become that twentyyear-old girl again. With him, I am the present me, with all the life experiences I’ve had.”
Did I ever love you? Did I ever need you? Did I ever fight you? Did I ever want to?
“We both deserved this second chance. We owed it to ourselves. Life is short after all.”
I cried almost all day long. At the end of the day, I no longer knew for what: for losing Cohen and his romantic poems, or for the frightening future ahead of Yashar and me in the U.S.
On my way back to Massachusetts, as I passed the hills of Vermont covered in colorful fall trees and mysterious fogs, I listened to Cohen’s album on repeat again. I was going back to the present, to Yashar.
Another message came from Yashar. He had sent me the link to Cohen’s song, I’m Your Man, on Youtube. I started crying.
He looked down. Like the old times when he was a shy college boy. “Kiss me,” I said.
As I listened to Leonard Cohen saying that he was my man, I sent a text message to Peymaan, “My dear. Did you hear Cohen passed away?” He didn’t reply right away. I opened Facebook and saw he already changed his profile picture to one of the last pictures of Leonard Cohen. In it, he’s wearing a suit with a hat, and his right hand is on his heart. “Whenever I listen to him, I think of you,” Peymaan replied.
On the morning of November 10, 2016, I opened my eyes to a text message from Yashar, my husband. “Darling! Leonard Cohen passed away.” His message was followed by the sad emoji face. He was in Iran, visiting his family.
That night, I couldn’t sleep at all. What was about to happen to me, to us, as the immigrants in this country? And now, two days after, my most favorite living poet, Leonard Cohen, had passed away.
in me that you, and only you, can see. And it’s refreshing.”“It’strue. You’re like that to me too.”
The next day, he took me to Mount Royal, the top of a hill from where most of Montreal could be seen. We were both calm, as if we had resolved the mystery of our relationship once and for all. We took our first picture together. The contrast of his skin tone with mine is the first thing noticeable in that photo.
I left Montreal the next morning.
That morning I felt so exhausted; physically and emotionally. At the night of the election, I had stayed awake until 4am until Donald Trump gave his speech. The next day, I spent most of my time reading the news, trying to make any sense of what just happened. All the online polls promised Hilary’s victory.
Did I ever love you? Does it really matter? Did I ever fight you? You don’t need to answer.
Time and Love
84 Eric J. Garcia
Halfway through our tour Elliott Hildebrandt, our field medic, was killed on IED Alley. I remember a sharp popping sound. A man who smiled at me as our Humvee passed him by. Ten children, lined up and perfectly spaced out, their hands raised and waving at us.That morning we woke to James Darbee’s screams, his legs kicking at the air in a panicked rage. His cot rocked from side to side so furiously that his pillow fell to the floor. We all circled him. We’d only been asleep for an hour when the screaming started. Someone grabbed a pillow and made like they were going to hold it over Darbee’s face.
85 Jon Chopan
smell it, the shit,” he said. “It smelled like theHeEuphrates.”walkedoff to find a cigarette after that and I went off to find someone else to lean against.
“Do it,” someone whispered.
We left an hour before sunset. Then, a few kliks from base, we gave up on the war, sat back in our seats, stuffing our mouths with haji energy drinks and cigarettes just to stay awake. I stared directly at the setting sun so that I couldn’t close my eyes to sleep without seeing volcanic flashes of light.
I was too exhausted to care which one of us it was.
“It was real, I mean, I saw it like that. We were on this road and there was an explosion, and then I was dead. You guys were all standing around laughing because there was shit oozing out of me, puddles of it oozing out my asshole.”
My dream was nearly identical, but I didn’t tell him that.“Icould
On the Euphrates
We lurched down a road that followed the Euphrates. It looked like a fresh wound cut into virgin flesh. We’d been taking that same route for a week by then, driving out at sunrise and returning at sunset so the road could be completed on time for a news story about progress in Iraq’s struggle for freedom and decreased violence in the region. We were so sun burned, sleep deprived, starved that we didn’t even raise our weapons to watch our perimeters. The engine hummed a frantic song. I’d been eating No-Doz by the fistful so that my eyes were lacquered open. Darbee kept going on about how his number was up, about that dream, about how it was so real he could taste it. As I mentioned, I’d had the same dream, knew, as we approached the tiny village along the banks of the river, that one of us was going to die.
None of us slept after that, and then, beneath anemic clouds that wore the sad smiles of circus clowns, we sped towards our mission with great disdain. We babysat Army engineers while they filled pot holes left by IED explosions, and that day we greeted them with the kind of hatred one usually reserves for their worst enemies. When we stepped from our vehicles any hope we had of standing on our own feet had melted away. Darbee and I stood back to back, propping one another up, our weapons trained on the stretch of road before us. Darbee went on and on about his dream.
Darbee had yet to realize that he was alive and started to panic, thinking he’d died and was now doomed to spend eternity with us. I turned to see his bloodshot eyes. I thought he’d lost his mind because when he spoke, his voice was filled with a kind of sickened anger.
He looked out his window. “We’re dead. We’ve died and this is some kind of sick punishment, isn’t it?”
“We’re okay,” I said, although I couldn’t speak for the men ahead of us.
The children took off running. I leaned out the window and saw that the lead vehicle had been hit. A smell, which I knew was human flesh, spat into the air and snaked its way into my mouth. After a few seconds I opened my door and stepped out into the street, raising my weapon against imagined enemies. I looked towards the bombed Humvee. Smoke was rising from it. I couldn’t see anything else. It was possible that everyone in it was dead. But then there was sound coming from it, men calling out to one another, checking to see if everyone was alright. They sounded peaceful, dazed and sleepy.
“James,” I said.
We’d both known, or thought we knew, what was going to happen. But Darbee wasn’t ready to admit that it hadn’t happened to us.
“I’m going to help the others,” I said. He turned to look at me. “No one can help us now.”
it have made more sense,” Bodi said, as he guided us towards home, “for them to start at our camp and work towards the FOB?”
“I can’t be trapped here with you fuckers,” he said.
When we reached the village we moved slowly down the road, maneuvering around craters left by recent blasts.“Wouldn’t
“You can have it,” Darbee said, “I won’t be needing it.”Styza pulled the weapon from him.
“That’s it,” Darbee said. “It’s our own stupidity that’s going to kill us.”
“Jesus,” he said, “fuck.”
I sat in the backseat while our convoy wound its way along the Euphrates and into the village. I saw the smiling man, just then, and felt a great dumb grin forming on my face. The moon hovered off in the distance, a bruised piece of fruit waiting to be thrown away. Darbee sat next to me mumbling, “Any second now, any second.”
Suddenly I cared about being alive, about convincing him of it.
Bodi sat very still in the driver’s seat while Styza reached back and grabbed Darbee’s rifle. It seemed like the right thing to do.
I ran my fingers over my face. “We’re fine,” I said, even though I didn’t believe it myself.
86 On the Euphrates
In those days children were used as timers, spaced out so that bombers could count the seconds between each vehicle, could detonate their devices with greater accuracy. When we passed the last child there was a roaring explosion, something you might expect to hear as you watched a giant building brought to its knees. Our vehicle shuttered to a halt and Darbee let out a girlish wail, as if we’d been the ones, as if we’d been flipped over and tossed in a ditch.
“You’re alive,” I said, and playfully slapped him in the face a few times.
“It’s okay,” I said, as I turned and ran towards the wounded men.
approached the passenger side, nearest the dead man, I could hear a faint sucking sound. Hilde sat there, his neck sliced in half, so that his head titled to the left and the wound looked like a gapping mouth filled with blood. The rest of the vehicle appeared to be fine, no damage to speak of, not even a dent. I stood, staring.
I began laughing uncontrollably. Everyone turned to look at me, because none of them knew what I was laughing about, none of them found this funny. But that only made me laugh harder.
“Is he dead?” Styza asked.
Nothing. I was only relieved that it hadn’t been me, but couldn’t say that. How could I let them know that I was filled with joy now that I was certain that I was not theWhenone?Darbee finally wandered over, I took him off to the side and confessed.
wrong with you?” Bodi said.
“Remember that dream?” I asked him.
87 Jon Chopan
“I have,” I said. “I have.”
I ran, so desperate to see who’d died, that I ignored all protocol. It was freezing. I remember my breath pushing out in frozen bursts, my lungs burning. I could see a man, lying next to the lead vehicle, his body charred and giving off smoke. His flesh had turned to slush.AsI
As we walked back to meet the others, I could see that the bomber was still alive, taking pathetic little breaths that would surely be his last, because his body was a smoking hunk of stewed meat. There was a sound, like water slowly flowing down a drain. But there was no blood, or at least none that I could see. I knew I was supposed to hate him, was supposed to see him as nothing more than a crazed animal. But I felt sorry for him, thinking he might be alive enough to suffer. Not sorry because I pitied his circumstance, but because I’d been convinced by my dreams that I would end up just like him.There was a short-lived debate about searching the village to find out who else was involved, talk of roughing up civilians. Someone even suggested dropping ordinance. A few of the guys were pretty angry.Iwas ready to crawl into my cot and dream, so that I might find out which one of us would be next.
“What about this guy?” Styza said.
The others, the men in the vehicle, began to rush towards Hilde’s side. They pushed me out of the way so that they could move him, try to save his life before heButdied.he was already dead.Isat on the ground next to the charred corpse. Styza and Bodi stood next to me as the others screamed into Hilde’s face.
“I was sure it was real,” he said. “Have you ever had a dream like that?”
“You can’t save them,” I heard him call after me.
There was a sound, like water slowly flowing down a drain. But there was no blood, or at least none that I could see.
The dead man had a welding suit strapped around him. I could see it contained the blast, though later, we’d find out that a buckle had popped off. That was what had killed Hilde.
“He’s gone,” I said.
Once I gained control of myself, I asked, “Where’s
“Have you ever seen the crater an IED makes?” I asked.“I’drather
“It’s okay,” I said, “stuff like this happens all the time.”Herolled his eyes, sighed.
Everyone stood about laughing at me, holding their sides, fell to the ground. There were explosions all around them, but they kept on laughing.
“Or make them do it more,” I whispered.
“How do you feel about what happened today?” he askedPrettyme.good, I thought, I’m alive.
hear about your dreams,” he said, and reached across the space between us.
Another vehicle dragged behind it, the corpse of the bomber. There was nothing left when we arrived back at camp. Our CO said that the body parts, splayed across the road, might show our enemies the cost of bombing us.
“Fine,” I said.
He decided on a new course of action. “Have you been having dreams?”
“Fine,” he repeated. “Can you be more specific?”
It struck me that this guy sat in an air conditioned office all day waiting for moments like this. What is war really like, he wanted to know. How does it make you feel to be a warrior? He was probably going to study psychology at Harvard when he got home, write a paper about post-traumatic stress.
Each night it’s different. Each night it’s the same. At sunset we rise. The sky stands empty above us. The road goes on for miles. The smiling man. The waving child. Sometimes I’m the one who stands there laughing. Sometimes I’m the one who’s died.
I had plenty to offer but nothing I intended to say out loud.Someone draped an American flag over Hilde’s body. A few guys carried him. The rest of us stood in silence as they moved past.
“I’d rather not,” I said.
“Lucky bastard,” Styza mumbled once they were gone. “At least he doesn’t have to go and do it again tomorrow.”Shortlyafter they flew Hilde away, each of us met individually with a combat stress counselor.
I saw myself lying on the side of the road, shit spilling out of me.
“Fitzsimmons,” the CO said, “do you have something to offer?”
“Nothing special,” I said.
After a while, Bodi said, “Odds are good they’re goneShortlyanyway.”afterthat, we strapped Hilde’s body to the hood of a Humvee. There was no interrogation, no retribution—not this time anyway. Instead, we sped off into the night. No one talked during the ride.
“Why don’t you tell me about them anyway?”
On the Euphrates
I spoke to her owners.
89 Courtney Wilson
I was King Midas, but instead of gold, everything I touched turned to shit. Home after a year-long combat tour in Afghanistan, I felt a vise grip close around my throat whenever I was around people. But a bottle of wine would relax me enough to breathe. This is how I first met the 8-pound, ruby-red King Cavalier Spaniel with a fatal attachment disorder. Though our time together was short, that dog set me on a path back to wholeness.Drunkat
a friend of a friend’s party a few weekends after I returned from deployment, I met her. She skittered around, between people’s feet. Her ears were so long that she stepped on them as she walked, and it pulled the skin of her face back making her eyes pop out of her head, giving her a perpetual look of surprise.Whilepeople partied in the garage, I sat on the edge of the driveway for two hours, stroking her soft fur and letting her rest in my lap. My pain and anxiety disappeared, and for the first time in over a year, I was filled up with something good. Normally, I was apathetic about dogs, but one look at her squished, bug-eyed little face—flanked by two massively floppy ears—and it was over.
Monday, my friend came into my office and I gushed about that dog at that party. He told me that her owners were moving to Hawaii and couldn’t bring her because of the state’s quarantine laws. They were looking for people to take her. Was I interested? I said “yes” without hesitation. Uncharacteristically, I didn’t analyze the situation, weigh the pros or cons or calculate the cost of ownership. All I knew was that I would do whatever it took to have that creature in my life.Tuesday,
Wednesday, I bought a cage, dog food, and a leash.
The Midas Touch
Thursday, I drove back from Seattle with the dog in my passenger seat.
I named her Maggie after Maggie Gyllenhaal who played a sassy, free spirited woman in the movie “Mona Lisa Smile” which took place at my alma mater: Wellesley College. Over time, she acquired nicknames-MagPie, Maggie Mae, Munchkin.
With Maggie, I didn’t consult anybody. I followed what my intuition told me. Coming off of a deployment where I second-guessed all of my decisions, I found enormous freedom and confidence with Maggie by my
Maggie was obsessed with me. When I realized nothing I did would change her love, I gladly reciprocated, bringing her everywhere. I stopped drinking and instead of spending my nights at bars, took her on walks around the neighborhood. When I sat crying on the sidewalk outside my apartment, she nudged her way into my lap and licked my tears. I responded to her devotion with devotion of my own by staying three hours extra at work because she fell asleep in my lap and I couldn’t stand to disturb her.
tail was supposed to be long and floppy, but her previous owners had cropped it so it stuck straight out from her butt like a hot dog. When she got excited, it would wiggle back and forth, too short to properly wag, but long enough that you knew when she was jazzed. She was the runt of her litter, so scrawny that she used to squeeze through the railings of my patio and escape out into my apartment complex. What she lacked in size, she made up in spirit, excitedly carrying around items double her body weight like a furry, wide-eyed ant.
Maggie coming into my life was an act of grace and mercy, one that I neither earned nor deserved, but that transformed me spectacularly. For a long time, it was the only good decision I made after that deployment. I didn’t know how to deal with a boyfriend who had slept with two of my friends while I was away, or the injured body I brought back from war. So I drank. I drank every time I hung out with my new boyfriend. The day after my birthday, I woke up with two black Xs on my hands. I was kicked out of the local bar. But, that same week, I woke up the morning after drinking three bottles of wine and ran a 12:30 two-miler on my physical fitness test and was the fastest woman in my battalion of 800 soldiers. I reasoned that if I could still perform at that level, things couldn’t be that bad.
Then I had to travel. I left Maggie with some friends, and she couldn’t handle the separation. They said she would constantly shake, anxiously peeing in the house. She never had a problem before. She missed me terribly. Then, one day, she just dropped dead. She was only four years old.
When my friends told me, grief ripped a hole through me, but soon the pain was replaced with overwhelming appreciation. All I could feel was an all consuming gratitude that I could experience a love so deep that it hurt this much. In the days and months after her death, I never mourned her, but always celebrated her, my little Maggie Mae.
90 The Midas Touch
I returned her adoration with adoration of my own. One weekend, I spent doing a photoshoot with her at a local river. I dressed her up in ridiculous costumes, ranging from a shark to Princess Leia. Our relationship was ridiculous, but it healed me.
When I came home after all night at the bar and saw Maggie’s empty food bowl and pee on the kitchen floor, I felt more shame than any binge or blackout could induce. She jumped up and down, her hot dog tail wagging back and forth, completely unconcerned with anything other than the excitement of seeing me. That duality—being loved when I felt completely unlovable-—released something in me. I had no qualms about destroying myself, but I refused to bring an innocent down with me.
Getting a dog was the first true grown-up decision I had made. I wanted her name to mirror the freedom I felt. Every prior decision was bounced up against someone else: my parents, friends, boyfriends. I always told myself that I was simply doing my due diligence, but in reality, I wasn’t soliciting opinions, I was begging for permission. I didn’t have enough confidence in myself to make choices.
91 The Brothers Davis
92 The Brothers Davis
Goodnight, my kitten
“Listen, I just spoke with the resident. She told me no guests. I’m sorry, man.”
The Night Rambler
Bye.”Great. As the two ladies head toward the elevator, Mr. Dick-on-Hard enters the building. This wouldn’t have happened if fucking maintenance had fixed the fucking doors. They automatically lock at night and you need card access to enter, but they’ve been broken for weeks. Here he comes.
“Why you hating, bro? Why you trying to stop my shine, bro? Let me through, bro. I gotta get my dick sucked,“Sorrybro.”man, I can’t.”
“Yes, you can. Maybe you can get sloppy seconds, bro. After me, of course.”
walk in here? They invited me up to their apartment for a good time, bro.”
Words I hate hearing the most. There’s nothing worse than doing access control at 2:30 in the morning on a Saturday night. At that point, everyone is either drunk, high or some combination of the two. All this is annoying for the sober to deal with, because logical conversation goes out the window. Grandma was right when she said nothing good happens after midnight.“Okay?”“Wetook an Uber Pool with him and he got out and started following us. We don’t know him. Thanks.
Well, tag team blow job action will make a motherfucker test his luck.
“Yo bro, yo bro, you see those two fine-ass chicks
Man, this guy is drunk. Drunk and horny. Fuck. This can only get worse.
“Hey, please don’t let that guy in.”
“Sorry, man. They informed me that you can’t come up.”“No bro, no way. We just rode an Uber together and they both told me I could get a double blowjob, man. They were grabbing each other’s titties and shit. Come on, bro. Let me through.”
“COME ON, BRO. LET ME UP. I GOT BITCHES WAITING FOR ME UPSTAIRS.”
This motherfucker is on some shit. Talking to the police like that. This guy is tripping.
What the fuck???
Fuck, this motherfucker’s angry now. Well, I got something for his ass cause I didn’t promise him shit. I call the police back to the site. They show up in less than a minute.
“No police is going to stop me from getting my balls drained, bro.”
“What did those women say to get him so worked up?”“Tag team blowjob. Plus I guess the women were feeling on each other’s titties on the Uber ride over here.”“Well, that’ll do it,” says the cop as he walks out of theSurebuilding.will.It sure will.
After dealing with Mr. Dick-on-Hard for ten minutes, I realize homeboy’s going nowhere. He’s convinced I’m trying to cock block. Fuck it.
94 The Night Rambler
“Listen. man. I called the police and they’re on their way. Just LEAVE.”
“But bro, I need my dick sucked. Bitch and her friend said they’d do it. Stop hating, bro”
I’ll just call La Policia to handle this one.
“HEY BUDDY,” one cop says in the greatest Boston accent of all time. “I told you not to come back or we’ll arrest you.”
Once the police show up, I explain the situation and the police escort the guy off site. That was cool of them because they could have arrested him. Now I can get some peace. But wouldn’t you know, in less than five minutes, homeboy’s back.
“LISTEN, leave on your own, or with cuffs. It’s your choice.”“Well, arrest me then, cause I’m getting my dick sucked tonight.” After that statement, the cops arrest him and take him to their car. One cop comes back to take my info.
When we arrived, we all sat back-to-back in the middle of the field. We looked around, looked at each other. I asked the medic for a cigarette and rain drops began pattering down, scampering towards us. Soon the rain surrounded, soaked into our fatigues, dripped through our hair, and my cigarette broke it in half.
I posted by my team leader at the entrance to the house, to be on-watch and provide security for those inside. I grew resentful of the other men, as I stood there and no one came to relieve me for some time.
In the rainy season of 2005-2006, in farmland adjacent to the Euphrates river, about 20-30 kilometers outside of Baghdad, our normally orderabiding and scrupulous Lieutenant (LT) made an outof-character decision. Our mission was to establish an Observation Post (OP) in the middle of some muddy farm fields. We parked the trucks and began trudging out to the spot marked for the OP. The only cover for miles was small earthen berms adjoining canals among the farm fields.
Looking at them, I thought to myself, “This is too good to be true.” We were trying to catch IED implanters for some time, after getting struck by many IEDs at that point, on foot and in vehicles. The insurgents were quite stealthy in implanting them. It was rare to catch one in the act.
LT said, “Fuck this – we’re getting some shelter inside a house.” We all knew that our squads could be seen for many miles all around (defeating the purpose of an OP), and LT observed that this mission was “Stupid.”Wetrudged to a nearby house, falling in the now knee-high mud. With our interpreter, we spoke to the family at the door and we told them we needed to take shelter there. They had one small space heater, in a room on the ground floor with their infant child, which was suffering from some kind of ailment.
The rest of their house was cold, and damp. So were all the occupants, us included. They insisted we huddle around the space heater, and we argued with them that the baby needed it more. But they were quite insistent. So some of the men did just that.
As I was stewing thinking about this, across the street from the house, I saw a man, possibly two, digging by the side of the road. Their heads would appear. They would look around, and then a shovel would become just visible and they would dig some more as they went out-of-sight, off to the side of the road in the trench.
95 Travis Weiner
We played a cat-and-mouse game with insurgents, and sometimes, we felt like the mice. We endured the random, brief, but violent mortaring, IED blasts, and small arms fire. It was the kind of thing that drives soldiers, engaged in a counterinsurgency war, to slowly lose their discipline and their humanity; the kind of thing that makes them trigger-happy for revenge, for some release. It’s the kind of thing that could drive someone insane.
LT asserted his rank and issued a direct order to stand down, face-to-face with another NCO, a squad leader. One way or the other, something was going to happen very soon.
They saw us. They waved. A car popped into view, up onto the road, driving out of the ditch. Now we saw why they were digging. Their car had been stuck in the mud on one of the canal roads, a regular, near-daily practice in this part of Iraq during rains. They seemed totally oblivious that they were likely seconds from almost certain death.
Seeing this, no one said a word.
LT was skeptical. He wanted to wait, to observe longer, to ensure they really were planting IEDs. The NCOs began to argue with him. One said we were wasting precious time and losing our chance to take them out. “What else could it be but an IED?”
I quickly yelled for a fellow soldier, and told him what was happening. He saw what I saw, and excitement grew. Somehow, the men did not see me, or us, in the house – at least, not yet. They were 75 or 100 meters away, not far at all. Word spread around the platoon, and some NCO’s excitedly began ordering us to execute a plan to take them out.
Things were tense. The NCOs and the LT engaged in heated debate, and it seemed to us as if one NCO in particular might disobey the LT and just fire the shots himself. We were staged on the stairs leading up to the open, flat cement roof, the standard for farmland village dwellings in Iraq.
Just then, from our vantage point inside the building, as the sharpshooters were about to come out on the roof, the two men emerged into full view from across theTheyroad.held up their shovels.
The NCOs, LT, and the troops (including myself) didn’t speak much about it after that. But, like all the other missed shots I’d sometimes take at passing cars, I was grateful for the outcome. I thought to myself long after, that if those men had been killed, I’d pointed them out first. I started the scramble to kill them.
That day, the variables were in full gear. Nothing but pure chance and timing allowed these men the time to show us what they were actually doing in that ditch, on that road. That, and an LT who held firm against belligerent action.
Starting on the NCOs plan, our sharpshooters ran up the stairs to the roof. They were going to take them out, and if there was any trouble, if more men appeared down off the road, the other machine gunners and I would come out onto the roof to provide suppressing fire.
In Iraq, tiny victories won the day, or small miracles, inches, fractions of an inch, seconds, fractions of a second, the pure, sick, enraging, confusing, agonizing blender of a million variables, preordained (if that’s your thing) or not (more my thing). Those instants determine life and death, who loses a limb or an eye, who escapes unscathed.
Long Way Out
97 Nicole Waybright
Brenda awoke to her first early morning at sea, after having settled into her rack sometime after midnight. Three a.m. had arrived so suddenly. She reached to the side of her pillow and silenced her watch alarm, hoping the beeps hadn’t disturbed Julie in her rack below. The ship rocked and rolled and pitched with the seas. She could hear the metal of the ship stretching and creaking, and she remembered that before, she had only heard that sound when she was far below decks. She felt worse than she ever had, even worse than she had felt in school when she had forced herself out of bed, weighed down with the flu or a cold. She turned her pillow over and pressed her face against it. Her head felt sluggish from seasickness, and her eyes throbbed with shooting pain from exhaustion, but the coolness she felt from her pillow gave her a moment’s relief.
This is an excerpt from my novel, written 10 years after I was commissioned in the Navy. It is about my experience when I checked aboard my first ship.
Start of Day 2 onboard. Time 0300, First bridge watch 0400 – 0800 (4 a.m. – 8 a.m.)
She eased her head up from her pillow. She had to get dressed and get going. In her life, she had made all the wrong choices, been wrong about everything! Outside the hull, she imagined the seas churning the ship, beating against the destroyer and tossing it, heeling it to port and to starboard, pitching it forward and then aft. The shock and vibration was loud; she could feel the vibrations in her body and in the sides of her metal rack when she touched them.
Less than three hours of sleep before her first watch! But three hours of sleep a night was the norm aboard surface ships, and you were lucky to get that, people had told her. She forced her eyes to stay open. In one hour, at 0400, she would have to show for her first bridge watch in the regular rotation. She now grasped the type of strain and pressure that lay ahead, how it was going to feel and how it was going to affect her. There would be four more years of predawn and midnight watches, four more years of wishing like anything for rest, and four more years of disrupting her body’s normal cycle – for a way of life she had learned she did not want.
She pushed her gray wool blanket aside; she could hear the engines droning, and feel them tremor as if they were operating on the deck just below her stateroom. The sound of the engines propelling the ship against the force of the seas followed a rhythmic pattern as the ship climbed each oncoming wave, pitched over the crest, and slammed flat into the trough. After the shock waves dampened, a stillness persisted for a second before the engine drone picked back up, and the stateroom walls began to shudder again, along with the entire contents of the room. The metal chairs, desks, sink, cabinets, and rack frames vibrated at different frequencies.
She realized that overnight, the air in the stateroom had turned stuffy and humid. Her skin felt clammy and her nightclothes had a slight dampness to them. Then, above the background noise, she heard the ventilation system kick on, and she began to feel a draft of cold air flowing over her rack curtain. She pitted her will against the seas and sat up slowly. She had committed herself to a role in which her peers and shipmates depended on her to take her bridge watch. It had been her alone, who had obligated herself to performing these shipboard duties. As she sat up in her rack, it came over her that she had once again landed herself in a setting where listening to her body and to her feelings was forfeited. She would have to continue to brush her feelings aside, fight them, and ignore them, to function at all.
The destroyer was a mere dot in the ocean, and powerless against these seas. Julie told her that the storm wasn’t going to let up for another day or so. She got nervous that she hadn’t yet gotten out of her rack. She couldn’t be late for her first watch! She would have to make herself accept this life; she had made herself accept her lifestyle in engineering school, why not this? This was only the start of her second day onboard, underway.
with permission from Nicole Waybright. Copyright 2017. Long Way Out.
98 Long Way
99 Shilpi Suneja
Grandfather’s room is like the diwan-e-aam of the Red Fort, the hall where Emperor Shah Jahan once received the masses. While Shah Jahan’s hall was open on all four sides, grandfather’s room is open on two—the east faces the balcony and the world outside, the west faces an inner courtyard and the world inside. Like the emperor, an endless array of people come to see our grandfather--our mother with cups of tea and medicines, Ila and I, his grandchildren with requests for stories, and the weavers and the printers from his sari workshop with queries and concerns about the business. Grandfather deals with us all in the same equanimity I expect the great Mughal emperor showed to all those who came to him--his hands cleanly stacked one on top of the other, and his eyes on the sky and the birds that routinely fill it.
“Are you watching a particular bird?” Ila asks.
Grandfather nods. “Firdaus. Doesn’t it sound better in Urdu?”
Ila and I mimic our grandfather, the whistle of the first consonant “ffff,” the dense grandeur of the ending “daus.”Theway he closes his eyes, with finality, we know Grandfather isn’t talking about a bird, but about our nani, Attiya Rehman, our beloved grandmother who was taken to Pakistan long ago, long before we were even born, and never returned.
Everything Sounds Better in Urdu
“In our town, streets have religions,” my Grandfather says. He is lying in bed, his head tilted on the pillow, his eyes reflecting the endless, uninterrupted sky. Behind him, the peacock on the sandalwood headboard daren’t cast a shadow, relegated as it is behind the forest green curtains.
“The bird I look for has flown to the city of djinns.”
have a ghost for a grandmother means there is a chair on the dinner table that is always empty. It means we watch Grandfather approach that chair with trepidation. He makes a slight bow (imperceptible to adult eyes), then sits at the head of the table. From time to time Ila and I catch him glancing in the empty chair’s direction. Often, we’ve caught him placing bowls of rice, chicken, salad, sweets in front of the empty chair in hopes that Nani might materialize and serve herself and pass the food on to her children and grandchildren. When this happens, our mother rises, vexed. She tiptoes to the bowls and retrieves them. Her sigh makes it clear that this is illogical behavior on Grandfather’s part. But the way she clutches the bowls, the rims digging into her flesh, we know that she feels sorry. Grandfather is a patient, her eyes say. Treat him like a patient.
Grandfather’s bed has a name. He calls it the majlise-dard-e-khoob, which he translates as the gathering of infinite sighs. It sounds better in Urdu, he insists.
“Does that city have a name in Urdu?”
facing the Murphy’s Radio baby with his finger in his mouth and waited until afternoon turned into evening and evening turned into night and Grandfather and Mother came to fetch us, Mother furious and Grandfather solemn because he had some idea of why our limbs might freeze into inaction sometimes.
have a ghost for a grandmother means sometimes we get lost on our way home from school because we follow old women who might look like her because we continue to believe, like Grandfather does, that our grandmother will one day step off the train at Kanpur Central and find us on the street and claim us as her own. Once, we followed an old woman up Meston Road, past the Fish Mosque, past the gun shops, past the Sabzi Mandi, until we reached the Kanpur Central railway station. The old woman turned into a tight lane, translated into a speck, disappeared up a narrow set of stairs. Ila wanted to follow her into her house, but I refused. The woman undoubtedly had her own set of grandchildren, an Ila girl with pigtails and a Karan boy who wore glasses like me. I turned us in the direction of home, but I couldn’t remember whether the road past the sweetmeats shop would lead us back or the road past the election commission office. And so we stood at the junction on Mall Road,
Everything Sounds Beautiful in Urdu
Having a ghost for a grandmother means Ila and I look away when anyone asks who the Rehman in the Rehman Saris is and isn’t that a Muslim name and are we Muslim. It means we watch the shopkeepers quietly while the boxes from our grandfather’s workshop are opened, the saris unfurled, and waterfalls of burgundies and maroons and turquoise and fuschias streak our faces. We take pride in the saris, in the work that our mother puts into designing them, in the work that the weavers put into weaving them. But we pause at the small white label pasted on the corner of each piece of fabric. Even though we know that the women wearing the saris will eventually peel the sticker off, or it will come out with the first wash, and the Rehman name will find its way to the dustbin or the drain, and eventually disintegrate into the soil, we feel shame. One of the meanings of ‘Rehman’ is mercy. Another meaning is grace. And even though there are Hindi words that could mean the same things, Grandfather has kept the Urdu one because, he believes, everything sounds more beautiful in Urdu.
a ghost for a grandmother means we cannot use Grandfather’s phone, the one he keeps on the circular table next to his bed, because the Office of Missing Persons has the number to that line, and the even though the office is defunct and its clerks no longer restore missing persons, someone from that office might still call Grandfather with news about our grandmother. They might catch her crossing a street or buying bananas, and then she might come back to him and they would be reunited. Some portion of his life would turn out in the colors of the saris that he weaves with her name on it. Unlike our mother, Ila and I do not doubt. Ila and I believe, because as Grandfather says, one day our saris will earn so much renown they will be famous in Pakistan, and then Grandmother will have no choice but to come back to us and claim us as her own.
and I don’t tell Grandfather we are happy to have a ghost for a grandmother. That is better than having a Muslim for a grandmother because the government and the neighbors can’t come for us and tell us we are changing the religion of the lane and thereby the town, the state, and the nation. Nobody bothers about ghosts. It is only the living that have religion. The dead can do what they like—pray at a mosque then pray at a temple, wear a sari on top of a salwar kameez, eat meat one week then give it up the next. Ila has seen our grandmother do these things. Sometimes, the young woman in the photos in Grandfather’s room comes to life and walks about the house. I could see her if I wanted to. All I had to do is stay awake and wait.
During my second week at 1st Casual, I was caught in a shakedown when the officer and sergeant announced the surprise inspection. Everyone stood at attention next to their bunk as the officer walked down the rows of bunks, stopping randomly to inspect each soldier’s space.
The Lieutenant picked them up. One was “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang,” film reviews by Pauline Kael, one of the top movie critics. The second was “The Kerner Report’s National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders” about the 1967 race riots. A Matt Helm spy novel was last. He read the title of the Kael book and went
101 Tom Keating
I was billeted in 1st Casual Company, a military unit for transient soldiers, or “casuals,” waiting for either orders for overseas assignment (Vietnam) or a change of their status of some kind. The company barracks (old World War I buildings) was located near the airborne jump school towers, where troops shouted, “Geronimo!” as they jumped from the practice
I was stationed at Fort Benning, located outside the town of Columbus, Georgia, southwest of Atlanta, in May 1969.The Fort was the home of the U.S. Army Infantry School. I had just resigned from Infantry Officer Candidate School, and was waiting for adjudication and reassignment, most likely Vietnam. I had been in the Army eight months.
“This is an article 15 violation, VY-OO-LAY-SHUN” He shouted at me. Have this private report to my office for an Article 15 hearing at 1700 hours! Police up those books.” He left, satisfied he found a criminal.
around six a.m. we casuals huddled silently in the small parade area for roll call formation in the dark — two lines of men in green fatigues, baseball caps low on our heads, the darkness obscuring our faces, a cool breeze chilling the air slightly as we stood waiting for our names to be called for attendance and for work detail assignments.
The work details we casuals did could be anything — post engineers (garbage men), unloading or loading trucks, or small construction jobs like fixing sandbags out on the firing ranges.
Bang-Bang! A skin book! This Private has pornography, Sergeant! Put him on report!” he said throwing the book down. The sergeant wrote down my name. I was standing at attention so I could not speak. Referring to the Kerner report, he said, “He has a communist book here, too.” He threw it on the floor. He ignored Matt Helm.
He stopped at my bunk, opened my locker, but it was regulation — fatigues and boots. He pulled apart my neatly made bunk, but there was nothing there. Then he dumped my foot locker and all its contents on the floor, including three paperback books.
Even in transit, we were still in the Army. Daily roll calls, formations, and shakedown inspections were the usual reminders. Shakedowns were when the company officer and sergeant would surprise us with an inspection and literally shake down bunks, lockers, and footlockers for contraband — drugs, weapons, whiskey, pornography and seditious material.
memoir excerpt from Yesterday’s Soldier
“Yes, sir!” I said, picking up the books. I saluted him, turned smartly and left.
The sergeant looked at me, smiled as he bent to pick up the books, and said, “You’re on Post Engineers every fuckin day until I say different.” The other guys in the barracks just shook their head at my bad luck.
“Private Keating reporting, as ordered, sir!”
“This here report on the riots is a government published document, so we can’t charge you with sedition for having it,” He drawled. “The Chaplain has advised me that I can’t charge you, so all charges are dismissed. That is all.”
I was in trouble. Article 15 violations could lead to jail, confinement to barracks, demotion and pay garnishment. I was fucked.
Reproduced with permission from Tom Keating. Copyright 2019. Yesterday’s Soldier.
That evening at precisely 1700 hours, I reported to the Lieutenant’s office. I walked in, saluted and came to attention. Across from me, behind his desk sat the lieutenant, the sergeant, and the battalion chaplain. The contraband books were on his desk.
The next morning at formation, I DID get assigned to Post Engineers. The worst part of the detail was cleaning out the big grease traps outside each of the post’s kitchens. The grease was bad enough, but the smell of old chicken, beef, eggs, and whatever else was in the trap was overpowering. And it was hot, crummy work. But I didn’t really mind. It was better than going to jail for reading Pauline Kael.
“Keating,” he spoke after returning my salute, “We all have looked at your books, and this Kiss Kiss book, its movie reviews. So, we can’t charge you with pornography.” He picked up the Kerner report.
103 ArtbyDevonOKeefe.com patron
having known this fate of ours so well wandering among broken stones, three or six thousand years searching in collapsed buildings that might have been our homes trying to remember dates and heroic deeds: will we be able?
Machine Gun Blues
George Seferis, Mythistorema, no. 22
Abraham Hernandez Romero
After neutralizing the enemy with fierce and accurate firepower, he and some other soldiers proceeded to conduct house-to-house searches and cleared some of the homes. There within the residence, he found some Iraqi Army uniforms, the general consensus was that they belonged to a high-ranking Iraqi officer who had undoubtedly fled with his family. The following is an excerpt from my recorded conversation with him:
One of these men was a squad leader in my platoon. His name was Sergeant Isaac Pedraza. My first deployment in 2007 was Sergeant Pedraza’s third tour of duty. He wasn’t alone, many senior noncommissioned officers had multiple deployments, which felt comforting in a strange way. Isaac Pedraza was fresh out of high school when he joined the Army in 2002.
He was sent to Fort Benning, the home of the U.S. Infantry where he completed his basic training and Army Initial Training. Less than a year later, he was on the front lines. Deployed in the outskirts of Karbala, on the route heading north toward Baghdad, the unit started receiving enemy gunfire from houses along the highway into the city center.
I have my share of war trophies. My collection consists of photographs, uniforms, and some random military gear that the U.S. Army didn’t require to be returned, all stashed away inside an old olive drab box when I returned to the United States.
It took years, including professional help, to develop the personal and mental skills that would allow me to revisit that place in my life and mind in a healthy manner.
105 Abraham Hernandez Romero
In 2003, during the initial occupation of the second Gulf war in Iraq, the Coalition Forces made their way to Baghdad. Many non combatants/civilians fled to safety into other countries, leaving their homes and personal belongings behind. In 2006, I joined the U.S. Army and Operation Iraqi Freedom. By this point in the conflict, multitudes of American soldiers had been deployed to the combat zone more than once.
SP: It’s a memory dude. It’s one of those things where you’re attached to vivid memories… It was a moment in time that helped make who I am today... Me and this family never met but we, in essence, have crossed paths… They’re a part of me.
a Mortar Qualified Infantryman in the United States Army. After completing my military service, honorably discharged, I pursued a degree in Fine Art. I put away those photographs, uniforms, and military gear for many years. The memories of my war experience were not so easy to shelve. It took years, including professional help, to develop the personal and mental skills that would allow me to revisit that place in my life and mind in a healthy manner. The bulk and vivid proof of that experience was residing in a Western Digital external hard drive that had long been put away and now I had the tools to approach the documented material from a different perspective.
Sgt.Pedraza: I decided to take the pictures because, I don’t know, it’s one of those things where you... you want to try and humanize and process what’s going on. At the end of the day, it’s a house, somebody lived there. It has a story....
Abraham Romero: Why the photos? Why take them?
The idea of recreating another battle scene of graphic goriness and violence more akin to a war trophy or shock value piece was not appealing to me. It seemed contrived, stifling, done to death.
I don’t want my work to be considered pro-war or anti-war, it’s just a documented account of my experience and my interpretation of it. The paintings and drawings I made using photos and memories from my war experience incorporate mixed media on wood panels and watercolor paper. I adhered fabric recycled from my undergraduate canvas paintings, and old service uniforms onto the wood panels.
AR: Where were they? The photos, where were they located?SP:We went to the house, cleared it to make sure there was nothing valuable, nothing of interest to us. Once we made sure there was nothing useful to use in our offensive, we decided to check everything out. Uhmm... and those pictures caught my eye, mainly because it’s a glimpse into their lives, their culture... and just being able to have a memory of that moment is a part of why I took them.
His war trophy was this package of photographs. Even though we worked together in the Army for almost three years, I had no idea he had these. It wasn’t until I started thinking about the photographs I personally took with my own camera throughout my deployment to Iraq that I began to consider them in a different context, about how impactful that experience was and how that material could affect my work as an artist.Iwas
going back to Iraq mentally and emotionally through pictures . . . caused a haunting nostalgia
AR: Any other items that you remember anybody elseSP:taking?There was a lot of guns and military paraphernalia. Iraqi flags, stuff with Saddam on it.
106 Machine Gun Blues
AR: How do these pictures make you feel now?
Abraham Hernandez Romero
Plate 1. Squad Automatic. Oil paint. Gunpowder. Fabric. Wood panel. This is one of the earlier works accomplished and largest oil painting in the exhibit. It is preceded by a few other works that I chose to not include in the show after meticulous editing. This work was inspired by a photograph taken of me by another service member at a J.S.S. (joint service station) in the Iraqi suburb of Adhamiyah. We were preparing to head out of the gate on a dismounted patrol and I was given the privilege to be the tip of the spear with my 249 squad automatic weapon, or SAW, with 250 rounds of ammunition attached to and another 500 in my backpack.
The memories of that day came flooding in and I remembered how much my life depended on that weapon. I had to know it intimately, disassembled and reassembled with a function check in a timely manner. “I am nothing without my weapon and my weapon is nothing without me” was drilled into me as an infantry soldier since basic training; it was a fundamental belief that could mean the difference between life and death.
I used a limited color palette based on the Mexican Golden-Age of cinema icons. Initially these works only involved three colors which were Paynes Grey, Titanium Buff and Naples Yellow. I expanded to include Yellow Ochre, Warm Grey and Zinc White applied with a palette knife. Palette knives allow for an expressive and broad stroke, something l feel was absolutely necessary and vital to the expression and overall presentation of the series. The palette knife was also a logical tool, in my opinion, to break forms and blur lines to give more atmospheric sensations.
Living in a war zone for over a year, I depended heavily on my friends and also on my weapons. I think that going back to Iraq mentally and emotionally through the pictures reliving some of those moments, whether they be harrowing or humorous, caused a haunting nostalgia within me. In turn, I channeled that emotional energy into the body of artworks that would comprise my MFA thesis exhibition at San Diego State University in 2019.
As a figurative and representational artist, I found myself resisting the idea of working abstractly. I fought the notion of working loosely that my professors were pushing, however when I finally succumbed to their pressure, the results were well worth it.
Machine Gun Blues is about a real-world combat mission. The process of using the palette knife connected with my hand, using slashing, jabbing, dabbing, smearing and spackling motions, using my entire arm, enabled me to connect to these personal memories of post-traumatic stress.
Adding cold wax to the paint made the palette knife less of an esthetic tool, converting its use to more of a practical implementation towards the final product. The additives to the oil paint in the varying layers of my paintings include gunpowder and graphite powder along with the cold wax. I extracted the gunpowder from live ammunition of a variety of calibers. It is very grainy, not powdery. It adds a rough texture to the oil paint and cold wax concoction. This addition helped in the development of a distressed surface, making the finished pieces more akin to a weathered wall or billboard in an Iraqi suburb.
Being a painter at heart and implementing those life lessons into the rest of my art was a natural sequence. Although my artworks are based on photographs, they are filtered through my memories and artistic style. I am not a photographer. I took these digital photos in a different mindset. I was a young man in a conflict that was bigger than my understanding and I simply documented moments that were of interest to me. I had no formal knowledge of composition in regards to the art of composing an image effectively and formal photography. I also put these photographs away for many years, stashed away in the depths of an external hard drive, mainly because of my suffering of post traumatic stress disorder.
108 Machine Gun Blues
The original photograph was taken by me and it shows someone in uniform holding a picture of a clown over their face, similar to a mugshot. The person who was holding this picture was a friend of mine who also happened to be the youngest guy in my platoon, being only 19 years old. He was witty and humorous, kind of like our own class clown. It was almost like a portrait of his personality, innocent and naive in a lot of ways, always taking the edge off with a wily quip after a harrowing moment. I believe there’s a guy like him in every platoon.
Plate 2. Adhamiyah Mugshot. Oil paint. Gunpowder. Fabric. Wood panel. This is a clown with a pathetic look to him, an expression of sorrow or nostalgia that perhaps leads the viewer to investigate the painting further. Through the use of contrast, I purposely left the area around the clown in a lighter shade of grey to draw attention, but there are dark hands at the bottom corners holding the image of the clown to create some movement in the viewer’s eye. One can now appreciate that there is somebody holding up a picture of the jester in a fashion much akin to a prison mugshot.
Abraham Hernandez Romero
110 Machine Gun Blues
Plate 3. Cross Roads. Oil paint. Gunpowder. Fabric. Wood panel. This is based on a photo I took during my last dismounted patrol. Tension was high as both vehicular and pedestrian traffic flowed in high volumes throughout the streets. It was to be our last combat mission outside the wire, so we had our heads on a swivel, taking meticulous precautions at all times. I snapped the picture right before we arrived back to our combat outpost, capturing my friend’s grateful yet exhausted look. Behind him was another member of my platoon with his weapon at the low ready, showing him cautious and prepared even at the gate.
The close up of my friend and his expression is at the right panel of the painting, with the second soldier in the middle one. On the left, the third panel, there are vehicles, buildings and some palm trees. These were actually not Iraqi, this part of the painting is my view of Imperial Boulevard from around the corner of my mother’s apartment in Los Angeles. I grew up there and witnessed gang violence in my youth. Both these places made me who I am today. They are an inherent part of me and I of them. The tryptic gave me the idea to push the multi-panel idea so I did that with the photo of an Iraqi Army humvee with local national soldiers lounging on top of it.
After editing the image and sketching out how I envisioned the painting, I started the work by painting each panel individually. After a certain point, I put them all together and tightened up the composition to adequately portray the scale of the figures in relation to the humvee.
During my deployment, we were tasked to escort a retired detective from the United States along with members of the Iraqi Police to help teach them to conduct investigations. We would set out to places within our area of operations where bodies had been reported. They ended up being victims of sectarian violence in which adult males were the primary demographic. The I.P. were oblivious to any and all manners of conducting a sweep through a crime scene. This detective taught them how to cordon off an area and document everything meticulously within the scene of the crime. During these missions, I was a machine gunner and provided security for those on the ground from my humvee turret. It was a medic friend of mine that took the pictures of the victims for documentation, didactic, and identification purposes. They were numerous files with multiple shots included of the victims so I sorted through them to figure out how to bring their stories out without disrespecting them, as well as being aware of any potential families that may recognize them.
Plate 4. Tactical Nap. Oil paint. Gunpowder. Fabric. Wood panel. I thought it was very curious for these Iraqi soldiers to be so relaxed in a combat zone because my training consisted of being active and alert at all times, especially out in our area of operations. Ultimately, it was more often than not a good sign when the locals were seemingly relaxed and that mission ended up being uneventful.
Plate 5. Collateral Damage. Graphite. Acrylic paint. Watercolor paper. The idea was to create a multipanel mural that could effectively take over a large space, but seeing as that was just an idea, I had to plan in case it didn’t work out. This potential setback inspired me to push every individual portrait to the degree that it could be displayed as a stand-alone piece. When the gallery was green lighted for setting up the thesis exhibition, this was the first work to go up. To my surprise, it worked out as a large-scale work instead of a series of individual pieces. The impact on viewers when observing this grand scale work and the meaning behind it was validating for me as an artist and a combat veteran.
Machine Gun Blues
Plate 6. Machine Gun Blues: Re-Up. Graphite. Acrylic paint. Watercolor pap. This was the last work I produced for my thesis exhibition. The reference picture was taken while on a mission to provide security to Associated Press members as they filmed and gathered information in our area of operations. I originally made a painting using this photo, but it was in another exhibit at the time of my thesis exhibition. This painting was actually the first work in the series, the catalyst for the body of work. It was important for me to include it in the exhibit, so I revisited it and the drawing was the end result. It felt like the series had come full circle, the feeling of closure toward the combination of different life experiences. In a lot of ways, my art-making, and
I am forever grateful for growing up poor, being the fourth of 6 children, as well as my voluntary integration into the armed services of this country. My state of mind was not only reinforced due to poverty, vigorous training and drilling to succeed in the face of insurmountable odds. At times to include the cost of my very life, it was forged to adapt in the face of adversity and overcome improbable odds. This mindset fortified my personal and academic drive to become ambitious in my professional and artistic endeavors. It drove me to push myself theoretically, conceptually, as well as technically.
especially this series of artworks, were an integral component of my efforts to deal with post traumatic stress in a healthier way.
Abraham Hernandez Romero
writing prompt with Kevin Bowen
At the time a faction of Social Media bots and lemmings circled the fact that Johnson was left behind. The official story is murky, and it’s good to be skeptical of anyone claiming to know the truth. There are quite a few possible narratives, but it’s worth meditating briefly on the effects of racism and colorism and otherism.
The week after four American soldiers died in Niger, poet and former Marine, Kevin Bowen asked a Warrior Writers workshop at the Suffolk Poetry Center to write a letter to La David Johnson.
Write a Letter
WRITE A LETTER TO LA DAVID JOHNSON
Alternatively, you could write to any other one of the soldiers who fought that day. Maybe even write a letter to one of the enemy soldiers, or to one of the Nigerien government forces that fired on the American Convoy first before recognizing it as friendly. If you’re not feeling any of this, write a letter to a family member.
Whatever the reason that La David Johnson faced his death alone under a thorn tree, whether he ran away from the convoy on his own, got ignored in the chaos or both, whatever narrative you believe, try writing La David Johnson a letter.
I remember how segregated the galley would get, and a lot of casual racism on cruise. I imagine, not a green beret, maybe you were an “other” too.
I believe you existed, even though all I’ve seen online is your image, like the opposite of a mugshot. Your real experience is as blank as the space between your eyes under that maroon baret. I imagine how the line formed for photos, after drills, to be remembered for this brief political moment. In the hierarchy of deeds, yours remain unknown, and you will also be forgotten next week in another blizzard of doubt and discontent. Meanwhile your wife will be home, baking cookies for visitors, taking calls.
The Army says you ran fast for cover, that you were known for popping wheelies, that you fought to your death alone under a thorn tree. I imagine you died standing. You look so young in those videos the Army made. Always skeptical of news, of official narratives, of the truth viewed through a mirror, darkly, I know human foibles can be beyond belief.
116 Caleb Andrew Nelson
Alan Asselin is a poet and photographer living in Boston. He was formally trained as a photo lab specialist by the U.S. Air Force, and he worked as a photographer for the Offult Air Force Base newspaper in 1972. He participated in protests against the Vietnam war, and raised four children in Vermont.
Reema Baniabbasi is a counseling psychologist at The Psychiatry & Therapy Centre and a columnist at Sail E-Magazine in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. She is also a poet with publications in Pensive, Proverse Hongkong, Art Ascent, and Snapdragon. You may follow Reema on Instagram @reemabaniabbasi or Twitter @ReemaPsych.
Nazli Artemia is originally from Iran and immigrated to the United States about a decade ago. She holds an MFA in creative writing and has worked as a fiction editor and Persian translator with several local magazines. Her stories have been published in WLA (War, Literature and the Arts), Tint, and Aster(ix) journals among others. She is currently working on a novel.
Yehya Barakat is a nonbinary Iraqi poet who tackles issues of queer Arab identity, trauma, and culture in their work. They were a finalist in Vox Pop and FEMs in 2019. They are self-publishing a chapbook titled “Learning to Love the Flag.”
Brian Earley joined the Navy Reserve as a quartermaster, and transferred to the Army upon completion of an undergraduate degree. He served during peacetime, working as a chaplain and as a civil affairs officer for deployments to the Balkans. He also deployed to areas of southwest Asia in the course of his 23-year career. Now, he referees, coaches and administrates Rugby Union in the U.S. and completed a fellowship with the Mission Continues.
Nickie Renee Castro
Jon Chopan is an associate professor of creative writing at Eckerd College. His first collection, “Pulled From the River,” was published by Black Lawrence Press in 2012. He is the winner of the 2017 Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction for his collection “Veterans Crisis Hotline,” which was published by the University of Massachusetts Press in October 2018.
Nickie Renee Castro is a multi-faceted artist who is passionately curious. She has interests in drawing, painting, photography, poetry, makeup artistry, sociology, activism, and the occasional solo dance party in her living room. She is also an Air Force veteran, a member of Warrior Writers, and a family caregiver. She currently resides in Arizona. Instagram: @NickieRenee
Tim Corrigan served in the Navy from 1997-1998. He participated in Warrior Writers workshops in Boston where he now lives and writes for his own fulfillment. For several years, he also helped to raise two young Iraqi refugees injured in the war.
Hallima Docmanov is a writer from Boston whose writing focuses on capturing their unique experience as a Somali-Queer Non-binary refugee navigating the complexities of being raised in two worlds, one of being a child of Somali refugees and another being black in a country that is at social warfare within itself but offered shelter. They enjoy reading books by black thinkers, practicing visual art and cuddling with their black cat, named Sylvia Plath.
Eric J. Garcia
Patrick Majid Doherty served with the First Armored Division as a combat medic. He deployed to Anbar Province in Iraq for 14 months, 2003-04.
Welina Farah is an introverted introvert. Interests include American studies, sociology, open learning, imperialism, education, and history. Research pertains to the 1915 U.S. occupation of Hati. Work can be found at MIT Open Learning, UMass Boston’s The Mass Media, TNGG Boston, and BostonTweetUp.
Patrick Majid Doherty
After receiving his BFA with a minor in Chicano studies from the University of New Mexico, Eric Garcia went on to complete his MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He has exhibited nationally and his work can be found in the collections of the National Museum of Mexican Art, the National Hispanic Cultural Center, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. His website is ericjgarcia.com
Andrea Gregory’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Sun Magazine, The Masters Review: New Voices, Consequence Magazine, and North Dakota Quarterly. She also writes a column for Arrowsmith Press about living with multiple sclerosis, while drawing on larger social issues and a love of literature. Her columns can be found at www.arrowsmithpress.com/gregory-column.
Midori Gleason is an artist, writer, and graduate of UMB’s English Masters program. Her works have previously been published in The Watermark, Write on the Dot, Adelaide, and Revolt Literary Magazine. Her visual art has shown at The Gulu Gulu, Front Street and Main Stash. She resides in Gloucester. midorigleason.com
Tom Keating served in Long Binh in the Republic of Vietnam from 1969 to 1970 with the Army’s 47th Military History Detachment, attached to the 25th Infantry Division. Tom has participated in the AGAPE writing program for veterans at Boston College under the direction of Roxana Von Kraus and in the annual Writers’ Workshop at the Joiner Institute.
Danielle Legros Georges
Danielle Legros Georges is an academic, translator, and author of several books of poetry including “The Dear Remote Nearness of You,” winner of the New England Poetry Club’s Motten book prize. She was appointed the second Poet Laureate of the city of Boston, serving in the role from 2015 to 2019. She is a professor of creative writing and director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Photo by Jennifer Waddell.
Michael G. Jones
Photographer Fanny Garcia works from dreams, memories, and military experiences to explore perplexity and lingering emotions. Raised in Los Angeles, CA, she received her BFA in Photography from California College of the Arts in Oakland. Garcia received the 2019 Kala Veterans Residency from Kala Art Institute for her past military service in the U.S. Army and her photographic series After Dark, on display in Open/Closed, part of the NVAM Triennial.
Michael G. Jones is the author of “Martian Love Tomes,” a book of poems. He wrote his first poem the day his daughter was born, “It Was A Breeze.” His work explores “concept vehicles,” alternative forms of communication, and reviving the Natick language in text.
SMEDLEYVFP.COM | VFPSMEDLEY@GMAIL.COM patron
Elisabeth Lister is a poet, musician and health worker. Her most recent creative work deals with her own battle with breast cancer. You can follow her journey on Instagram @morethanapinkribbon.
Fred Marchant’s Tipping Point won the 1993 Washington Prize and was re-issued recently in a 20th Anniversary Second Edition. He is also the author of Full Moon Boat and The Looking House, both from Graywolf Press. In 1970 he was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps as a conscientious objector.
Jonathan Lomax, a retired Marine of 21 years of honorable service to his country. Deployed to Iraq/Syria 2009-2010. Former Jungle Warfare Instructor, Drill Instructor, OCS Instructor and now full time Dad. I write to tell a story, my story, and a story of many. Hoping that my life was worth the sacrifice others have made.
Daniel Laurent, also known as DL, has been a fixture in Boston hip hop for over a decade. He is a music artist and actor who lives in Boston with his family, including his son, who is prominently featured in his latest visual “Outside.” The visual has won over seven awards, including Best Music Video, and has been in spotlighted in over 10 film festivals across the country and even in the UK. For more info, visit DanielLaurent.com
Liam Madden directs most of his energy into catalyzing and creating a world of fulfillment, creative collaboration, and realized potential through language, movement and awareness in deeper relationship to the wild world. Warrior Writers is an outlet for his creative writing which began through his involvement and leadership in Iraq Veterans Against the War.
Three-time Pushcart prize winner Jill McDonough is the recipient of Lannan, NEA, Cullman Center, and Stegner fellowships. Her most recent book is “Here All Night” (Alice James, 2019). She teaches in the MFA program at UMass Boston and offers College Reading and Writing in Boston jails. Her website: jillmcdonough.com.
Mitch Manning is the author of “city of water” (Arrowsmith, 2019). He’s taught poetry in central China and his poems have been read in Basra, southern Iraq, as part of the Boston to Basra Project. He teaches in the English and Labor Studies programs at UMass Boston. Work published in The Doris, BOOG City, Let The Bucket Down, CONSEQUENCE, Sundial, Hollow, GAFF and elsewhere.
Craig Roberts is a Staff Sergeant in the Massachusetts Army National Guard, with time in active-duty. He deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s a graduate of Bridgewater State University in the history program.
Yvette M. Pino earned her BFA from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and received a Certificate in Museum Studies from Northwestern University in 2018. She is the founder of the Veteran Print Project and has paired more than 100 veterans with artists to exchange a dialogue that results in an edition of prints based on the veteran’s story. She currently works as an Art Curator and serves on the Madison Arts Commission.
“Rhythmic, visceral, laconic, powerful, Levy’s stories will haunt the reader long after reading them.”
- Nguyen Ba Chung, William Joiner Center
Nicole Waybright received her BS in Mechanical Engineering in 1996 and her MA in Spanish Literature in 2006. She served five years as a naval officer in the Surface Warfare (SWO) Navy, 1996–2001, as part of the earliest wave of women to serve on combat vessels. Her debut narrative nonfiction book is called “Long Way Out.”
A. H. Romero
A. H. Romero currently lives in San Diego, California, and earned his Masters of Fine Art in 2017. Originally from Los Angeles County, he earned his BA in Studio Art with an emphasis in Painting and Printmaking from San Diego State University in 2015. Influenced by the psychology of long-term memories and post traumatic stress disorder, he explores a variety of emotions related to his participation in the war in Iraq. His website is ahromero.com
Deana Tavares is a creatively fluid artist, poet, songwriter activist, and actor. Growing up on the south coast of Massachusetts, many of life’s hurdles only further strengthened her drive towards the arts. Her deep connection to the natural world and humanity is regularly reflected back through her visual artwork, poetry, and songwriting. As an avid writer and maker her work leads her in various directions. Her latest explorations are currently in the direction of non-fiction.
Shilpi Suneja was born in India. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from UMass Boston, another MFA from Boston University, and an MA in English from New York University. She is currently a PhD student at UH Manoa. She writes about people and places she smells, loves, and remembers.
Photo by Jodi Locke.
“Tom nearly dies while saving his men in war, resulting in the loss of his eye. Although he’s awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroic actions, he has to fight to stay in the navy. Joan overcomes childhood insecurities to reach her own navy career goals, and as a wife and mother. Later these two meet and, in a unique twist of fate, become soulmates. This book differs from the ordinary military memoir in that it gives a woman’s perspective on service, while sharing the journey these two make over their lives, traveling on separate but parallel paths in their quests for
meaning outside themselves. The overarching theme guiding them toward their destiny is perseverance. Separately, then together, they learn how to overcome obstacles and move on from adversity while taking the high road. A unique aspect of this book is that while the authors give both points of view, the story is unified by common experiences of two similar individuals who become a strong team due to their bonds of service and faith. Told with humility, humor and honesty, the authors inspire readers to hold onto their hopes and dreams even in the darkest hours.”
Jesse Rey Whipple lives in Boston, Massachusetts. Since 2006, he has made his living working in live music production. In 2013, he earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts, where he was awarded honors for Cling, a collection of poetry exploring addiction. He spends his free time writing poetry and personal essays, going to concerts, and playing Nintendo.
Amber Zora is an interdisciplinary artist based in Rapid City, SD. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from University of Alabama at Birmingham and a Master of Fine Arts degree in Photography + Integrated Media from Ohio University. Zora has exhibited her work in local and national galleries including the San Francisco Arts Commission, the Las Vegas Contemporary Art Center and the National Veterans Art Museum, among other notable spaces.
Courtney Wilson is a former Army Engineer Captain, Bronze Star Medal recipient and the CEO and founder of DropZone For Veterans, a digital platform that connects the military community with personalized, high-impact resources and benefits so they can thrive in their post-military lives. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing from Wellesley College, a Master’s Degree from Webster University and an MBA from Babson College.
Jesse Rey Whipple
Travis Weiner was born in Worcester, MA. He served with the 502nd Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Div., deploying twice to Iraq during the Iraq War. He graduated from UMass Boston in 2012, worked for MGH and the Home Base Program. He graduated from law school in 2018. He now works as a public defender in Greeley, Colorado, and he serves in leadership positions in Veterans for Peace and Veterans for American Ideals.
Nickie Renee Castro