Deployed Suellen Wedmore
Grayson Books West Hartford, Connecticut
Deployed Copyright ÂŠ 2007 by Suellen Wedmore Printed in the USA Winner of the 2007 Grayson Books Poetry Chapbook Competition Grayson Books PO Box 270549 West Hartford, CT 06127 www.graysonbooks.com ISBN: 978-0-9785382-1-7
For Syd, my inspiration, my husband, my friend
Acknowledgements are due to the editors of the following publications in which some of these poems, some in earlier versions, have appeared. The Alembic: “That Afternoon” The Atlanta Review: “why talk” By the Sea: Sharksmouth Press: “Nona and the Polenta” The Ledge: “Walking in the South Woods after my Son Calls to Say He’s been Deployed” The Litchfield Review: “My Son Leaves for Iraq” Long Story Short: “Cradleboard” The New Verse News: “Like the Lakota,” “re: iraq,” “Pantoum.” Poetry of the Golden Generation: Vol. II: “Ezra Pound Ate Here” Poetry Midwest: “Willy and the Swans.” Proposing on the Brooklyn Bridge: Poems about Marriage: Grayson Books: “Cape Ann at War” (Part 1) White Ink: “Son” Eagle-Tribune Publishing Group: "Where the Peepers Sing" Thanks to the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum for selecting “Mrs. Robert E. Lee Pieces a Quilt” as 2002 winner of their annual literary contest and for placing the poem on permanent exhibit at the George Bush Museum. (“Cape Ann in War”: Part 3)
That Afternoon 1 Son 2 why talk 3 Language Lesson 4 Walking in the South Woods after my son calls to say heâ€™s deployed 5 My Son Leaves for Iraq 6 Ezra Pound Ate Here 7 Venice: March 20, 2003 9 re: iraq 10 When the Peepers Sing 11 War Blinks Its Reckless Course 13 Like the Lakota 14 To Pot a Swan 16 Willy and the Swans 18 Private First Class, Army Reserve 19 Cradleboard 21 Cape Ann at War 22 Style Explained 24 Nona and the Polenta 25 Pantoum 27
That Afternoon – 9/11/01
The kitchen grew so silent, I made rose hip jam, those two towers’ bones still stark against a gray sky, using one apple, three cups hearts of roses, a scant cup of dry white wine. Remembering the fireman who climbed the stairs three times, ran back again to die, the kitchen grew so silent, I made rose hip jam, dropped the plump berries, trimmed and cleaned into a large pot, following instructions exactly: one chopped apple, three cups hearts of roses, a scant cup of dry white wine. Do you think they’ll bomb Kabul? I stirred in sugar when the planet went awry, the kitchen so silent that I made rose hip jam, and when my son was deployed to Afghanistan, I poured the juice into a clean pan: no need to ask why I used an apple, three cups hearts of roses, a scant cup of dry white wine. Balance is gone, I drop my head as I stir. Recipes don’t lie – the kitchen grew so silent that I made rose hip jam: a heart. Three cups of rose hips, dry white wine.
Son Each night Demeter places her host’s infant son in the hearth in an effort to make him immortal. – Hymn to Demeter: Homer
If I choose for you what any mother wants: your son’s hair forever gold, his skin smooth through the centuries’ slow crawling; if I promise elastic thighs, a strapping run, cloudless eyes on a face sculpted for all tomorrows, would you not lay your child in the hearth yourself, like a small dried log?
why talk why talk of beauty what could be more beautiful than these heroic happy dead… they did not stop to think they died instead – e e cummings: “next to of course god america i”
once upon a park we prammed our babies in ruffled pinafores embroidered shirts to feed ducks pigeons white reflected swans why talk of beauty what could be more beautiful than these our infants (so they seem though busty bearded more than six feet tall) who kill now or must be killed themselves in afghanistan iraq forloveof i pledge allegiance to et cetera cheer them a hundred thousand women men my only son deployed to battle hate so strong it soothes itself to sleep with bombs i watched his childmind measure mud into a blue tin pail how he learned rocks tumble flight of milkweed bathed a skittering mongrel that ate t-shirts and polished shoes your children mine acrossthesea handsome these our heroic happy young who do not stop to think but die instead for this america next to of course god
A young mother then, wild to give my son words to measure bounce and reach of day, we spent afternoons barefoot on the lawn, connecting grass to cloud to sky: Around the roses. Through the sand. In front of the bench. But now, when he patrols the world â€“ what words? Air-to-air missile. Against the enemy. Between opposing lines. A plane over the desert. Bombsâ€Ś
Walking in the South Woods after my son calls to say he’s deployed
The spruce on the hillside thirst despite a foot of snow, tendrils of beech scratch a gunmetal sky, and a quarter-million soldiers touch down in desert, erect tents, a hospital. My son unpacks his rifle. At seven he threw stones at toy submarines, all those guns in exactly the right places, painted his soldiers blue and green, knocked them down with a plastic cannon. Could I have coaxed him to play with Lincoln logs instead? Now, beyond the path, a barren of wild blueberries: in July, the fruit, smaller than the nail of a child’s finger, is moist, sugary. Gas masks. Smart bombs. When my son is home again, will he still laugh at my old jokes? Will he remember picking berries, how he stole some from his sister when she wasn’t looking, and when she cried, poured them back into her pail.
My Son Leaves for Iraq
There’s grace in what cannot be imagined – a first born sent to war. Remember Troy, the Olympians, how the unblemished were chosen for sacrifice. My first born sent to war: this my child, breast fed, rocked, and read to. The unblemished, pretty ones chosen; I dressed him in shirts embroidered with boats, this my child, breast fed, rocked, and read to, walked him to kindergarten so he wouldn’t be afraid, dressed him in shirts I made myself, sat beside him when he tried the bumper car, walked him to first grade so he wouldn’t be afraid. What he liked best was climbing rocks; I cheered him when he steered the bumper car, drove him to Mount Monadnock, what he liked best was climbing mountains, skinny body in motion, quick feet, slender wrist, hiking the White Dot Trail up Monadnock. When he married on a cloudless afternoon, I saw him dance for the first time, quick feet, skinny wrist. Remember Troy and the Olympians – my son married on a cloudless afternoon. Grace is what cannot be imagined.
Ezra Pound Ate Here – note on the menu at the Trattoria de Romano, Burano, Italy: March 20, 2003
I stab at my gnocchi smothered in garlic and olive oil, pasta on a wet, blue bowl. Even here on this tiny island, where fishermen in sweaters seam nets with work-worn hands, where grandmothers hunched on stools work lace, and the days slip off the calendar like photos from an album, a black dog howls at my side. Today, on my 60th birthday, my son marches into Iraq to fight a war I don’t understand. This morning, from my hotel room, as I watched a sandstorm’s whirl, fires explode a night sky, I imagined him choking in a gas mask. I couldn’t imagine his rifle. Shirts pinned to the clotheslines of the pastel houses remind me how I washed diapers with a wringer washer that always leaked, and, in winter, when I hung them, they froze into planks in the Minnesota air.
What misguided vaporetto carried us here from Pablum to shock and awe, from winter to terror, from American Flyer to this skein of loose silk blowing across the desert?
Venice: March 20, 2003 â€“ the Allies invade Iraq
The canals shimmer, All our doubts turn into themselves, lap the foundations of the churches, many tributaries, but where is the river? a violinist plays Vivaldi, We try to return to reason, but each time, on a rainy afternoon, we find a different source, beneath the song, and the bridges from one to the other the distortion of war: Baghdad shaking, washed out. Without distance or direction, men sobbing, how can we know an old woman, enveloped in scarves, if we are on the right path? trembling in prayer. In fear, we loseâ€Ś
he emailed he was busy sometimes and sometimes not i talked about the flea market how we found a wildflower planter how next week we’d be away had to make it general – don’t mention where we are don’t ask where he is don’t say anything about insurgents kidnappings i can say the bees are flying the tulips are in bloom
When the Peepers Sing
Tonight, I sing of frogs as small as thimbles who endure winter under scraps of bark and decaying leaves, survive frostâ€™s bite with an alchemy of their own making, an amphibian gin that slows pulse and breath while the sleeper dreams the astonishment of spring rain. This winter was narcotic, war scudding along its ecliptic: headlines that screamed of suicide attacks and roadside bombs, and on that screen in our living room each night, the faces of all those soldiers who died so far away,
while even the moon, with all her vigilance and glow, was silent. If I could, I too would hide away until crocuses skewer the brawling earth, jonquils bare their ruffled skirts, and a thousand tiny throats chime the cattails loose, strum the fiddleheads, call the red wings home.
War Blinks Its Reckless Course
Angry – sure! Didn’t I spend my green and Bare-legged years with an infant on each hip, offering up Courage, courtesy, spinning confidence and Dizzy promises Even as terrorists with babes swaddled in silk Flirted with suicide’s Gilt-edged sword? Last year History swooped down, Installed my son on a desert with stethoscope and rifle, war his new and Jealous master, Khaki-clad, in sturdy boots, Lumbering to a rhythm few can understand. There is no Middle ground in this all-or-nothing, Non-negotiable commitment: following Orders means 100%. My son’s life. His limbs. This a Pageant that generals play and no one else dares Question – a stage set with Rabid dogs, holy men with arctic eyes, Savagery of bludgeon and rant, belief Twisted onto a cross of broken glass. Unloose us, God, from this jacket of lies, where Violence begets violence, Wit and beauty are sent to die, Xenophobes flaunt picnic baskets with secret compartments, Youthful archers pull bowstrings taut in this new century’s handiwork, our Zodiac of hate.
Like the Lakota,
I count my age in summers, celebrate sunâ€™s return with dance, gooseberries, and ripening plums. This winter a crisis: my son ordered to the desert to fight a war I donâ€™t believe in and all I have is his disembodied voice on my answering machine. My dream is that quahog shells deflect bullets. I dream that because I never taught my child to tie his shoes, he could not be deployed. I dream Sadam Hussein is 5 years old, in a kindergarten with geraniums in the window and a teacher who cares. Unroll me like a fiddlehead; blister me with Julyâ€™s benign fire; end this war so my son can wrestle with his Weimaraner in his own back yard, so the children of Iraq can be free
to despise us, to hate school, to mock a landscape muffled with the innocence of snow.
To Pot a Swan – after a recipe from The Compleat Housewife, 1730.
1 Bone and skin your swan, beat the flesh into a mortar. Season with cloves and nutmeg. Can we forgive a time when gleam of feathers, grace of form was seen as foodstuff? Bake in an earthen pot with two pounds of butter spread over. 2 When our troops march into Iraq I seek out Henry’s Pond, stand at its edge with hands outstretched until the swans glimmer toward me. I yearn for stillness of water, the great birds rising up, wings opening and closing like shutters. 3 Specific names refer to the slicing of each bird: a swan is “ lifted,” a goose is “broken,” hens are “spoiled,” a mallard “unbraced.” A unit is deployed, the wounded are airlifted, officers reassigned, the supply unit captured.
4 A bomb explodes in Baghdad killing an infant and his teenage sister; soldiers from the 101st drive over a landmine. When cold, cover it over with clarified butter. The next day paper it up. In this manner you may do goose, duck, or hareâ€™s flesh. Beauty. Death. In the same chaste score.
Willy and the Swans
Willy meets me as I’m walking toward the pond, his white hair flying, brown eyes sparked with something I don’t understand, and when we come upon the swans, all grace and silk, the three little ones swimming in a row, I tell him how the day before there’d been four babies, the day before that five, the day before that six. Do you think it was a Coyote got them? Snapping turtle? I ask, but he looks away and tells me – his words thick in a Czechoslovakian sort of way – how he’s had twenty jobs in his eighty-odd years. You sure have seen a lot in your lifetime, I tell him. He shrugs, his T-shirt riding up ever so slightly, so I see a slice of bald belly, the numbers tattooed on his upper arm.
Private First Class, Army Reserve
I’m here because of cousin Gabe sitting at his desk on the 23rd floor, the white ash falling, Yessir; I’m here for another three months in a Humvee rattling toward Baghdad because old USA likes its battles far from home, Yessir, I’m out in the field, eating MRE’s, drinking lousy coffee, dodging a man who prays five times a day while my buddy Matt barbecues T-bones on his back yard patio, Yessir, I’m patrolling the streets of Kirkuk so Uncle Edward can ask the doctor for something to calm his nerves, his work at the bank being stressful, Yessir,
I’m pounded by gunfire so my nephew Howie can wear his iPod to dinner and won’t hear his dad say, Do you have any idea what’s going on in the world? I’ve been here nine months: 275 days, 6,500 hours, one twenty-sixth of a life so far, but who’s counting? God knows why I’m here. Yessir.
Cradleboard â€“ in memoriam, Army Pfc. Lori Ann Piestewa, 1980-2003
When Lori Ann left Tuba City for Iraq, there was drumming on an Arizona mesa, a hundred Hopi prayers scattered like the red dust of her homeland to keep her safe. I imagine her on a cradleboard swaddled in a blanket the hue of sun on canyon, safe from wind and cold, from rough hands, from the forestâ€™s sharp-toothed unknown.
Cape Ann in War Time
1 The wind off the Grand Banks keens against the waning of the moon, What does the sea care? Under the black dome of sky even humpbacks and minkes plummet to invisibility, time outspins itself to stars, the small ones weighted with stones. 2 Summers sear my bare arms, dust chokes even the naked locust, mosquito’s sting and itch; be careful what you wish for – work-callused hands, silences like a moon’s rising; new babe, mouth to breast, small hands clinging, clinging. Loneliness wraps the shuttered afternoon. I haven’t laughed in sixty-seven days.
3 Piecing a quilt, I embroider lily-of-the-valley, return of happiness, weave a running stitch raw edge to raw edge. In one corner, a pansy, think of me; what can I do but sew with a silver thimble and a #7 sharp? Honeysuckle, bond of love: I add a line of stitching, frame the blocks with sashing, an appliquĂŠ of wild roses, whichever way you go.
In art class, Phil tells me how his Spitfire was jumped by fighters, smoke filled his cockpit, his plane hovered vertical until the Baltic Sea rushed up. Hell, he was only 19, with 18 holes in his plane, never mind arms, legs, buttocks, and when the horizon leveled, he was scooped up and shipped to Leipzig where the doctors patched him so he could be tossed into a barbed wire cage; he survived on bread enriched with maggots, but on his 20th birthday everyone in the compound put something into a cardboard box – half a Hershey bar, a stick of mint gum, an ivory button – tied the box with a shoe string and placed it on his cot, and that day not a single prisoner was beaten. Style, the art teacher says, is painting what you feel. She flicks a switch and the room is filled with O’Keeffe’s flowers, petals you could gallop across, curl inside, and I consider Phil’s painting: a battered table, but in its center, painted in detail with a small sable brush, a bowl overflowing with grapes, apples, and pears.
Nona and the Polenta â€“ For Ian, Sadie, April: your great-grandmotherâ€™s story
Lombardia was a banquet before the Germans carved the green hills with their black boots, devoured the wheat like locusts, scooped larders, pantries, and root cellars, with thick, gloved hands. Theresa had two children then, their bellies hollow as gourds, and all those soldiers like nettles in her garden, so she buried a sack of corn meal in the woods nearby beneath a felled chestnut, hid the laying hen in a wall of thorns. At night, when silence came at the edge of crying, she disappeared into the trees; they hungered for this corn meal whispering into a homespun bag,
a single egg humming in her palm. In the morning she would sing the corn meal into water, like the time before the killing, when her mother stirred the same wooden stick in the same clockwise circles. When children knew nothing of guns or war.
Yesterday rhododendrons bled across the lawn, but today my son calls to say he’s home from war a half a world away and the sky rings blue again. Today my son calls to say he’s home: in a voice still young he tells a joke and the sky hymns blue again. He sends a photo in uniform, a face still young behind a beard, eyes squinting against the sun’s blare, still handsome in his uniform. What did I know of bombs and shamals, of the sun as an assassin? Iraq was only a splotch in a geography book, without suicide bombers and sandstorms, a page I could ignore, Baghdad an enigmatic name in a book. Yesterday rhododendrons bled across the lawn, today the garden dazzles green, my son is home from war.
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