War Poems

Hard to believe it's been six years since the fall of Baghdad, but Democracy Now reports that on this anniversary of the fall, tens of thousands of Iraqis gathered to protest our continued occupation in that country.

Here are two poems inspired by war, one by Yusef Komunyakaa and the other by Brian Turner. Komunyakaa, a Pulitzer Prize winner, served in the Vietnam War. Brian Turner earned an MFA from University of Oregon before serving in Bosnia and Iraq.

Hanoi Hannah

Ray Charles! His voice
calls from waist-high grass,
& we duck behind gray sandbags.
"Hello, Soul Brothers. Yeah,
Georgia's also on my mind."
Flares bloom over the trees.
"Here's Hannah again.
Let's see if we can't
light her goddamn fuse
this time." Artillery
shells carve a white arc
against dusk. Her voice rises
from a hedgerow on our left.
"It's Saturday night in the States.
Guess what your woman's doing tonight.
I think I'll let Tina Turner
tell you, you homesick GIs."
Howitzers buck like a herd
of horses behind concertina.
"You know you're dead men,
don't you? You're dead
as King today in Memphis.
Boys, you're surrounded by
General Tran Do's division."
Her knife-edge song cuts
deep as a sniper's bullet.
"Soul Brothers, what you dying for?"
We lay down a white-klieg
trail of tracers. Phantom jets
fan out over the trees.
Artillery fire zeros in.
Her voice grows flesh
& we can see her falling
into words, a bleeding flower
no one knows the true name for.
"You're lousy shots, GIs."
Her laughter floats up
as though the airways are
buried under our feet.

--taken from Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems by Yusef Komunyakaa (Wesleyan University Press: 1993)

What Every Soldier Should Know
To yield to force is an act of necessity, not of will;
it is at best an act of prudence.
--Jean-Jacques Rousseau

If you hear gunfire on a Thursday afternoon,
it could be for a wedding, or it could be for you.

Always enter a home with your right foot;
the left is for cemeteries and unclean places.

O-guf! Tera armeek is rarely useful.
It means Stop! Or I'll shoot.

Sabah el khair is effective.
It means Good Morning.

Inshallah means Allah be willing.
Listen well when it is spoken.

You will hear the RPG coming for you.
Not so the roadside bomb.

There are bombs under the overpasses,
in trashpiles, in bricks, in cars.

There are shopping carts with clothes soaked
in foogas,a sticky gel of homemade napalm.

Parachute bombs and artillery shells
sewn into the carcasses of dead farm animals.

Graffiti sprayed onto the overpasses:
I will kell you, American.

Men wearing vests rigged with explosives
walk up, raise their arms and say Inshallah.

There are men who earn eighty dollars
to attack you, five thousand to kill.

Small children who will play with you,
old men with their talk, women who offer chai--

and any one of them
may dance over your body tomorrow.

--taken from Here, Bullet by Brian Turner (Alice James Books: 2005)

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