The Operating System


Above: Veteran Jake Jacobs recounts his pharmaceutical struggle after his return home.
Oma Died

1. Niels, Oma died…Mom, I am getting deployed

3. Please put your M-16 in the overhead compartments with the muzzle facing to the rear of the plane.

12. Release chaff…Fuck we haven’t even arrived yet, and already we’re getting shot at?

8. Wife? I don’t know. Home? See previous question.

11. Alone. People say I’m not, but where are they then?

13a. Someone has been in my bedroom.

9. I can’t believe you told everyone! What were you thinking?
I was hurt&you don’t understand.

4. 1st Casualty. Now it is on boys.
Fuck…it’s been on since the first scud flew over.

5. At least I didn’t really know him. There will be more.

7. Cross the border to Kuwait. Relief, breathe.
Two weeks later downtown Baghdad again; disillusioned.

2. We’re taking the church bus to war.

13. No longer home, still alone.

6. GAS, GAS, GAS!!!!

15. I bought a shotgun, that wasnt smart.

16. I can’t go back. I can’t go back! PLEASE.

10. I wish I were dead.

18. I’m going to the morgue and overdose.

17. Going to drill exacerbates his symptoms.

20. Doig and Dorris and Wright are going back. Maybe I should?

14. I’m hurt. I’m weak.

19. Where have all my tears gone?

There is perhaps no context where Roque Dalton’s quote “poetry, like bread, is for everyone” resonates more powerfully for me than in the veteran community.
In approaching the work of veterans and deployed military — something I encourage all of us to do with honor and great gratitude — it’s important to remember that nothing serves us less than the false notion that there is something a poet looks like, things a poet does or jobs a poet has, ways a poet behaves, or ways a poem sounds, words a poem includes (or doesn’t include).
Entry into poetics as a process, a tool, or a weapon even — or as a road to healing —  is an incredibly powerful experience that continues to change lives every day as words are released from the strictures of grammar, “objectivity,” and right language back into our shared human capacities for empathic expression and perception.
The soldier’s poem is nothing new — many will remember reading everything from ancient sagas recounting warriors’ tales to civil or revolutionary war poems (many of which are available online and worth a re-read for what can be a bracingly present emotional world). What is unfamiliar to many even within the contemporary poetry landscape is the active role of poetry writing, workshops, circles, websites, readings, and so on for both on duty military and veterans from every possible war you can imagine.
vet poetry
The archive for posts tagged “poetry” on the Vietnam Veterans of America site announces today’s annual Memorial Day Writers’ Project on the Mall in Washington D.C., where from 11:30-5 vets of all ages are invited to have their voices heard an an open reading, alongside other events related to veteran poetry.
This year, Exit Strata was honored to publish veteran poet Farzana Marie’s work influenced by her tour in Afghanistan in the recent PRINT! Vol. 2 issue. Her piece on “Poetry in Social Conflict” was also featured within our 30/30/30 Poetry month series, where she drew on both  creative expression within Afghan art and poetry as well as from the work of soldiers today who’ve served in places like Kabul, where she was stationed.
That piece included the poem “Lima Charlie,” by Laura Carpenter, US Army, which can be found on the extensive, inspiring site of the Welcome Home Project, the source of Niels Damman’s work seen above — a place we’d all grow from spending time exploring and feeling, hearing the voices of our young soldiers…or those who were once young soldiers.
It’s so easy — too easy — to feel far from the daily realities of war in this country, but perhaps a reminder of the numbers will help:
as of December, 2012, there were 328,812 Air Force,  546,057 Army, 198,820 Marines, and 314,339 Navy members deployed internationally, with the highest number (68,000) deployed in Afghanistan.
That’s a total of 1,388,028 people. Men and women. Individuals. With faces and families.
With stories.
We have a hard time with big numbers. We go to “cannot compute” — so find some point of comparison.  Here: it’s about 13 times the capacity of Michigan’s Football Stadium, which holds about 110,000 people.  It’s over 1000 times the entire student body of Swarthmore College, where I went to school.
Maybe today even a few of you who have off on this day will be reminded by this post that to support and celebrate veterans is very very different than to support war. It is essential that we encourage dialogue and healing within and around veteran communities — from whom we have so, so much to learn, and whose voices continue to be some of the most effective in creating and fighting for change in the way we fund, fill ranks, and engage with military in this country, both personally and institutionally.
I leave you with more from Farzana Marie, speaking recently at TEDxTucson — a perfect example of the ways our vets have the capacity to impact the human landscape both at home and in their sites of deployment.
With gratitude,
Lynne DeSilva-Johnson
Managing Editor


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