War tent Baghdad, muggy & cramped,packed with the lost, soon to be lost,& deer-in-the-headlights newly deployed,demanded we sweat off arms, legs,brains,hopes of becoming a doctor, lawyer,mother, father, writer, president,& give away our brothers & sisters,children,our promises,the future,our booze infectedlives, our duty instructed lives.
We stood naked & bewilderedas our lives drizzled,rolled,dripped,poured& flew into the sand.
Like Eunuchs we allowed memories,to be chopped off and taken away:
your third-grade teacher, the first personyou danced with & kissed, never ending algebraclass, graduation, her sister, his mother’s smile,his girlfriend’s hopeless pot roast, their fireworks,my favorite chocolate ice cream, that job he hated,losing your two front teeth, appendicitis, nightmares,& the bus delivering all to basic training.
They added color to the television, radio,flavor to the plastic food, & meaning to this war,they melded with tent flaps, fluorescent lights.
We believed the sand & good intentions clingingto our bodies that night could be washed off, forgotten,& memories found like sunglasses or a lost cell phone.
We forgot about the sand.
It is earth—silicon, quartz, iron, fortified with blood,with the breath of seven billion lungs blowing, changing,forming—wind, rain, earthquakes,Breaking body and earthdown,grinding,masticating the slivers & nuggets,spitting them out,reaching our cells, our DNA.
We newly anointed desert creatures—camel spiders,sand fleas, hyenas, wolves, camels, jackals,& sweat,raised our right hand,signed on the dotted line.
Stay or leave, live or die, in pain or happiness.The desert sand owns us. All we once were, is packedaway in conex boxes with the televisions, radios,plastic food & good intentions.
Waiting for us somewhere in the Green Zonein the heart of Baghdad.
Winning Hearts and Minds
Warriors at this positiondon’t have accessto a washing serviceor soap and water.Their clothes are rancid.Skin crustedsandy, mucky.
In Mosul, we utilizea local Iraqi service.
Captain’sorders: winhearts and minds.
These Iraqisclean our clotheswith kerosene.Making us smelllike old-time lamps.Funky,but never clean.
It’s cheap.Our squad leader,reminded uswhen we pickedup our wash.
Gatheringanother heart andanother mindwho didn’t give a shit,and wanted to strikea matchand flick itat our feet.
The Homeless Woman
“War rockets murdered me,”shrieked the homeless womanfrom her tent in front of the Starbuckson Second Street.
Her dog-tagged, unlit cigarette,puffy eyed, camouflaged face,accented her tattered Armyuniform exquisitely.
Walking past her sidewalk door,she grabbed my leg,causing me to drop my latte.
“Help me,” she begged with leftovergunpowder breath.
“Nooooo,” I screeched over my shoulder,“you smell & your war is boring.”
“Winning Hearts and Minds,” was first published in a different form in the chapbook Triggers. “Processing” was first published in a different form in The Washington Post. “The Homeless Woman” was first published in a different form by The Chico News and Review.
Sylvia Bowersox served her first tour in Iraq in 2003-2004 as a U.S. army broadcast journalist attached to the 101st Airborne Division in Mosul. Her assignments took her around the country, but much of her time was spent in Baghdad, at Coalition Provisional Authority headquarters, which serves as the background for much of her work. She returned to Iraq for two more tours as a “3161” press officer assigned to the U.S Embassy Baghdad public affairs office, and later to the Special Investigator General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR). She lives with PTSD, and writes about her experiences in both wars. She has been honored by multiple Pushcart nominations for her work. Her first book, Triggers, a chapbook of war journalism flavored poetry and prose, was published by JerkPoet Press. Her work has appeared in the journal 0-Dark-Thirty, The Synthesis, Tethered by Letters, Solstice Literary Magazine, Epic Times, Bramble Literary Magazine, and The Washington Post. Sylvia received her Masters degree in English from California State University, Chico. She lives in Wisconsin with her veteran husband, Jon, and her Black Labrador service dog, Timothy.
BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month
The theme of teaching and learning poetry, and our emphasis on student poets, speaks directly to the action of poetry in our country and global community. Never has the education of our students been so threatened, and never has truth been more challenged than in the current political climate. The truth emerges through education and the resistance and questions of our youngest generation, and it is their lead we absolutely must follow if they are to live in a society that fosters their achievements, liberation, and justice. Truth emerges through poetry as well — poetry bears witness to what truths seem impossible to speak any other way. Its constraints limit the temptation to misconstrue, obscure, and bury.