Sunday, December 16, 2007

Heard at a Veterans' Open Mic

Veterans in our town have organized a monthly open mic event on Thursday. It's open to all, and so far participants include Iraq veterans, active-duty personnel, and older Viet Nam vets. In general, I hate open mic events, especially when poetry is involved, but this one is valuable. It's becoming a place where people who feel they can't talk about what they have seen can testify about it, and I'm hoping more people will start coming.

Toward the end of the evening, this poem by Andrea Gibson was read. I had never heard it and was quiet moved. "For Eli" is apparently becoming one of the most important articulations of the emotional trials of those who were asked to fight in Iraq, in part through electronic posting and forwarding. Here it is. Check out the links in this post for more video from the event and more poetry by Andrea.

for eli

Eli came back from Iraq

and tattooed a teddy bear onto the inside of his wrist

above that a medic with an IV bag

above that an angel

but Eli says the teddy bear won't live

and I know I don't know but I say, "I know"

cause Eli's only twenty-four and I've never seen eyes

further away from childhood than his

eyes old with a wisdom

he knows I'd rather not have

Eli's mother traces a teddy bear onto the inside of my arm

and says, "not all casualties come home in body bags"

and I swear

I'd spend the rest of my life writing nothing

but the word light at the end of this tunnel

if I could find the fucking tunnel

I'd write nothing but white flags

somebody pray for the soldiers

somebody pray for what's lost

somebody pray for the mailbox

that holds the official letters

to the mothers,



and little brothers

of Micheal 19... Steven 21... John 33

how ironic that their deaths sound like bible verses

the hearse is parked in the halls of the high school

recruiting black, brown and poor

while anti-war activists

outside walter reed army hospital scream

100, 000 slain

as an amputee on the third floor

breathes forget-me-nots onto the window pain

but how can we forget what we never knew

our sky is so perfectly blue it's repulsive

somebody tell me where god lives

cause if god is truth god doesn't live here

our lies have seared the sun too hot to live by

there are ghosts of kids who are still alive

touting M16s with trembling hands

while we dream ourselves stars on Survivor

another missile sets fire to the face in the locket

of a mother who's son needed money for college

and she swears she can feel his photograph burn

how many wars will it take us to learn

that only the dead return

the rest remain forever caught between worlds of

shrapnel shatters body of three year old girl


welcome to McDonalds can I take your order?

the mortar of sanity crumbling

stumbling back home to a home that will never be home again

Eli doesn't know if he can ever write a poem again

one third of the homeless men in this country are veterans

and we have the nerve to Support Our Troops

with pretty yellow ribbons

while giving nothing but dirty looks to their outstretched hands

tell me what land of the free

sets free its eighteen-year-old kids into greedy war zones

hones them like missiles

then returns their bones in the middle of the night

so no one can see

each death swept beneath the carpet and hidden like dirt

each life a promise we never kept

Jeff Lucey came back from Iraq

and hung himself in his parents basement with a garden hose

the night before he died he spent forty five minutes on his fathers lap

rocking like a baby

rocking like daddy, save me

and don't think for a minute he too isn't collateral damage

in the mansions of washington they are watching them burn

and hoarding the water

no senators' sons are being sent out to slaughter

no presidents' daughters are licking ashes from their lips

or dreaming up ropes to wrap around their necks

in case they ever make it home alive

our eyes are closed


there are souls in

the boots of the soldiers


fuck your yellow ribbon

you wanna support our troops

bring them home

and hold them tight when they get here

If any of you know of similar events in your communities, please go!


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