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If a body is what you want,

Then here is bone and gristle and flesh.

Brian Turner kept those words inside a zippered plastic bag in a pocket of his fatigues during his yearlong deployment as an infantry sergeant in Iraq.

They are now part of his poem “Here, Bullet,” from the slim, acclaimed volume of poetry that carries the same title.

Turner’s poetry is among the most notable works written by troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. For many of these warrior poets, their words go beyond personal therapy and serve also as a real-time window onto the battlefields, a record of history as it happens.

And they can help those back home understand what their loved ones are experiencing in the war zone, says the former director of the National Endowment for the Arts, which sponsored a series of writers workshops on military bases around the world to tap into the talents of those who served — and those who struggled to keep the home fires burning.

During a two-year period (2004-2005), the National Endowment for the Arts sponsored 59 workshops on 27 bases in five countries and one aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf to “identify the literary potential” of the servicemembers in the combat zone, said former NEA director Dana Gioia.

The authors conducting the workshops were from all corners of the writing world and included Tom Clancy.

More than 6,000 troops and their spouses participated. The project was called “Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience,” and has since been turned into a book and a documentary.

Gioia said he was blown away by the talent the project uncovered. Operation Homecoming received more than 1,200 manuscripts for the anthology.

“This is the first time in history, as far as I know, where we’re seeing the experiences of the soldiers being written down and available to the public as they are living them,” Gioia said in a telephone interview. “It’s unique in that they are writing about the war while it is still going on.

“A lot of the writers have gone on to write their own screenplays — like Marine Lt. Col. Michael Strobl’s ‘Taking Chance,’ which became an HBO movie — and books,” he said.

“Brian was the real discovery,” Gioia said of Turner, who is now touring the world on a yearlong “Traveling Poetry Scholarship.”

“He’s an example of the different kind of soldier you see in today’s military compared to past wars. Through their writing you get a real sense of the level of intelligence, experience and education that today’s military is made up of.”

More poems by servicemembers and veteransHere, BulletBy Brian TurnerHere, BulletIf a body is what you want,then here is bone and gristle and flesh.Here is the clavicle-snapped wish,the aorta’s opened valves, the leapthought makes at the synaptic gap.Here is the adrenaline rush you crave,that inexorable flight, that insane punctureinto heat and blood. And I dare you to finishwhat you’ve started. Because here, Bullet,here is where I complete the word you bringhissing through the air, here is where I moanthe barrel’s cold esophagus, triggeringmy tongue’s explosives for the rifling I haveinside of me, each twist of the roundspun deeper, because here, Bullet,here is where the world ends, every time.

AB Negative (The Surgeon’s Poem)By Brian TurnerThalia Fields lies under a grey ceiling of clouds,just under the turbulence, with anestheticsdripping from an IV into her arm,and the flight surgeon says The shrapnelcauterized as it traveled through herhere, breaking this rib as it entered,burning a hole through the left lungto finish in her back, and all of thisshe doesn’t hear, except perhaps as music—that faraway music of people’s voiceswhen they speak gently and with care,a comfort to her on a stretcherin a flying hospital en route to Landstuhl,just under the rain at midnight, and Thaliadrifts in and out of consciousnessas a nurse dabs her lips with a moist towel,her palm on Thalia’s forehead, her vitalsslipping some, as burned flesh gives wayto the heat of the blood, the tunnels withinopening to fill her, just enough bloodto cough up and drown in; Thaliasees the shadows of people workingto save her, but she cannot feel their hands,cannot hear them any longer,and when she closes her eyesthe most beautiful colors rise in darkness,tangerine washing into Russian blue,with the droning engine humming onin a dragonfly’s wings, island palmspainting the sky an impossible huewith their thick brushes dripping green…a way of dealing with the factthat Thalia Fields is gone, long gone,about as far from Mississippias she can get, ten thousand feet above Iraqwith a blanket draped over her bodyand an exhausted surgeon in tears,his bloodied hands on her chest, his headsunk down, the nurse guiding himto a nearby seat and holding him as he cries,though no one hears it, because nothing can be heardwhere pilots fly in blackout, the planelike a shadow guiding the rain, herein the droning engines of midnight.

EulogyBy Brian TurnerIt happens on a Monday, at 11:20 a.m.,as tower guards eat sandwichesand seagulls drift by on the Tigris river.Prisoners tilt their heads to the westthough burlap sacks and duct tape blind them.The sound reverberates down concertina coilsthe way piano wire thrums when given slack.And it happens like this, on a blue day of sun,when Private Miller pulls the triggerto take brass and fire into his mouth.The sound lifts the birds up off the water,a mongoose pauses under the orange trees,and nothing can stop it now, no matter whatblur of motion surrounds him, no matter what voicescrackle over the radio in static confusion,because if only for this moment the earth is stilled,and Private Miller has found what low hush there isdown in the eucalyptus shade, there by the river.Pfc B. Miller(1980-March 22, 2003)NOTE: Brian Turner can be viewed reading his poems at: Grabbed HimBy Gregory Robert SamuelsAnd then something happened from withinSomething grabbed himGrabbed him by the throatHe began to chokeHe fought in frenzy, fighting for his lifeHe thought it was over, he thought of his wifeHe thought death was knocking on his doorDeath was close, as it had been so many times beforeIt can’t be, he began to scream‘Wake up’ said his wife, ‘it’s only a dream.’

He Came Back from IraqBy Gregory Robert SamuelsHe came back from IraqBut his mind was still backIn the land he had foughtNow it was peace that he soughtOr so he thought, his wife said‘Stop thinking about Iraq, stop watching the newsStop getting so upset when you drink too much boozeYou have seen enough war for one life.’His wife thought he needed help, his marriage was in strifeHe couldn’t understand how this could beThen I realized the man in this poem was me.SalutBy Matt Pingin solemn hope and concentrationthe black smears white light in every dimensionthrough thin windowsin endless detailwaltzing neons strut;in searching through fading staticwhile begging the fire downsmall drops of chemical equationcalm shaking handsthe honest empathyfor anotherblazing within,the pious, the negligentforces left to understandbring fear for fear cleanses,it bleaches the deepest reachesi’ll be damned.spinning blade meet spinning handsoutstretched livesin a random landfirefight:(see)fireflies;timeline;timeflies:(also)paid to behave and be brave and to be new to be bold and be...I’d pay to be...busted, bruised, brainwashedThe best of the worst, of the altogetherunsatisfying, unbelievable, unbearableworst for the best, of the broken,andNostalgia of the times graspsinto beating chestsfills areas left untouchedenough, is enough, is enoughlet us drinkto being alive

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