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Symphony Number Eleven

(Saint Petersburg, 1905)

    Adagio: The Palace Square.

Cold and quiet the crowd of cellos
gathers like snow in the clouds,
menace of timpani rumble,
an earthquake beneath the square,
a call of brass from some distant place.

    Allegro: The Ninth of January.

A restlessness of burning violins,
a swirling blizzard, a sudden riot
of snare drums like gunfire,
timpani horses thunder,
to the march and clash of gleaming brass,
a panic of piccolos and woodwinds.

    Adagio: Eternal Memory

A bent mother searches among the thump of drums
in the quiet dark of deserted streets,
picks through remnants of shattered violas,
crushed bass clarinets and trampled flutes
for her son, the harpist, who lies frozen,
stretched over the splintered carcass
of his wrecked and ruined instrument.

    Adagio non troppo: Tocsins

Tocsins toll in the churches,
a call in resilient G minor,
call to a future of violent trumpets,
trombones, cymbals of power, tubular bells,
celesta and strings but, for now,
the music is tacet in the square.

Symphony No. 11, OP 103 D. Shostakovich

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The opening credits were starting to roll

When a crack of light
And a shadow emerged from the door
A few seconds of silence
—A lifetime too short—
Before the gun 
Started to roar

With the first few
It was a loud crack
Then the patter
Like corn kernels
On a tin pan.

Then smoke and screams fill the air
Its heavy to breathe
Weighed down with fear
You are caged
Trapped like a rabbit
Between one fat man
And a lovestruck couple.

This is why you hate flying
The smell of death mixed with lust
Stronger than your
That sickening combination
Of roses and burning flesh.

You want to throw up
But someone 
Stole your liver and
Punched you in the stomach,
Taking your innocence 
With it.

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Cigarettes and Coffee

            Before I had even opened my eyes, I registered two things; the pistol under my pillow had shifted, meaning I had played with it at some point during the night, and that Chris was making coffee.

            I opened my eyes to the world, looking up at the concrete ceiling, painted white, or maybe that’s the color it naturally was. Maybe it wasn’t even concrete. The wall next to my cot had a long blotch of beige spray paint, and in it in black was written “McGrueber,” accompanied by a drawings of a bloody nose and the Native American featured on the side of my American Spirits; the only cigarettes I would smoke, until I ran out that is. The three other cots in the room featured similar terms of degradation and graffiti; all inside jokes.

            David was the Team Leader; Panda. His name came from the movie Kung Fu Panda. He was heavyset, a Mormon from Idaho and one of the few people I trust completely. Chris, the assistant TL, was Romeo. Chris is half white, half Filipino from the panhandle of Florida. He has a handsome face and what girls would call pretty eyes. My best friend and the youngest, both in years and rank, was Alex, or Pookie. This name originated from his family before us, but it stuck. I called him Al. I was the only one to do so, and still am to this day. Al was our radio operator, a farmer from Pennsylvania. I’d kill the world for that boy.


            None of that mattered out there though. We had to get along, no matter where we were from, our race or religion. I had taken a phrase from an old Staff Sergeant I worked beside and made it our team’s creed. “You can shovel shit happy, or you can shovel shit mad, but either way, you still have to shovel shit.” So we chose to shovel our shit happy. That can be difficult when you put four grown men together, in a room smaller than most suburban bedrooms. But we made do.

            I looked over to Al’s cot. He was still asleep. I looked towards my feet, at David’s cot that was along the same wall as mine. He had a mosquito net hung around his and we called him a princess for it. His was empty as well. I could hear the sounds of a computer mouse clicking behind me though and I knew he was playing on Chris’s laptop. We had a WWII strategy game that we liked to play in our down time. I used to beat him nine games out of ten, but damned if he didn’t try his hardest every time. Chris’s cot, also sporting a fairy princess mosquito net, was also empty in the far opposite corner. It was November and Chris was up, so I knew coffee was being made.

            The day was November the 26th to be exact. I will remember this forever, because the 25th was Black Friday; the day after Thanksgiving. Black Friday was the day I was engaged in my first and only firefight of my deployment to Afghanistan. Yesterday, another man had attempted to take my life. I, in turn, had attempted to take his. Neither of us, to my knowledge, succeeded.

            Smelling of the cigars we had smoked last night in honor of our last mission, which, being that nobody was killed, we deemed a wild success, and stale sweat, I sat up in my sleeping bag and reached instantly for the puffy coat we had dubbed “marshmallow suits” and swung my legs over the edge. David looked back, wearing his ridiculous oversized prescription Oakley’s and massive headphones, and said loudly “I’m going to beat the computer on Hard, Carpenter!” I smiled and shook my head, pulling on a pair of dirty sweatpants.

            Despite popular belief, Afghanistan was not always hot. Had it not been for two space-heaters we “acquired,” the room would have been much colder, but I stood up and went outside immediately, ducking through the four foot, holey metal door that didn’t quite fit right. I found Chris outside on our balcony (we lived on the second floor of what I’m told was a hotel) making coffee, the salvaged pot running via an extension cord that ran back into the room.

            “Morning Man-Slayer,” Chris said energetically. Of the four of us, I was the most inclined to be homicidal in the morning, and Chris liked to test just how well I could control my urge to murder somebody in the first half hour of consciousness.

            “Fuck you,” I said, picking up my cigarettes off the bench. The door behind me, a staircase led down immediately to my right with a ledge going around to another staircase that went to the third floor. We had a wood bench and a computer chair, as well as some folding stools for seating and it did us just fine.

            I lit a cigarette, and ran my hand through my wild hair. Chris managed to remove himself from today’s hit list by handing me a cup of coffee; black, no fixings, the way everyone knew I liked it. Chris took his with heavy sugar, Al with anything he could throw in it to make it weird and David didn’t drink coffee; something to do with being a Mormon.


            We looked out through the camouflage netting that hung in front of our balcony, over the double-wall of Hesco Barriers, filled with many feet of solid earth, topped with razor wire, into the city of Musa Qa’la, blowing on our coffee. The air was damp and cold, the city covered in thick fog. Despite our constant insistence that we couldn’t wait to get home, we had all in our own way, fallen in love with our circumstances. I loved it out there. I sat on the stairs that led to the third story and Chris sat in the chair and we shared an easy silence as we smoked and drank coffee. The city was quiet. It usually was on days like today.


            There had only been a few explosions in the city itself when we were there, most of the action taking place on the northern and southern borders of the district. We hopped around the district, giving our support as needed. It had mostly consisted of cleaning up the mess the team before us left, recovering our specialized gear that they had left out and setting the gear up for the next team so they could get straight to work instead of having to hunt down missing inventory items. We also arrived near the end of the fighting season and because of the team before us, had to spend the first month and a half rearranging, recounting and generally unfucking our situation.

            That Saturday, only a month away from beginning the journey home, I didn’t care anymore. My mettle had been tested and I had responded well. I knew that if I were called upon again to fight, I would fight. I would take position and return fire on the enemy. I make no claims of heroism or even bravery. I stood my ground and I shot back. But that was half the battle. And I had done it without fear, without hesitation, without excitement or hate. What did scare me though was that I wanted more.

            Chris and I didn’t speak again about the firefight. It was the second he had been in. He had made it clear he was in no hurry to do it again. Neither was David. David I understood; he had a wife and two children. Al was on my side. I looked out at the fog and the mud-brick and the sheet-metal garages and the slab concrete roads and shoddy metal railings and the Afghans that were slowly coming awake and beginning their day, dark-skinned and heavily clothed against the winter cold, through cigarette smoke and camouflage netting, with a small armory of weapons, loaded and ready, feet away. I thought of the pistol under my pillow. Loaded. Safety off. My hands twitched. I wanted more.


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Redemption Song

Though fireworks boom flowers at the sky,

gun blast was a song eaten by our ears. I listened
to your—their voice as it was

my saving recourse—an unfathomable prayer
that teaches me how to scream my most silent

scream: a thunderclap in midnight’s peace. This
is tragedy unfolding before our eyes, dictated
through our ears. And later on, those nights and all
the other nights will be a corpse buried

through the amnesia of sepia skinned
newspapers—a myth trapped among
pages; an obituary printed
five or fifteen generations too late

But tonight, we found ourselves gathering what’s left
on the field: our bodies, trying to heal
the wounds left by these encounters: a burn that developed
into an eggplant swell—a wildfire mark that we call

our branding. Heroes on our time, we will never
speak—rather we will sing of this past
told as what history had remembered it.

And I will scream at the top of my lungs,
claiming victory over time that dragged me
to hell and back. And I will always go

here with this war song buried under my

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Damn Vietnam

Damn Vietnam

you have been home
some forty years
your rifle
under your pillow
each night
while you fire away in your sleep
I wonder why
for the war is over

Damn Vietnam

but it
is not over
it is 1966
all over again
the NVA
has just crossed the
you are in the middle
of the biggest battle yet
five thousand
you head north
Operation Hastings
Dong Ha
you have
arrived in hell
and air power drive
them back
finally, after so many

Damn Vietnam

you say nothing
until the whiskey
burns your throat
and the rage begins
its long climb up
as you attempt to
vomit out your hell
your war still there
on the surface
anger roiling
through your blood
you should be asleep old man
but your wounds are

Damn Vietnam

last night looking up
into the trees
clouds sailing
across the moon
crows speaking
I listened
while they spoke
of knowledge
of wisdom
of healing that would come
to my brothers
who were there

Damn Vietnam

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Can't Spell Disgrunted...

Let one more person thank me,
For my "service," as they call it.
See if I don't explode.
Because the ones who believe in what we do,
Don't do it for thanks.
We do it because we want to.
Because someone has to.
Please don't thank us.
Don't thank me.
Just smile and shake my hand,
And go about your day,
Hold your loved ones,
And be happy.
Because that's why we do it.
Not for the thanks.
Don't thank a veteran.
Live for them.

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Wounded warriors

There comes a time when one must stand
to take up arms hand in hand
with others stand and mothers cry
to take the road less travelled by
to offer aid to fight the cause
to be the one while others run
for liberty, freedom, and native son

Are you the one that takes this charge
to fight with others standing large
Can you this mantle wear with pride
and say well done with banner raised
to wear the pain that hurts your side
while others live you hold the scars
you mention not nor look for praise.

You stand or sit among us now
your heart so heavy your burden large
with missing limb or eye or brow
you take your stand at home but how
how can you last this test of time
alone without your youth and prime
you are our best our pride and joy
we love you still I say in rhyme.

- Trish 2012

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Equal: A Speech

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A Song for Shelter

Here we found rhythm

In the dripping of drops;

Rocks poured from the cieling,

A progress of aeons.

Untied my pack, sat and rocked

Out of the storm’s way.

I became a pendulum humming,

Rolling wet dust to paste,

Staining motions on the walls.

You built a fire,

Sung me an old placation.

The cave kept time

And I howled and squawked

Until I found the right harmony.

The thunder held the bass.

We told tales of capricious sprites

And the coming paradise

That lay somewhere close to here.

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A Son Far From Home

            He looked out over the field, laying amongst the rocks in the ridge above it, waiting for the Germans, waiting, waiting, waiting. The summer sun beat down like it hadn’t in years, they said. He wouldn’t know; he’d never been to France. He’d never even left Virginia until the war started. And now here he was, in a far-off wood, waiting for his chance to charge across the open field into machine gun fire from the tree line barely a hundred yards away.

He wondered how such a place could be so awful, a field of gold, turned more so by the afternoon sunlight and the reflection of the yellow wheat in the field. A breeze played with it, played with the green leaves of the trees and the scent of blood and the dead and dying. He thought of his mother, fishing the picture of her and his father out of his breast pocket. She’d be so proud of him, he thought, if she knew how strong he was, how strong he had been in the beginning. And he was still strong. Still he was glad she couldn’t see him now, covered in sweat and blood, some of it his, some of it his friends, some his enemies.

“I love you, mom,” he said quietly, kissing the picture and slipping it back into his pocket. Sergeant O’Hara smiled up at the summer sun, looked down the barrel of his rifle and sighted in on the young machine gunner in the darkness of the trees atop the rocky ledge that was their target. He pulled the trigger and watched the man slump dead over the gun. “Charge!”