A poem for Veteran’s Day: 2008, a solider in Iraq dreams of home

The poet Brian Turner was an infantryman in Iraq when he had the experience described in this poem, which comes courtesy of the National Public Radio website. NPR recorded this story in December 2008.

Of the poem, Turner said: “I remember, it wasn’t very often that I did this, but I knew that home was approaching. It was sort of on the horizon. It was beginning to be much more possible. So I think I was beginning to allow myself little avenues into kind of nostalgia for home. Sort of flashing images of America were kind of going through my head. And I was missing home. I don’t know if anyone’s ever been on a bus when it’s cold, and there’s that sort of frost on the windows, and when you wipe it away you can see people on the sidewalk as you’re passing by. And that was the image at the end that I was trying to sort of think about and get at.”

Cole’s Guitar

It’s the sound from the aid station

that wakes me, thin steel

from Doc Cole’s six-string,

a 4 a.m. sound of sour whiskey,

heroin and sex and dying,

that’s the sound I’m hearing now,

slow as smoke from a factory

in Pittsburgh, slow as a needle

in the vein, slow as steam off the bath

or a lover with only the blues to sing.

I’m hearing America now.

I’m hearing jake brakes off the Grapevine,

county highways with wheat shocks

and Indian summer grass whispering,

foghorns under the Golden Gate bridge,

Ella Fitzgerald from a 4th floor window

in Birmingham, the handles of a suitcase

swinging on the downbeat of a man’s footsteps

walking out from a Greyhound in Sante Fe.

I’m in Wyoming. I’m in New York.

I’m leaning in to kiss a woman

in the cornfields down by the river.

I’m with children drawing portraits

in the sand, old men watching fireflies

the way Muhammad Ali lay on canvas

and dreamed. That’s what I’m hearing,

the wind on the redwood coast,

old as the ocean and hushed

by sheets of fallen snow.

Palm-mute the strings, Doc,

strum that song until I can see

the breath on a bus window, the faces

of strangers in the rain, my own hands

tracing the features of every one of them,

the way ghosts might visit the ones they love,

as I am now, listening to America,

touching the cold glass.

Turner is also the author of the poem The Hurt Locker.

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