The past three weeks have been emotionally charged for me, and I thought I wanted to write about it directly, but I can’t. I’ve been working closer to the military than I have in the past, and not only would it be wrong to blog about it, it would be impossible to describe my feelings and thoughts. That happens to me sometimes (often?), which is why poetry works as such a powerful tool for expression for me. Poetry helps me synthesize my thoughts and feelings when I can’t do so otherwise.
In lieu of posting about me, I am going to re-post something I found on the web. Unfortunately, I can’t find the author, so perhaps the author will find me.
I chose this piece because it expresses some of the angst I have been experiencing, feelings I can’t tune out or turn off. I see soldiers and I think, “They could die tomorrow,” and yet they go on. I can’t even deal with the thought, never mind the reality. Their strength and courage are beyond my comprehension and any thanks I can give them.
Have you ever been in a war? Anyone you know had to go overseas for a war? Do you know of anyone who didn’t come back from a war? Since the buildup to this war with Iraq, “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” went on for a long while and it looks like the aftereffects will go on for a long time, it has really bothered me in many ways, mentally, physically, and emotionally.
During the time the fighting was going on in March and April, I discovered a poet named Jim Northrup who writes about war. To me, his poems are very true, in the way his words are expressed. He puts the image, the picture of the war into my mind. When he talks about bombs, guns, missiles and explosions, I can hear it, as if I were actually there. Jim Northrup’s poems mean a lot to me. I give much respect for someone who has been to a war and can talk about it. Well, I guess he’s not talking about it – he’s writing it on paper, putting it into poems. In his poem “War Talk,” someone asks him:
Were you in the war?
What was it like?
Like nothing you can imagine.
He is asked if he killed anyone, and how it felt. He answers, “I felt like a murderer, a savior, a cog in a machine.” But there is one thing he will not talk or write about:
Did any of your friends get killed?
How did that feel?
Get the f–k out of my face!
That is a touchy subject for him or for anyone else who has gone to war. I think he is expressing and coping with his feelings from the Vietnam war.
This war, “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” was very painful for me to watch on television and listen to on the radio. I knew we were going to go to war, but when President Bush declared war it really hit me. People started to stock up on canned foods, water, and first-aid supplies. On our local radio station, they were saying to get duct tape to put around your windows. Yes, I do admit I am one of those people who did stock up on water. This war was starting to freak me out. President George W. Bush and the news reporters were saying we might get hit with a chemical or biological weapon as an act of terrorism. This would affect our water we drink and our crops we eat. We might lose electrical power, or we might need to take money out of the bank and put it in a safe place, they were saying.
On March 19, 2003, it happened. My mom, my 19-month-old daughter and I were getting ready to leave for Atlanta, Georgia. The entire way to Atlanta we listened to Cable News Network (CNN) on the radio. When we finally arrived at my brother’s, the war was everywhere on. We were in Atlanta for five days. The whole time we were there, we had CNN on. My mom and I finally said we needed to get away from the television, so we went shopping to get our minds off of the war. My mom and dad were talking to me about the war. I had a lot of questions to ask, and I wanted the answers. My mom said, “Wait until they do the ‘shock and awe.'” She explained to me that the United States was going to bomb Baghdad, one bomb right after another, all night until we hit all the targets. The first bomb that we shot was at Sadam Hussein’s palace. CNN said our intelligence thought we either killed Saddam or he was badly injured. Me, I hoped he was killed.
We were all eating dinner at the table when we heard on CNN, “Breaking News.” We all rushed over to the television and it said a grenade had hit our troops, leaving two dead and a dozen injured. Came to find out hours later, it was our own U.S. soldier who threw the grenade. I asked my dad what was going to happen to him, and he said, “by the military law, he would be executed or put in prison for life.” Well, he got life. To me, he should have been executed.
We went through a war before in 1991. Desert Storm, how could I forget that one? I was a lot younger then. My cousin was in Desert Storm. He was away from home for a year. I remember I was 9 years old, and my class wrote letters to my cousin, so he would have something to read and to let him know we were thinking of him. My cousin will not talk about Desert Storm. If you ask him a question about it, the answer would be short, and you know not to say anything else about that subject.
Jim Northrup and his family live in northern Minnesota, where they live the traditional Native American life of the Anishinaabe. Jim also participates in literary events like the Taos Film Festival and the Taos Poetry Circus. After reading about Jim’s life, I decided that he is a very caring man. He is active with his community. Jim has given radio commentaries on the Superior Network, National Public Radio, Fresh Air Radio, and the BBC-Scotland. He has been a Mentor in the Loft Inroads Program. By reading his war poems, it sounds like his male family members have gone through wars too. In another one of his poems, “Ogichidag,” he writes that he “saw my uncles come back” from World War II. The title is the Anishinaabe word for “warriors.” Northrup says he:
Memorized the war stories
my cousins told of Korea
Felt the fear in their voices.
Then “it was my turn, my brothers too.” Serving in Vietnam, he:
Watched my friends die there
then tasted the bitterness of
the only war America ever lost.
A phrase at the end of the poem really put a shock to me:
My son is now a warrior.
Will I listen to his war stories
or cry into his open grave?
I guess you never look at it like that. You would just always think it can’t happen to me, I’m not going to die, I’m going home. But the truth is you might not come back. Jim Northrup really gets his point across to the reader in his poems. I respect him for writing about a touching memory that he will never forget.
In Desert Storm in 1991, I didn’t remember all of these news reporters, reporting 24-7. In this war with Iraq, the reporters were on the air 24-7, interviewing our troops when they should be watching their backs. They were also showing the injured and watching and reporting every move our troops make. To me that is wrong. As a parent, I wouldn’t want to turn on CNN and see my daughter injured and bleeding. That is not the public’s business. President Bush wanted these reporters broadcasting 24-7, but after it went on for a week, Bush changed his mind. I guess he thought, “They are showing the Americans too much, it is scaring them.” It was too late, Bush! War is scary.
How do I feel living through two wars already? It has already been 11 years ago since Desert Storm, so I figured every 11 years there will be a war. This country will never be happy. Sadly, history shows there will always be wars. I’m sure my daughter and I will live through a lot more. Do I think my daughter will ever be a warrior like Jim Northrup’s son? Sadly to say, I hope not. She is very strong at 19 months old. It wouldn’t surprise me if she went into the service one day. If she decides to go to the service and has to fight in a war, I will be a very worried mother. If that happens, will I continue to read Jim Northrup’s poetry on war? Yes, I will. He gets the point across to those who have not been in a war, to let them know what it is about.
Works CitedNorthrup, Jim. “Ogichidag.” Literature. Ed Edgar Roberts and Henry Jacobs. 6th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2000. 677.
___________. “War Talk.” http://www.jimnorthrup.org/