Contests : War Poetry Contest : Past Winners : 2011 : Suzanne Roberts
THE CASUALTIES OF WAR
for Abeer Qassim Hamza Al-Janabi (1992-2006)
"We did not send a rapist and a murderer to Iraq"
—The aunt of former U.S Soldier Steven Green to the U.S. District County jury at Steven Green's trial for rape and murder.
He comes to you. You look up
from the earth, from your work
in your father's soy fields.
Your mother has warned you, said
they are white devils. His army fatigues,
camouflaged helmet terrify you.
He lifts the aviator's glasses—
the eyes, a ghostly blue.
Your black head scarf covers your hair,
but still, he reaches down, strokes
his index finger along your naked
cheek. The blood in your body,
now a cold mercury. The winged
fear unfolds, takes flight.
You run home, tell your mother.
She warns your father, who says,
It cannot be. She is just a child,
still a small girl. But he agrees,
a mother's instinct should not be
ignored, so you spend the night
away from your parents' farmhouse
with your cousins, where you'll be safe.
But they find you on your way home
in the morning. The yellow light casts
a long shadow of your slight frame.
You do not hear them follow you home
Among the din of stray dogs,
the wind shaking the palms.
Their breath, sour whisky and cigarettes,
their language, incomprehensible,
a mouthful of nails. They corner you
in the living room, hold you down,
while each man takes his turn,
another soldier breaks into
the bedroom, to your parents,
your baby sister. Your brothers
are safe at school.
The tinny echo of bullets, shattering glass,
and the screams, and the screams.
But you cannot call out, Mother, Father,
Sister, Grandfather, because a hand
covers your mouth, another holds you
to the floor, the hard sex of one
and then another and then another
tears you apart until the hot blood seeps
to your ankles, pools on the concrete floor.
The man who touched your face
emerges from the bedroom, says
"I just killed them. All are dead."
He cradles the AK47 like a baby
in the crook of his arm, comes at you,
stabs you again and again and again—
there is no other way to say this,
these casualties of war—the hard,
adult cock, the bleeding, cum-filled child.
The gasoline, the match, the icy hot
bloom around your feet. Only fire
bears witness to your shame.
You watch the soiled body burn,
then the farmhouse, the familiar palms,
until the once-innocent sky
is completely engulfed by flame.
A SOLDIER'S MAKING
Former U.S. Army 101st Airborne Private 1st Class Steven Green of Midland, Texas, 24, was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
—The Huffington Post (May 22, 2009)
Soldiers are made, not born—that cracked, dark door.
They told the civilian court, his mother
did not send a rapist, a murderer to war.
As a child, he loved to be hugged, was a reader,
a teased bowlegged boy. Had an absent father, cruel brother.
Soldiers are not born, but made—He walks out the door,
Enlists in the army, leaves to fight the war.
Trains to kill, learns to hate the nameless Other.
We did not send a rapist, a murderer to war.
His platoon-mate dies. There's more hate than before.
High on whiskey and revenge, he kills first the father.
Soldiers are not born, but made—He shoves open the door,
Their foreign cries make him hate them even more.
He shoots the baby sister, finally the mother.
We did not send a rapist, a murderer to war.
He says, "All dead...I killed them all...That's war."
The soldiers take their turns with the adolescent sister.
Soldiers are not born, but made—there's no closing the door.
He takes his turn. Her screams, a casualty of war.
Gasoline at her feet and the tenses shift: once are, now were.
Soldiers are not born but made—through the door,
a murderer and a rapist returns from war.
These poems won an Honorable Mention in the 2011 War Poetry Contest sponsored by Winning Writers. Author Suzanne Roberts received a $100 award. Copyright is reserved to the author.
About Suzanne Roberts
Suzanne Roberts is the author of four collections of poetry: Shameless, Nothing to You, Three Hours to Burn a Body: Poems on Travel, and Plotting Temporality (forthcoming in 2012 from Pecan Grove Press). Her memoir, Almost Somewhere: 28 Days on the John Muir Trail is forthcoming from the University of Nebraska Press in 2012. She holds a doctorate in Literature and the Environment and currently teaches and writes in South Lake Tahoe, California. For more information, please visit her website at www.suzanneroberts.org.