Contests : War Poetry Contest : Past Winners : 2011 : Eliot Khalil Wilson
The Witness—One of the Ninety-Nine Names for Allah
We forced them all back inside their house,
then brought out a check for three hundred dollars.
This in compensation for our killing
their cows—target practice for mortar rounds.
Then we brought in a small aquarium
with bright blue gravel and a lighted lid
to give to the boy—a kind of Christmas—
though it was not as if he had asked for this.
Next we tried to pose them all for photographs.
Then a hostage goldfish in a clear bag.
We said to float the bag inside the tank
to make the fish adjust to its colder place.
I'd patrol the village and through the window
I'd see the fish tank, bright and unlikely
as it glowed and bubbled in the three hours
of power the village received each night.
In it the far ocean was close and known.
The fish grew to the size of the boy's palm
and would crave upwards at night like a flame.
Six weeks later, away in Kandahar,
I heard again of target practice—
the 3 a.m. house raid, the re-broken door,
and stolen food and some new soldier needing some reason
to fire and shooting the growing fish
with the other peacekeepers waiting outside.
This change too, in this sweet air of freedom,
the boy's heart (and my own) first like a murdered thing,
then like a heavy rock in a sling.
BLANK VERSE FOR ARMY RECRUITMENT OFFICER: NEW ORLEANS
You fish where fish are and the Superdome
looked to me like a barrel of catfish.
There are good days, then there is whatever
kind of day that day was—miraculous.
That's not a word I use very often.
I caught my quota for the next nine months.
I offered jobs and it happened to be
that their old job was under bad water,
and their family, all shipwrecked and hungry
living in tents on the twenty yard line.
It was a sorry sight too, and I'd say
I'm no salesman, I'm trying to help
I'm a Christian man, a Baptist like you.
You'll come back a changed man, you like cars?
How many times have you been to Europe?
That whole side of the world, like Mardi Gras.
Free housing, way better than the ninth ward,
especially now, health care, friends for life,
and like the pros, there is a big signing bonus.
It's higher ground and everyone gets paid
something and anyway, everyone is,
every last soldier is, a volunteer.
Only once I was called for bereavement duty,
a man I signed, shot through the neck in Iraq.
The Chaplain picked me up and we went out.
A boy let us in and he stared at the flag I brought
all folded up like a paper football
Then the mama called from the other room
she said, Go ask them what they are selling.
I know I won't forget her anytime soon.
I think about that woman all the time.
She was such a good looking woman.
THE ARMLESS CHILD
Children's Hospital: Hanoi
Can we call it a mercy
how they wrapped you at birth
to show only your face which I carried to sleep.
Forty-years gone—but not gone—the soldiers,
the rotor winds and kerosene sunsets,
the poisoned river and fields
that bore years and years of destitute springs.
Useless, to paraphrase rain,
to think how even the sunflower
is given limbs.
Yes, what is of consequence is not for the hands alone,
never the pressure of thumb and finger,
never my hand over your hand over worlds of paper?
In the night storms of summer
I will wake to find your eyes,
and even the lightning will be light enough
for you to read the one word
I will always have for you.
In the stories we will write together,
you will be a spider or an octopus
and far away from here.
These poems won an Honorable Mention in the 2011 War Poetry Contest sponsored by Winning Writers. Author Eliot Khalil Wilson received a $100 award. Copyright is reserved to the author.
About Eliot Khalil Wilson
Eliot Khalil Wilson's poems have been published in dozens of journals. He has won a Pushcart Prize, a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and awards from the Poetry Society of America and the Academy of American Poets. His first book of poems, The Saint of Letting Small Fish Go, won the 2003 Cleveland State University Poetry Center Prize. His second collection, This Island of Dogs, won the 2009 Margie/Intuit Prize. This selection of poems is from his third collection of poems, entitled Notes Towards a Theory of Empire. He currently lives in Denver, Colorado.