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Brian Turner
Remembering Iraq
Remembering Iraq
On Memorial Day we featured a performance by the vocal ensemble Chanticleer singing music called "In the Garden of Paradise." The piece is a setting of poems by Brian Turner, a veteran of the war in Iraq. Turner has published his poems in a collection called "Here, Bullet." Listen to Turner read poems from his book.

"Mihrab"
"Sadiq"
"The Al Harishma Weapons Market"
"A Soldier's Arabic"

Brian Turner, "Mihrab," "Saddiq," "The Al Harishma Weapons Market," and "A Soldier's Arabic" from "Here, Bullet." Copyright © 2005 by Brian Turner. Used by permission of the poet and Alice James Books.

Mihrab

They say the Garden of Eden blossomed here
long ago, and this is all that remains,
wind scorpions and dust, crow-like jays
cawing their raspy throats in memory
of a song, a ghost of beauty
lingering in the shadow's fall.

Let me lie here and dream of a better life.
Let what beauty there is be lifted up
and given to the greater world
as I listen to the mouths of termites
eating of the earth, their bodies
drumming a rhythm in the soil, undaunted
in their blindness, by the millions
raising a skylined architecture
the blood moon must recognize with light.
Let me stay here with these birds
and listen to their rough songs.

If I say the desert is an afterimage,
that birds serenade us, that the moon
is the heart of God shining in heaven,
that if there is a heaven it is
so deep within us we are overgrown,
that the day brings only a stripping of leaves
and by sundown we are exhausted,
then let it be, because if there is a definition
in the absence of light,
and if a ghost can wander amazed
through the days of its life, then it is me,
here in the Garden of Eden,
where it is impossible to let go
of what we love and what we've lost,
here, where the breath of God is our own.

Sadiq

It is a condition of wisdom in the archer to be patient because when the arrow
leaves the bow, it returns no more.
                    —Sa'di

It should make you shake and sweat,
nightmare you, strand you in a desert
of irrevocable desolation, the consequences
seared into the vein, no matter what adrenaline
feeds the muscle its courage, no matter
what god shines down on you, no matter
what crackling pain and anger
you carry in your fists, my friend,
it should break your heart to kill.

The Al Harishma Weapons Market

At midnight, steel shutters
slide down tight. Feral cats slink
in the periphery of the streetlamp's
dim cone of light. Inside, like a musician
swaddling a silver-plated trumpet,
Akbar wraps an AK-47 in cloth.
Grease guns, pistols, RPGs—
he slides them all under the countertop.

Black marketeer or insurgent—
an American death puts food on the table,
more cash than most men earn in an entire year.
He won't let himself think of his childhood friends—
those who wear the blue uniforms
which bring death, dying from barrels
he may have oiled in his own hands.

Akbar stirs the chai,
then carries his sleeping four-year-old,
Habib, to bed under glow-in-the-dark
stars arranged on the ceiling. Late at night
when gunfire frightens them both,
Habib cries for his father, who tells him
It's just the drums, a new music,
and the tracery of lights in the sky
he retraces on the ceiling, showing the boy
how each bright star travels
from this dark place, to the other.

A Soldier's Arabic

    This is a strange new kind of war where you learn
        just as much as you are able to believe.
                —Earnest Hemingway

The word for love, habib, is written from right
to left, starting where we would end it
and ending where we might begin.

Where we would end a war
another might take as a beginning,
or as an echo of history, recited again.

Speak the word for death, maut,
and you will hear the cursives of the wind
driven into the veil of the unknown.

This is a language made of blood.
It is made of sand, and time.
To be spoken, it must be earned.