War Veteran Brian Turner Reads His Poetry
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BRIAN TURNER: A Soldier’s Arabic: The word for love, Habib, is written from right to left, starting where we would end it and ending where we might begin.
My name is Brian Turner. I am a poet and a teacher. I come from California. I’m 39 years old. I live in the Central Valley, which is where I was born and raised.
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.
I joined the Army in 1998, and we deployed with the 10th Mountain Division out of Fort Drum New York to Bosnia Herzegovina and we were there in ’99 to 2000.
This is a language made of blood. It is made of sand, and time. To be spoken, it must be earned.
When I was in Iraq, it was mostly when I would come back from the mission, we’d get a little down time and I’d pull out a notebook and sketch out a few lines or write a journal entry or maybe a full poem.
And at the time I felt I just wanted to capture events that were happening around me and to let people, once they came back home, to let people make of that what they would. I didn’t try to superimpose a lot of political beliefs. I didn’t try to make my poems a pulpit. I really wanted to just share the events themselves as much as possible, like an embedded poet.
My first job of course was to the soldier to the left and right of me, but when I had that down time, I felt like my job was to try — because I had been trained as a poet at the University of Oregon — but when I had that time, my job was to bring back that witnessing.
I’m here today at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia to share those poems.
After being in the military, I feel more comfortable in the classroom and I feel more prepared as a human being to be in the classroom, to share ideas being talked about.
I do some construction work on the side; it’s low voltage electricity. And I like that job because it sort of plays a good counterpoint to my job teaching English at the local city college, because it makes me feel a bit grounded in the real world.
VMI STUDENT: At what point did you write this poem ‘Here, Bullet?’
BRIAN TURNER: About this time in February of 2004
VMI STUDENT: I thought it was very interesting because I had that thought that maybe there was a bullet with my name on it.
BRIAN TURNER: Maybe that next time that one bullet that you say was manufactured for you is, maybe the guy was aiming a you, but then he waits a minute and decides not this time.
BRIAN TURNER: “Here, Bullet” is the signature poem and the title poem for my book. That poem for me is the sort of a taunt towards death and at the same time a recognition of the fear of death.
That poem came out in an outburst. What I did was I wrote it and I don’t know what this means, but I folded it up and I put it in a ziplock bag and I put it in my left breast pocket, and I kept it with me for the remainder of my time there in my uniform.
If a body is what you want,
then here is bone and gristle and flesh.
Here is the clavicle-snapped wish,
the aorta’s opened valves, the leap
thought makes at the synaptic gap.
Here is the adrenaline rush you crave,
that inexorable flight, that insane puncture
into heat and blood. And I dare you to finish
what you’ve started. Because here, Bullet,
here is where I complete the word you bring
hissing through the air, here is where I moan
the barrel’s cold esophagus, triggering
my tongue’s explosives for the rifling I have
inside of me, each twist of the round
spun deeper, because here, Bullet,
here is where the world ends, every time.