One of my pieces of writing I am most proud of is, strangely, a poem. I haven’t written any poetry in a long while and even when I wrote poems on a daily basis, the process didn’t feel as natural as when I write fiction. I struggled. I imagine every poet struggles to an extent to birth the truly touching, real, amazing poems. Only, my poems never reached that level. Except maybe for this one poem which was nominated for the Pushcart Prize and one reader wrote to say he teared up reading it. That, in turn, brought tears to my eyes. No one had ever responded so emotionally to anything I’d written before then.
Since the journal no longer exists in the same form and the website has been taken down, I’m re-posting the poem here to remind myself that the struggle is worth it. I learn through failures. Although, I should be the world’s most knowledgeable person by now considering the number of failures … Oh, well.
Staring at the darkened sky
I can almost keep up the pretense
of being home, but the stray dogs
and the men’s snores keep me awake
in my rocky grave, thinking
of the many times I kissed women
I shouldn’t have but never feeling
as unfaithful to you as when I hug
my heavy gun close to my chest.
The shadow of death trails behind us
even on overcast days, it dims
the image of home until I can barely
recall the memory of you. I’m not alone,
just lonely as a sky without birds.
Explosions outshine the stars
night after night, the thunder
brings bloody rain. Amid the hot fumes
of oil and tire I dream – sometimes awake –
of new-mown grass, cicadas and homemade cakes.
Staring at the clouds, I begin to see
camels and minarets, rarely any
familiar shapes. There may be something
to Rorschach, after all. It feels like I inhabit
the life of a stranger, like my breath
powers a force that isn’t entirely me.
Days old, sun-dried sweat begins
to sting on the parched skin,
the shamal whips up the sand
lashing us with vicious shower until
my mouth becomes a desert too.
I’m not afraid, just doubtful sometimes.
They say this is for real, the generals,
and that we are going to win,
but when I feel that rush I never
expected to feel, it’s all less real,
like a game on my home console
where the enemy is just a machine,
a faceless algorithm that can only
lose or win. Out here, it feels
like there’s so much more in between.
(First published in Autumn Sky Poetry, 2010)