Poetry of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars

December 4, 2020

The War Makes Everyone Lonely
By Graham Barnhart
University of Chicago Press, 2019, 96 pp., $24.00

Returning from his time as a US Army Special Forces medic in Afghanistan and Iraq, Graham Barnhart had much to think about and utilised poetry as his sounding board.

US occupiers carry the legacies of fear and boredom, but most importantly internalised contradictions, frustrations and a sense of futility. These inform Barnhart’s work.

The War Makes Everyone Lonely demonstrates compassion for the all those dispossessed by the invasions, including the soldiers whose minds are invaded by the memories of what they have participated in.

* * *


The barracks was Army-green wool
and white sheets turned down

to standard, six inches below the pillow,
a perfect perforated line

across every gray bunk frame
to the gray lockers lining the walls

and blocking the windows.
At night, the moon passed

through seams between the lockers,
flashing like a film reel

if you walked the dark room
fast enough. Now and then

on fire watch, when you were walking,
and the moon was flashing,

and the sheets were disheveled
by the sleepers, someone might jump

to attention, for some dreamt of
drill sergeant screaming.

I told her all of this when she found me
standing in the bedroom doorway.

Just order me back to bed.
We’ll laugh about it in the morning
—she laughed then too.

* * *

How to transition a province 

We named the region self-sustaining
and ended an eight-month occupation

frightening children from the burn pit,
petitioning elders not to send them

after imagined valuables in our refuse.

We fed our squat, dirt-bunkered camp
to a hired backhoe. Invited the village

to come and to take. Among our flattened clapboard
walls and yellow cinder-block foundations

their silence settled like a murmuration landing.

Our sandbags were cut and dropped like ballast.
Our umber and empty oil drums,

mattresses still plastic-wrapped,
my canted plywood writing desk,

all the small corners in that small base

were pulled open. Picked blessedly clean.
Before our dust-wake settled, no stone,

if we had stacked it, was left standing on another.

[Reprinted with permission from The War Makes Everyone Lonely by Graham Barnhart, published by the University of Chicago Press. © 2019 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved.]

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