Keep Talking to Her, Private
Keep Talking to Her, Private
After she left the army hospital, she floated
above their beds, the terminals,
the ones who’d never leave—
McCarty, a triple amputee,
his skull a crushed melon,
Ortez’s cycloptic eye
in its sheath of white gauze,
Rostrovsky and his epileptic fits.
They were all still there
in the waiting room to hell—
limbs that once patrolled and marched
cut into stumps like pork sausages.
Above the hum of respirators
and monitors she heard the husk
of throats and tongues without saliva,
a scrape of dead leaves
against an iron grate.
Mostly she smelled fear;
it exhaled from the nostril holes.
It said: they all think I’ve left,
but I’m deep inside.
That’s where the action is.
And every flanged gap
of missing body parts asked: What now?
In this time of ‘endless war,’ largely ignored by most of our country-people, this is a short but crucial collection. From the first poem, “Deep Inside,” Mullenneaux takes us into the tormented consciousness of the wounded soldier, and in the second, the victim of war, ‘the Napalm Girl.’ A longer sequence is dedicated to US veterans who killed themselves. From a military family, Mullenneaux understands war and its devastation from the inside: her sympathy extends equally in all directions, from Charlotte Delbo to a child in Gaza. These heartbreaking poems are without sentimentality or political bent, just boundless compassion and empathy for all victims of all war, whether soldiers or civilians, without borders. Every poem is a knock-out. Read it. Buy it. Send it to your members of Congress. Everyone should read this book.”
─Barbara Ungar, professor of English at the College of Saint Rose, is author of Immortal Medusa and Charlotte Brontë, You Ruined My Life.
“In eight years of covering women at war, I have noticed a pattern in attitudes toward women in the military: The men who have served with women are more than satisfied with their work, while the men who are most resistant to serving alongside women have never done it.”
─Helen Benedict, professor at Columbia University, is author of three books about the Iraq War, most recently the novel Wolf Season.
“Lisa Mullenneaux recounts the endless horror of war. It burns the skin off children, leaves veterans with the war inside them, ready to attack at any time. Some returning vets, unable to adjust to civilian life, lie on a railroad track or seek release from a hypodermic needle. But there are affirmative accounts as well. Charlotte Delbo, concentration camp survivor, dedicates the rest of her life to bearing witness for those who died as numbers without names. And Lisa imagines her own conception: her father, a WW II B-17 pilot on leave, newly married, tenderly holds her mother under a sky of rough-cut diamonds, an August meteor shower. Lisa pieces together many tales to render war’s unspeakable misery. But no matter how black the fog of war, the stars manage to shine through in this collection. They shower down on us.”
─New York poet David Elsasser is the poetry chair of the West Side Arts Coalition and author of the collections Delicious and Last Call.