Sound Off: Warrior Writers NJ

Sound Off: Warrior Writers NJ


Contributors: Eli Wright, Jan Barry, Robert Sliclen, Lovella Calica, David Keefe, Kevin Basl, Sarah N. Mess, Regina Mullen, Jon Turner, Joe Nygard, Joe Nygard, Jenny Pacanowski, Camillo Mac Bica, Robert Sliclen, James Yee, Everett Cox, Dayl Wise, Frank “TuDo” Wagner, Walter Zimmerman, Nathan Lewis, Jim Murphy, W.D. Ehrhart, Jay Wenk, Ben Levine, Alison Koffler, Walt Nygard, Nancy Nygard, Gerald McCarthy, Omar Columbus, and Paula Rogovin

Sample Poem

The Noise Remains

Sunlight reflecting off a stainless steel coffee maker
forms a howitzer round
on the refreshment table at the university job fair,
where I try to convince myself
a nine-to-five is the purpose of my life.

The zip-tie holding up the muffler on my neighbor’s
reminds me of blaze orange detainees,
their wrists bound, heads sandbagged
and slouched in shameful prayer.

A Lysol-clean classroom tastes like the Dental Corps tent
where I “manned up” for a root canal
because they don’t give Novocain in the combat zone,
not to soldiers, not to kids.

Can you hear the chalice drums,
louder than cannon fire,
the beat of five hundred thousand dead hearts?

I confess,
I enlisted for an honorable crime
to erase a felony from my record.
I pointed my rifle like a rich man’s cane
to direct Iraqi teens mixing concrete,
slaves constructing a perimeter
to block mortars shot from the dusty fields
of their fathers.
Teeth fell from the mouths of those curious boys
who got in the way, who reached out
to touch Kevlar skin, coarse hands—
and the same thing now happens to me
when I open my mouth to speak,
standing naked and bone thin
before an audience of ghosts
in the worst dream of all.
This is who I am,
who we’ve become.

Jessica Lynch
is not my name.
David Petraeus spits in my face
when he writes “How We Won in Iraq.”
Did George W. Bush
really happen?

My story is my own,
and it ends in loss.
Like a gunshot in a basement,
the remains of a thousand explosions shout
(buzz through my skull)
drowning out
the moral of these words.

And what remains is a burning whisper:
to enjoy myself
is to forget our routines
are held together
by fragile agreements
tested and broken in war.

Published in Warrior Writers: A Collection of Writing and Artwork
by Veterans (Warrior Writers, 2014)

Kevin Basl

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About the Book

Sound Off: Warrior Writers NJ, an eclectic collection of writing by military veterans and family members, is a commemoration of Warrior Writers’ 10th anniversary. The group, headed by Director Lovella Calica, was formed in 2007 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Its workshops and public performances have emerged in cities and towns across the U.S., embracing veterans of all services and all eras.

Warrior Writers NJ began nearly four years ago in writing workshops held in veterans’ homes, informal gatherings that attracted collegial groups of vets and family members to Sunday afternoon get-togethers in Teaneck, Washington Township (Bergen County), Branchburg, and other Garden State communities and neighboring environs in Warwick, New York and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Many of the writers met as participants in poetry readings presented at art shows with Combat Paper NJ, an art group run by veterans that works closely with Warrior Writers.

“Warrior Writers saved my life,” says Sarah Mess, a mother of two in Branchburg, NJ who served with a U.S. Army field hospital in the war in Somalia in 1993. . . . “Coming home, I felt disconnected and invisible,” Sarah told students at a New Jersey middle school. “War doesn’t leave you—it haunts you, so this program eases the burden,” she said of Warrior Writers and Combat Paper."