Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sadiq --- Brian Turner


“It is a condition of wisdom in the archer to be patient because when the arrow leaves the bow, it returns no more.” ---SA’DI

It should make you shake and sweat,
nightmare you, strand you in a desert
of irrevocable desolation, the consequences
seared into the vein, no matter what adrenaline
feeds the muscle its courage, no matter
what god shines down on you, no matter
what crackling pain and anger
you carry in your fists, my friend,
it should break your heart to kill.

Brian Turner’s Sadiq

A soldier named James recently came to my office with questions about pursuing a college education. He was in his early twenties with the standard uniform of fatigues and a crew cut. A gear pack the size of a small child was propped against his feet and shins as we sat and talked. In the course of our conversation James explained that he had dropped out of high school and joined the national guard. With a wife and two children, James had his GED but now wanted to get a college degree to provide his family with a better life, or at least one where he would be around. Having just returned from a tour in Afghanistan, James recalled multiple shrapnel and bullet wounds, children strapped with bombs, and an ambush that left him carrying his dead Captain from the ruble of their humvee after it exploded. It was tough for James to describe these events, not just because of the emotional depths they stirred, but also because one of his injuries included a gunshot to the head that had left him with a severely debilitating stutter. Although he suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, James has already been told that he’ll be heading back on another tour in October. Additionally, James must pay for his own counseling and even had to pay for the pints of blood he received from the Red Cross after one of his most severe injuries. There’s no way around it: James deserves more from his country, he deserves more from this world.

There are many others like James on all sides of conflicts throughout the globe. Brian Turner, the poet behind today’s powerful piece Sadiq, like James, was a member of the United States Army. Spending time in Iraq, Turner experienced the gruesome and unforgettable horrors of combat as an infantry team leader. In his groundbreaking collection Here, Bullet, Turner documents and dissects the images and emotions of war. As I read this collection I was struck by the strange mixture of beautiful and visceral images. Turner's poems are characterized by a merciless tone that reverberates and thumps like rapidly approaching air strikes. With the heyday of the 24 hour news cycle, the distance between the safe confines of one’s home and the battlegrounds of Afghanistan and Iraq have shrunk dramatically. Technology enables us to experience war up close, still Turner’s poetry does far more for me than anything I’ve ever watched on CNN. He pauses to find beauty beside pain, a subtle reminder of how senseless war can be. Yes, there are times when fighting is the only true option; we’ve seen numerous moments throughout history when a moral cause could not reach fruition without bloodshed. We’ve also looked back at conflicts and noticed the horrifying combination of an overwhelming loss of life with no just purpose. If I had it my way I’d require all fresh recruits entering basic training to read Brian Turner’s poem Sadiq, not to discourage them from their chosen path but to reinforce the gravity and fragility of what lies ahead for them.

Largely a set of fierce declarations, Sadiq works because Turner is relentless in his honesty. “It should make you shake and sweat, / nightmare you.” If that first line and a half doesn’t disturb and intrigue you I don’t know what will. The startling beginning could have easily been wasted if the poem veered toward a predictable and drawn out path, but Turner slams forward with his intensely personal instructions. The poem forges past “consequences / seared into the vein” (although the ultimate consequences await in the poem’s ending) to examine the reasons we kill each other, ultimately deciding any rationale is insufficient for such an act. If the thrill is your motive, this is quickly rebuked by “no matter what adrenaline / feeds the muscle its courage.” Maybe you’re fighting for a righteous cause, a religious conviction that guides your every action. Even so, Turner acknowledges there are many paths to God with the subtle diction in the line “no matter / what god shines down on you.” After touching on the biological and the spiritual, the logical last stop is pure, uncontrollable rage. If you shoot to kill because of a thirst for revenge, well the poem has words for you as well. “No matter / what crackling pain and anger / you carry in your fists, my friend.” In the end all of these reasons are flawed because you will be left with a burden you cannot suppress. If it doesn’t destroy a large part of you in the very moment you kill, Turner is wise enough to advise that “it should break your heart to kill.” It breaks my heart to read that line and to think about soldiers like James, but I am also filled with gratitude for them because there are people in the world whose hearts will not break, not even waver, when they set out to kill. These are the folks we all need protection from.

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