✪ By Domani Spero
We have previously hosted Raymond Maxwell’s poem in this blog (see Raymond Maxwell: Former Deputy Asst Secretary Removed Over Benghazi Pens a Poem). That was quite a riot.
What do you think about when you’re taking mortar rounds?
“Baghdad Nights” which originally appeared in FB and published here with Mr. Maxwell’s permission will not be quite so controversial but it stands out as a poem of stoic calm amidst the chaos of war.
We particularly like its auditory images which gives the poem a sense of place but also a sense of that specific moment in time. A poem of faith or in a fatalistic sense of whatever will be, will be. A total acceptance of what is unknowable. An inner freedom from fear in the face of a disorderly and dangerous external world.
According to his LinkdIn profile, Mr. Maxwell served in foreign service assignments in Guinea-Bissau, the U.K., Angola, Ghana, Egypt, Iraq and Syria. In a previous 12-year career with the U.S. Navy, he “served division officer tours (auxiliary engineering and weapons systems) aboard the guided missile destroyer, USS Luce DDG-38 and enlisted engineering tours as a machinist’s mate on nuclear-powered submarines the USS Hammerhead SSN-663 and the USS Michigan SSBN-727 (B).”
© By Raymond Maxwell
It was a long-assed day.
We had dinner at the DFAC
and returned to the office.
Finally knocked off around 9pm.
The mandatory protective vest
weighs heavy on my already tired shoulders –
while the strap connecting the two sides
cuts into my waist as I try to balance
the weight on my already tired hips –
I lumber on to my tin-foil hootch
in Embassy Estates on the
the Republican Palace grounds…
It is late. I take a shower and
turn on Fox News,
the only station that works.
“In California today, Senator Clinton says
President Johnson was more important
than Dr. King to getting the Civil Rights Bill
passed.” Aw shit. White House better stay white.
I fall asleep while reading “Certain to Win,”
one of those Army War College texts
from the Strategic Studies Masters program
I was falling further and further behind in
with each passing Baghdad day.
2am. The witching hour.
Time for target practice.
I’m awakened by the sound
of the Duck and Cover alarm.
The concrete reinforced shelter is 100 meters
away from my tin-foil hootch –
100 meters as the crow flies…
Nope. I’ll sit this one out – and pray –
Bong! Bong! Bong! Bong! The alarm
sounds. I hear people stumbling,
some drunkenly staggering –
to the safety of the shelter.
I shelter in place and
start my usual prayer
(I skip a lot of drills these days):
The Lord is my Shepherd,
I shall not want.
He maketh me ….
A mortar round flies over
the tin foil roof
of my tin foil hootch –
….lie down in green pastures.
He leadeth me
beside the Still Waters….–
The round hits the nearby ground.
Maybe it is another dud.
I continue my prayer:
….He restoreth my soul —
It was not a dud.
But I pinch myself and
I am not dead.
I finish my prayer:
And I will dwell in the House of the Lord,
Back to sleep.
Tomorrow is another Baghdad day.
- 9 civilians killed, 34 injured in Baghdad last night (iraqinews.com)
- Policeman killed, 2 others injured western Baghdad (iraqinews.com)
- 13 killed in bomb blast at Sunni mosque in Baghdad (foxnews.com)
- Iraq: Blast at Sunni Mosque in Baghdad Kills 11 (abcnews.go.com)
- Suicide bomber attacks crowded café in northern Iraq killing at least 38 (telegraph.co.uk)
- Five killed in Iraq violence (vancouverdesi.com)
- Roadside bombs kill 14, injure 49 in Iraq (wdsu.com)
— By *Domani da Lontano
*The valedictory piece above is penned by somebody who calls himself/herself Domani da Lontano. The writer says he/she is “leaving the State Department” because of its “insufferable culture.” The author hopes that “a future Secretary will focus on improving the culture” and requested that we publish “this attempt to ask that others consider how jaded we have become.”
In December 2012, the NYT reported that four State Department officials were removed from their posts after an independent panel criticized the “grossly inadequate” security at a diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that was attacked on Sept. 11, leading to the deaths of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. According to the report, the four officials “have been placed on administrative leave pending further action” citing the State Department’s spokeswoman as source.
The same report included a quote from Thomas R. Pickering, a former ambassador (and former #3 at the State Department) who led the independent review who said this: “We fixed it at the assistant secretary level, which is, in our view, the appropriate place to look, where the decision-making in fact takes place, where, if you like, the rubber hits the road.”
One of those four officials is Raymond Maxwell; he is also one of the three Deputy Assistant Secretaries who were thrown under the bus in the Benghazi fallout. He was the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Maghreb (North Africa) Affairs at the Bureau of Near East Affairs from 2011-2012. He advised the Assistant Secretary on the Maghreb and oversaw development, coordination and implementation of USG policy in the region. Previous to that, he was the Director of the Office of Regional and Multilateral Affairs (RMA) also at the Bureau of Near East Affairs from 2009-2011. More here.
Mr. Maxwell is also a poet with hopes of becoming “a music and poetry librarian in his next life.” This past April, we became aware that he participated in the National Poetry Writing Month, an annual project in which participating poets attempt to write a poem a day for the entire month (see his blog). We think one of his poems, “Invitation“is particularly striking. How can we not appreciate the dark humor of BYOB … “because of the continuing resolution?” Certainly, the poem is blunt and aims to shock but it also makes us think that as as long as one is the boss of words, one is not totally helpless. We received permission from Mr. Maxwell to republish the poem in this blog.
— Posted on April 1, 2013
The Queen’s Henchmen
request the pleasure of your company
at a Lynching – to be held
at 23rd and C Streets NW
on Tuesday, December 18, 2012
just past sunset.
Dress: Formal, Masks and Hoods –
the four being lynched
must never know the identities
of their executioners, or what/
whose sin required their sacrifice.
A blood sacrifice –
to divert the hounds –
to appease the gods –
to cleanse our filth and
satisfy our guilty consciences.
Arrive promptly at sunset –
injustice will be swift.
there will be no trial,
no review of evidence,
no due process, and no
Dress warmly –
a chilling effect will instantly
envelop Foggy Bottom.
A kangaroo court in
a banana republic.
Refreshments will not be served
because of the continuing resolution.
And the ones being lynched?
Who cares? They are pawns in a game.
Our game. All suckers, all fools,
all knaves who volunteered to serve –
Us. And the truth? The truth?
What difference at this point does it make?
In the event of inclement weather,
or the Queen’s incapacitation,
her Henchmen will carry out this lynching –
as ordered, as planned.
* * *
Thanks to Raymond Maxwell for allowing us to republish Invitation in this blog.
Billy Collins was the U.S. poet laureate at the time of the 9/11 attacks. He wrote “The Names” in honor of the victims. He read the poem before a special joint session of Congress held in New York City in 2002, and in a PBS program last year, see clip below.
Yesterday, I lay awake in the palm of the night.
A soft rain stole in, unhelped by any breeze,
And when I saw the silver glaze on the windows,
I started with A, with Ackerman, as it happened,
Then Baxter and Calabro,
Davis and Eberling, names falling into place
As droplets fell through the dark.
Names printed on the ceiling of the night.
Names slipping around a watery bend.
Twenty-six willows on the banks of a stream.
In the morning, I walked out barefoot
Among thousands of flowers
Heavy with dew like the eyes of tears,
And each had a name —
Fiori inscribed on a yellow petal
Then Gonzalez and Han, Ishikawa and Jenkins.
Names written in the air
And stitched into the cloth of the day.
A name under a photograph taped to a mailbox.
Monogram on a torn shirt,
I see you spelled out on storefront windows
And on the bright unfurled awnings of this city.
I say the syllables as I turn a corner —
Kelly and Lee,
Medina, Nardella, and O’Connor.
When I peer into the woods,
I see a thick tangle where letters are hidden
As in a puzzle concocted for children.
Parker and Quigley in the twigs of an ash,
Rizzo, Schubert, Torres, and Upton,
Secrets in the boughs of an ancient maple.
Names written in the pale sky.
Names rising in the updraft amid buildings.
Names silent in stone
Or cried out behind a door.
Names blown over the earth and out to sea.
In the evening — weakening light, the last swallows.
A boy on a lake lifts his oars.
A woman by a window puts a match to a candle,
And the names are outlined on the rose clouds —
Vanacore and Wallace,
(let X stand, if it can, for the ones unfound)
Then Young and Ziminsky, the final jolt of Z.
Names etched on the head of a pin.
One name spanning a bridge, another undergoing a tunnel.
A blue name needled into the skin.
Names of citizens, workers, mothers and fathers,
The bright-eyed daughter, the quick son.
Alphabet of names in a green field.
Names in the small tracks of birds.
Names lifted from a hat
Or balanced on the tip of the tongue.
Names wheeled into the dim warehouse of memory.
So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart.
Via US Embassy Dublin:
US Ambassador Rooney hosted a May reception for former US Poet Laureate (2001-03) Billy Collins at his residence in Phoenix Park. Mr. Collins was in Ireland for the Galway Cuirt Festival, as well as a follow-on Poetry Symposium at Trinity College. In this video Collins reflects on his favourite Irish poets and speaks about the unique experience of being U.S. Poet Laureate. Below he also reads one of our favorite poems, Forgetfulness. Some more of his animated poems are online here.
And if you like those, you might also appreciate his I Chop Some Parsley While Listening To Art Blakey’s Version Of “Three Blind Mice”, which might be our all time favorite Billy Collins poem.
Tom Engelhardt has a piece on How to Forget on Memorial Day (excerpt):
Afghanistan has often enough been called “the graveyard of empires.” Americans have made it a habit to whistle past that graveyard, looking the other way—a form of obliviousness much aided by the fact that the American war dead conveniently come from the less well known or forgotten places in our country. They are so much easier to ignore thanks to that.
Except in their hometowns, how easy the war dead are to forget in an era when corporations go to war but Americans largely don’t. So far, 1,980 American military personnel (and significant but largely unacknowledged numbers of private contractors) have died in Afghanistan, as have 1,028 NATO and allied troops, and (despite U.N. efforts to count them) unknown but staggering numbers of Afghans.
So far in the month of May, 22 American dead have been listed in those Pentagon announcements. If you want a little memorial to a war that shouldn’t be, check out their hometowns and you’ll experience a kind of modern graveyard poetry. Consider it an elegy to the dead of second- or third-tier cities, suburbs, and small towns whose names are resonant exactly because they are part of your country, but seldom or never heard by you.
I did check out the hometowns and I’ve never heard of Normangee, Texas. According to the 2000 Census, Normangee is a town of 719 people, 277 households, and 185 families.
Sgt. Wade D. Wilson, of Normangee, Texas, died May 11 while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan. He was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, California. He was 22.
But even as we pulled out our troops in Iraq, and combat operations are planned to end in Afghanistan in 2014, the next operation is one with no easy exit.
Excerpt from Probably Not the Final Destination by Dale Ritterbusch (WLA. Volume 23 • 2011):
Fall semester, second week of class, a student stays after:
his field jacket, his scruffy beard
tell the story. I don’t know if you have noticed,
he says, but when I answer your questions
sometimes I lose my line of thought
and I stumble a bit trying to find it again.
I tell him the lie I hadn’t noticed, but his speech,
slurred, slowed, gives it away—a sergeant,
twenty-seven months in Iraq. My wife thinks
I have PTSD he says. Every class he stays after,
and there’s little I can say, little I can do
except listen: maybe there’s little anyone can do,
that old lesson we never seem to learn,
moving from “costly their winestream”
to the “red, sweet wine of youth”:
enough there to embarrass half the demons of hell.
At night the NewsHour runs pictures
of the dead, name, rank, hometown flashing,
holding, silently across the screen—the first man just eighteen.
We might remember Urien’s lament: “I bear a great
warrior’s skull; I bear a head at my heart.”
Or has war’s paradigm so changed
Urien’s progeny may now swear,
“I bear the dead, the half-dead
in my half-dead skull; I bear
the dead in my half-dead heart.”
Most of us following the news presumably remember that the video footage now called Collateral Murder by WikiLeaks was taken by a military helicopter. While we are not aware of a video footage of a particular rooftop escapade ((h/t to Publius) which occurred in one of our war zones, we would not be shocked out of our gray cells if one exist.
Anyway, April is also our National Poetry Month. So you’ll have to make do with this, our faithful contribution to war zone literature in honor of poetry month. Below in one of our favorite Japanese poetry forms, is a tanka following the 5-7-5-7-7 pattern (well, almost); and our poor attempt at adhering to the form.
One spring day, in an
Ultra-sober, foreign space
Lone wolf Adam X
Was caught shagging Ms. Eve on
A rooftop in a war zone
Caught in broad daylight
On roof of Building Alpha
By an Apache
Damn military helo
Called it in to HQ Stop
Thus tryst disrupted
In rooftop heaven, get off
They were told, and back
To earth, word spread like wildfire
Licking hootches, offices
Adam X and Ms
Followed by weeks on fire
Should have been Breaking
News, except — that spring there was
Even Bigger Breaking News
In broad war zone light
Dying and shagging, excused
Why not, life is short!
In dark foreign spaces, men
In full waits, ready to pounce
It’s not our business what goes on inside the bedrooms, but by golly, on the rooftop? As our favorite Captain Reynolds would say, “Holy testicle Tuesday!”
We do not consider ourselves prudish, but we’d feel more comfortable if our higher office candidates are better vetted, zippered up outside the bedrooms, and what is it they used to say in the old days? — do not dip their pens in the company’s inkwell.
Frankly, shagging a co-worker on the rooftop of the “mothership” in broad daylight, in the middle of a shooting war, where work is 24/7, with the helicopter’s camera possibly rolling does not really reflect good judgment, discretion or self-control. Not even if/when it happens during coffee break — because you gotta be nuts!?!! That coffee is boiling hot and the Ministry of Whatever in Planet Pluto will have your — well, some precious part of you in a wringer … sometime sooner, sometime later ….
- Feminist poet and essayist Adrienne Rich dies at 82 (miamiherald.typepad.com)
- Feminist Writer Adrienne Rich Dies At 82 (npr.org)
- Adrienne Rich, 1929-2012 (feministphilosophers.wordpress.com)
- Adrienne Rich, feminist poet and essayist, dies (newsok.com)
“1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment was split across three distinctly different areas of operation. Charlie Company was in Marjah, reinforcing Marine and Afghan forces operating in the city’s remaining troubled regions. Alpha Company was in Sangin District, where they supported the 3rd and later, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion. During Operation Eastern Storm, Headquarters, Bravo and Weapons companies secured route 611, which runs through Kajaki Sofla, an area that had long been a safe haven for insurgent sub-commanders and for arms and drug trafficking.”
What roar is that?—’tis the rain that breaks
In torrents away from the airy lakes,
Heavily poured on the shuddering ground,
And shedding a nameless horror round.
Ah! well known woods, and mountains, and skies,
With the very clouds!—ye are lost to my eyes.
I seek ye vainly, and see in your place
The shadowy tempest that sweeps through space,
A whirling ocean that fills the wall
Of the crystal heaven, and buries all.
And I, cut off from the world, remain
Alone with the terrible hurricane.
– Excerpted from The Hurricane
by William Cullen Bryant (1854)
*the title from Act III, Scene 2 from King Lear