This shattering memoir of time spent during war in Iraq describes clear as photographs the heat signatures of memory, the “shadows articulated by light.” It is terribly beautiful and the reverse. Shards of sentences fracture the consciousness. Turner tells us the pop-pop-pop of machine guns sometimes sounds like laughter.
It is queer to see, hear, speak the gorgeous language in this book and realize it describes the brittle, the blistering, and the terrifying. Killing people with precision instruments was not always intentional. The discordance is terrible. Turner tells us of the cold hard smooth perfection of chrome-plated steel firing pin. Fear and pitilessness are paired.
I wonder as I read about these soldiers joshing and murmuring to one another about 'field pussy' as they sight their rifles from the flat roof of an abandoned elementary school—do the Iraqi insurgents that are their targets think of these men as men? Turner imagines a bomb maker at his craft. He is an artist. The irony is cold and red and hot and black.
Turner tells us he always wanted to be a soldier. He is from a family of soldiers stretching back through a flamethrower on Guam to the Franco-Prussian war and one of the very last successful cavalry charges in modern warfare, the Battle of Mars-la-Tour. These men, these soldiers, survived. As a young boy, Turner practiced surviving. In the California scrub he dug trenches stocked with provisions. He practiced martial arts with his father in a makeshift dojo. He enlists in the cavalry. He thought it would make him a man. It did. But what man is this?
His remembered images startle us into recognition and give no mercy. The language lingers like the taste of cordite on the tongue or the smell of smoke in the air: The tremble of hair on a dead soldier’s head like sea grass on a sand dune; A moustache, found alone, on a bomb-cratered street; The dotted line traced from the Japanese kamikaze to the young woman in her homemade and heavily-laden vest.
A man is not big enough for his memories, Turner tells us. America is not big enough to hold the memories that are spilling out of the soldiers not big enough to hold them. The soldiers are dying of their memories. They could unpack some of those memories. Some of it is the detritus and the waste of war. Where do we put the waste?
A Billy Lynn moment occurs when a colonel visits Turner’s stateside training site and tells them he needs audio and visual for a video game. All in the life of a soldier…ours is not to question why…the top-down command catches the exhausted men sideways.
The work, the name of Brian Turner evokes a whispered outbreath, an inward turn...and joy, hope. The beauty and sorrow is palpable and painful. Spoken. Written. Acknowledged. Poet warrior. Can we ever have enough of them?
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