Poems from the Collection: Mothers Over Nangarhar

In her powerful debut collection, Pamela Hart MFA ’04 reflects on the experiences of soldiers’ loved ones during their absence and return home … or lack thereof.

Illustration of moon with clock face shining on water with a figure in a boat looking at the sky with constellations outlined.

War Partita

Dear one
From the yard I see Mars
While you keep watch in far-off deserts
I check the world clock
Looking for the force of cluster
I recon the conflict
Secure the day’s perimeter
Tripwire my better angels
Oh you of frenzied armor
Carve this song
Into your bullet

Women & War Sestina

We pass around Jane’s photo
In black & white a helmet
covers her soldier’s face
Somewhere in Afghanistan there’s news
We complain that we don’t know
how things are going

I worry about my son’s going
& stroke the edges of Jane’s photo
Like a charm, it shields my knowing
the specifics of his helmet
I guard against too much news
but headlines mark my face

Every war zone is a face
scarred by combat’s goings
Jane anticipates bad news
wonders if unevenness in the photo
means her soldier’s tilted helmet
is a sign of unknown knowns

Mary panics that she doesn’t know
Searches blurry images for faces
& declares history like a helmet
sings with soldiers’ going
I notice how light in Jane’s photo
slants in shadows across some news

We’re good at dodging news
Can’t be hurt by what we don’t know
Secretly I stare at the photo
even as lines in my face
recur like prayers against going
My words airborne like helmets

The story of soldiers’ helmets
marks the headlined news
that war is fed by comings & goings
of the sons & daughters we know
How we ache to hold their faces
when looking at Jane’s photo

Face the facts, we sing
while knowing soldiers’ photographs
behold their ever-goingness

War Games

In a photograph posted online plastic soldiers crouch behind switchbacks of sand and twigs. Several lie sideways in the dirt, like helpless turtles. Miniature paper flags flutter near the enemy’s berm. Elsewhere a mustard-yellow cowboy idles, his hat hanging off the back of his head as the pistol is fired. His target is decked out in headdress and chaps, rifle in one hand and bow in the other. My son’s first gun was a dinosaur.

Flynn’s Pond

My pregnant belly
your small torso
below the pond’s skin
us drifting
in an overcast day
the pond itself floating
like a ceramic boat
in the middle of the world
surfaces unmarked by breeze
or the scar of us
the water’s desire for our bodies
our want for its glassy touch
you’re safe said the pond
its blanket
coiling around our legs

Jalalabad

Falling asleep I say the word Jalalabad. My tongue rolling over the syllables of the name of the city. The aaas and lllls like bedtime prayers. The word a secret in my mouth that streams across lake through the night. Jalalabad says a coyote. I am late for everything because Jalalabad. I find it difficult to talk. In meetings, other words seem dissonant. Hours later I lose track in the canned goods aisle. By dinner, Jalalabad is an ancient desert city at the foot of the Khyber Pass, fed by rivers, with a highway from Kabul to Peshawar. It’s a centerpiece on the kitchen table. It is orange and pomegranate. And soldiers near helicopters. I clean the sink. A sense of place is important to a reader. Jalalabad, sing my hands.

Praise Song

A morning prayer to all
That keeps you safe

To body armor and weapons
The drill sergeant and the bullet

Interpreter and phrase book
To MREs and rocket launchers

Also the forward operating
Base and your radio operator

The helicopter pilots and soldiers
Who donate blood the medic

And tourniquet
Dog tags and helmet

I sing of your boots caked
In clay rough with hours

Of the IED you don’t step
On and the dog who finds it

The specialist and sniper
Tip of the spear and rear guard

I want to praise the desert
The women of Afghanistan

Tajik Pashtun Hazara
May they be wild with fury

To your smile
And your instinct

A praise song to next month and the next
Each one bringing you home alive

The Women

Joanie tells us she’s
not good at talking
when he’s home on leave
I’m getting married Stella announces
the dress is all picked out
You don’t want to baby him
Should I get his favorite food
Maybe wait to buy the dress
Our words weaving
in and out of the metal chairs
He was such a punk
The Marines were good
for him says Mary
Jane wants a do-over
It’s like being married to a stranger
I don’t want to fight anymore
It’s hard to listen
to people Shelly says
We count the days
check the inbox
We unspool our biggest
dread and make
it into a beautiful spider

Mothers Over Nangarhar

Powered by search engines
     and history
mothers navigate

Google Earth, view the flashing
     lights of MRAPs
as the cursors flag river or range

The mothers leap across time zones
     check their satellite feed
sprint from screen to field

where you lie
     split
calling their name

The mothers fly from Fallujah
     Wanat, Khe Sanh to Marathon
Hastings, Vicksburg

Their hands are epic
     their bodies large pouring
into and out of you

Transmigration

Thousands upon thousands of soldier birds
ferry to the beat of wings
at the edge of your sleep
You watch them spiral
In unison they turn
wheeling beyond the moon
that scrapes at your window