The Sunken Garden Poetry Festival at the Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington is in full swing.
This Sunday, the festival celebrates the poetry of war veterans. The headliner is award-winning poet Brian Turner.
"Asbah" is a poem from Brain Turner's 2005 collection Here, Bullet, an unflinching account of his year as an Army infantry team leader in Iraq.
The ghosts of American soldiers
wander the streets of Balad by night,
unsure of their way home, exhausted,
the desert wind blowing trash
down the narrow alleys as a voice
sounds from the minaret, a soulfull call
reminding them how alone they are,
how lost. And the Iraqi dead,
they watch in silence from rooftops
as date palms line the shore in silhouette,
leaning toward Mecca when the dawn wind blows.
Turner earned an MFA from the University of Oregon in 1996. A few years later, at the age of 31, Turner took the unusual step on enlisting in the Army.
Turner comes from a military family, and said he felt the urge to join.
"In one sense, to kind of understand and be a part of my tribe, part of it means to put on the uniform and participate in the rituals and practices of that way of life," he said. "It's part of the construction of being a man, for me."
Turner was first deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina with the Tenth Mountain Division, and in 2003 was sent to Iraq.
As he witnessed the horrors of war, Turner coped by writing poetry.
Turner said the intensity of war became his muse.
"In these trying and difficult situations, there's opportunity for knowledge of some sort," he said. "The profound is available there. You know, your role in the universe is magnified."
It happens on a Monday, at 11:20 A.M.,
as tower guards eat sandwiches
and seagulls drift by on the Tigris River.
Prisoners tilt their heads to the west
though burlap sacks and duct tape blind them.
The sound reverberates down concertina coils
the way piano wire thrums when given slack.
And it happens like this, on a blue day of sun,
when Private Miller pulls the trigger
to take brass and fire into his mouth:
the sound lifts the birds up off the water,
a mongoose pauses under the orange trees,
and nothing can stop it now, no matter what
blur of motion surrounds him, no matter what voices
crackle over the radio in static confusion,
because if only for this moment the earth is stilled,
and Private Miller has found what low hush there is
down in the eucalyptus shade, there by the river.
PFC B. Miller
(1980-March 22, 2004)
Turner served seven years in the army. When his stint was over and he returned to civilian life, he chronicled that transition in his second book of poems, Phantom Noise.
"It's still bizarre coming home," he said. "It seems as if, and it still sometimes seems that is the real world, and this is not. This sometimes seems so superficial, it lacks a lot potential or profound meaning."
Turner is a 2016 Guggenheim fellow, and the recipient of the USA Hillcrest Fellowship in Literature, the NEA Literature Fellowship in Poetry, and the Amy Lowell Traveling Fellowship.
Brian Turner is joined by poet and Vietnam veteran Doug Anderson for an evening of poetry and music this Sunday at the Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington.