Book Project Inspires War Veteran to Write

Robert Schaefer and fiance i i

hide captionMaj. Robert Schaefer attends a book-signing for Operation Homecoming. Scroll down to read Schaefer's poem "Clusters."

Courtesy Robert Schaefer
Robert Schaefer and fiance

Maj. Robert Schaefer attends a book-signing for Operation Homecoming with his fiancee, Olya Gugel.

Courtesy Robert Schaefer
Maj. Robert Schaefer i i

hide captionMaj. Robert Schaefer sits at the desk where he wrote poems.

Courtesy Robert Schaefer
Maj. Robert Schaefer

Maj. Robert Schaefer sits at the desk where he wrote poems.

Courtesy Robert Schaefer

Army Maj. Robert Schaefer's poem "Clusters" is featured in the book Operation Homecoming: Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Home Front in the Words of U.S. Troops and Their Families.

The book is the culmination of a multi-year NEA effort to encourage members of U.S. armed forces to put their experiences — about Afghans, Iraqis, battles, boredom and being back home — into words.

Authors such as Tom Clancy and Mark Bowden conducted workshops on bases. Thousands of service men and women submitted their written work, and the best was compiled into the book.

Since writing the poem, Schaefer finished his tour in Iraq and completed a Master's Degree at Harvard Graduate School for Arts and Sciences.

He now works as a Foreign Area Officer specializing in Russian and Eastern European affairs at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency near Washington, D.C.

Schaefer is currently working on a book, and he's also the Senior Editor for the Telicom, a semi-monthly publication for the International Society for Philosophical Enquiry.

This series is produced by Barrett Golding of HearingVoices.com.

Clusters

Yellow

or were they

blue? White, red

ribbon everywhere —

Stay out.

  

But they were so small, plastic, barely three

inches across. They didn't look deadly. Two

soldiers wandered in, curious. One

said: "I wonder what would happen if…."

  

and gingerly tapped one

with the toe of his boot

  

which then evaporated in a pink frothy cloud,

a bubble gum pop, then cotton candy chunks

arcing lazily through the air

landing with little wet thumps

muffled by the sand.

  

Then, he died.

just like that

just that quickly.

One moment he was alive and curious

and the next, he was just a scattering.

  

But the second was still alive

And so, to help him, without thinking

others ran into that minefield

  

pop

pop

  

We too now running, and I, fastest, first, frozen

by the sight of so much crimson soaked clothing.

I didn't know where to start.

  

Covered with the essence of others,

later, I was

mistaken as a casualty myself.

  

But I would not let them take my uniform

they would still live as long as evidence

of them remained on my sleeves,

torn as they grasped for a few extra moments.

  

Excerpted from Operation Homecoming, by Andrew Carroll, editor. Copyright (c) 2006 by Southern Arts Federation. Reprinted by arrangement with The Random House Publishing Group.

Books Featured In This Story

Operation Homecoming
Operation Homecoming

Iraq, Afghanistan, And the Home Front, in the Words of U.S. Troops And Their Families

by Andrew Carroll and Dana Gioia

Hardcover, 386 pages | purchase

close

Purchase Featured Books

  • Operation Homecoming
  • Iraq, Afghanistan, And the Home Front, in the Words of U.S. Troops And Their Families
  • Andrew Carroll and Dana Gioia

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: