Soldier-Poet Brian Turner, Framing War In Verse

Brian Turner i i

hide captionSoldier-poet Brian Turner. The New Yorker said his work "sidesteps the classic distinction between romance and irony, opting instead for the surreal."

Alice James Books
Brian Turner

Soldier-poet Brian Turner. The New Yorker said his work "sidesteps the classic distinction between romance and irony, opting instead for the surreal."

Alice James Books

Soldier Brian Turner is no silent witness to war. Instead, he used verse to chronicle his time in the U.S. Army, publishing a book of collected poems titled Here, Bullet.

Turner served in the armed forces for seven years. For one of those years, he was an infantry team leader in Iraq with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. He also served in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Here, Bullet was his debut collection; it won the 2005 Beatrice Hawley Award and was named a New York Times Editor's Choice.

Turner has also published his work in Poetry Daily, Atlanta Review and Georgia Review.


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)

Najaf 1820

Camel caravans transport the dead

from Persia and beyond, their bodies dried

and wrapped in carpets, their dying wishes

to be buried near Ali,

where the first camel

dragged Ali's body across the desert

tied to the fate of its exhaustion.

Najaf is where the dead naturally go,

where the gates of Paradise open before them

in unbanded light, the blood washed clean

from their bodies.

It is November,

the clouds made of gunpowder and rain,

the earth pregnant with the dead;

cemetery mounds stretching row by row

with room enough yet for what the years

will bring: the gravediggers need only dig,

shovel by shovel.


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.

Books Featured In This Story

Here, Bullet
Here, Bullet

by Brian Turner

Paperback, 71 pages | purchase


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