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TERRY GROSS, host:
For many soldiers, sailors and Marines deployed overseas, a family or a loved one waits at home for their return. Poet Jehanne Dubrow is one of those people waiting. Her husband, a career naval officer, is halfway through a nine month tour of duty on a destroyer in the western Indian Ocean which is conducting anti-terrorism and anti-pirate operations.
Dubrow's new collection of poems, "Stateside," is written from the point of view of a military wife. The book has a forward by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Ted Kooser.
We asked Dubrow to introduce and read three of her poems.
Ms. JEHANNE DUBROW (Poet; Author, "Stateside"): A number of the poems in "Stateside" take their titles from military terminology. The phrase secure for sea refers to the process of making sure that all unstable objects on a ship are safely tied down before deployment. But secure for sea is also what a family does before a sailor is deployed in preparation for the long absence. This poem is called "Secure for Sea."
Maritime terminology. It means the moveable stays tied. Lockers hold shut. The waves don't slide a metal box across the decks, or scatter screws like jacks, the sea like a rebellious child that wrecks all tools which aren't fastened tightly or fixed. At home, we say secure when what we mean is letting go of him. And even if we're sure hes coming back, it's hard to know: The farther out a vessel drifts, will contents stay in place, or shift?
My next poem talks about a time after my husband and I first married, when I found myself seeing danger where I hadn't seen it before, even channel surfing became risky. I could no longer watch the History Channel or the nightly news and the silliest of war movies made me cry. "Against War Movies."
I see my husband shooting in "Platoon," and there he is again in "M*A*S*H." How weird to hear him talk like Hawkeye Pierce. And soon I spot him everywhere, his body smeared with mud, his face bloodied. He's now the star of every ship blockade and battle scene - "The Fighting 69th," "A Bridge Too Far," "Three Kings," "Das Boat," and "Stalag 17." In Stalingrad he's killed, and then he's killed in "Midway" and "A Few Good Men." He's burned or gassed, he's shot between the eyes, or shoots himself when he comes home again. Each movie is a training exercise, a scenario for how my husband dies.
When I think about my husband on deployment, I imagine him pared-down to the essentials: his uniforms, perhaps a couple of military manuals and a few personal possessions, nothing else. Everything from the civilian world is left behind. This next poem is called "Nonessential Equipment."
The dog and I are first among those things that will not be deployed with him. Forget civilian clothes as well. He shouldn't bring too many photographs, which might get wet, the faces blurred. He only needs a set of uniforms. Even his wedding ring gives pause. What if it fell? He'd be upset to dent or scratch away the gold engraving. The sea bag must be light enough to sling across his shoulder, weigh almost nothing, each canvas pocket emptied of regret. The trick is packing less. No wife, no pet, no perfumed letters dabbed with I-love-yous, or anything he cant afford to lose.
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GROSS: Jehanne Dubrow, reading three poems from her collection, "Stateside." She teaches creative writing at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland. You can read the full text of the three poems we heard on our website freshair.npr.org.
I'm Terry Gross.
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