Letters Home

Note: This constraint-based poem is composed from the letters of the names of all 127 Wisconsin servicemen and women killed in Iraq and Afghanistan as of December 31, 2013. Multiple sources provide the names of Wisconsin’s dead, each with different totals based on how strong the person’s connection was to the state and where they resided at the time of their deaths—for this poem I selected the most inclusive of those lists. This poem, excluding the title, uses only and all of the letters from the names of the fallen—no more and no less. “WI” has three varying pronunciations in the poem based on context and is to be read as either “We,” “Why,” or “Wisconsin.” Finally, all misspellings are intentional.

WI sends names to war
letters bleed
our voices cinch at home

already this poem is far too long

letters jell, unspell
I near E near D
meet and blow verse apart
axle and man jump ajar
in Anbar, Nangarhar
the syntax we had
charred in Baghdad

Adrian lent his A’s to Fallujah
the R in Ryan begins Ramadi
Paul can nearly spell Kabul
WI sent badger Bs and muzzle Zs
the H to end a death

k is kkkill
kevlar jacket
unceasing rocket kaleidoscope in a kingdom wrecked
catch kickbacks to collarbones
kamikaze hatchbacks roar
torn khaki and pining kin
prayer in the barrack, shh
Kenosha, Kandahar
Black Creek and Paktika

homesick K
a coy kiss
kindergarten children eat licorice in a breezy yard
karma, kismet

WI can abbreviate
jerry-rig an interrogative
join a W to an i

WI …no deer? Crane? Evergreen?
…no dairy herd or cheddar?
…the yawning, narcotic sand?
…pell-mell lanes with pell-mell bombs?
…rant and chant on nothingness?
WI not peace?

WI sent J upon J: Jim, James, J.J.
jjjarheads journeyed and jostled, jousted with jjjihadists
they jig-sawed a jargon in jeeps
JJJacob joined in a late party, a hazy jamboree
JJJohn jabbed in jest, a jolly justice
JJJason, the jaded jailer, jealous of jerks in jeans
Jerabek jogs to recall joy
juries of jackals jeer and jaw

M in armies: Michael, Michelle
Madison, Samarra
marred mezzanines
maniiic manhunts for men with manes
myths are miiiles past mnemonics
beware an atlas of monstrance
mennn handle miiines, miiines handle mennn
gunnerrrs in hummerrrs earn merrrit in mayhem
merry in the “all clear” mirth

Remember morel mushrooms muscling Muscoda loam?
Honey letters home end XOXO
WI ran Midwest to Mideast
sent Sun Prairie to Helmand
palaces hollowed, ransacked hell hovels
tarmacs fry anarchic with cannon chant
holy hajjis and Oshkosh wrestlers contort in caves
trace north on an earth arras of cataclysm
liminal drones arm
hover hostile
jet normal in the nerve-high heat

pendulum rhythm

amputee alphabet
the last u
make dve

WI try and expand horror, jinx hope?
learn the harsh law in bvllet holes, leeching blood flow
lambent names: Charles, Harry, Chad, Rachel
borrowed lanterns in this lament
ovr martyred grammar
crypt for carnal ash
carry vs into the hovrly ether

WI will learn yovr letters
heal ovr own line
symbols rally, restore, bring yov here
near the robins and elm
violets and moraines vnder constellations
in ovr northern sky

this is a poem of sadness
of hearts breaking into smaller hearts
the letters we carry are patched
come home
beyond the last line lie only sad anagrams
do not add to ovr poem

sad anagrams

eyes hello some
bleak horns cheer gentle
oils varnish a naked noon
sad jeer
mad jeer
a banner ripping
hell chart
denied ghosts
the levee