Non-Combat Related Incidents and Other Lies

For Pfc. LaVena Johnson (July 27, 1985-July 19, 2005)


There was no ballad
for you in Balad, no
eulogy tending your ears
beneath a sinister flame,
no pigeon to carry your
words home across the miles
to tell St. Louis
from your own bruised & sobbing cheek
before you were silenced by
an unreported hand that slid out, hid
& called itself your own, claiming
the demise of your nineteen years
your body small inside the sleeves
of tattered uniform,

only the screams and litanies
of your wailing sisters,
& ghosts brushing the sand
from your eyelids, yearning to
mend your snapped bone
salted vessel singed with lye,
your mother waking into nightmare

Your father taking coffin inventory
peels back the glue
under starched gloves concealing,
your smoldered fingers catch his tears
& he nearly drowns in the testimony
of your body, archives
between your skull & the sea
of paper, photographs, evidence, all,
crumbs swept under the service rug,
he hangs on to fight this by his teeth

absurdities in claims, exit wound lies,
your abuses washed over you in black & blue
desecration of the brilliance in your eyes

O to see your smile once more,
prayers roll out under harsh heart emptiness
full of you, every day full of you

this system is a slaughterhouse housing the weary,
a sty of ruthless invention,
post-traumatic triggers pulling triggers

you were butchered, we know
like a mangled calf shattered cut, we know

somewhere lurking lies a glint truth
choking on threat, we know

the bullet in your head wasn’t yours, we know

we know we know we know we know
we know we know we know

LaVena Johnson is one of many female US military service members deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan whose rape and murders by other US service members have been covered up as suicides by the Department of Defense. For more information, see: