At age nineteen, Hugh Martin, a reservist, had to withdraw from college for a deployment to Iraq. After training at Fort Bragg, Martin spent 2004 in Iraq as the driver of his platoon sergeant’s Humvee. He participated in hundreds of missions including raids, conducting foot patrols, clearing routes for IEDs, disposing of unexploded ordnance, and searching thousands of Iraqi vehicles. These poems recount his time in basic training, his preparation for Iraq, his experience withdrawing from school, and ultimately, the final journey to Iraq and back home to Ohio.
—Girl Scout Troop 472
The children colored the cards,
dated from December,
with Christmas trees, piles of presents,
snowmen smiling, waving. Sara wants
a doll. Evan, a dog. Kyle promises
to pray for us.
Outside the hooch, we open mail,
hundreds of letters
from youth groups, scout troops,
classes of school children.
Kearns wants to write back,
ask for pictures
of older sisters.
We tape our favorites to the door.
In blue crayon, a stick-figure soldier poses
as he’s about to toss
a black ball,
at three other stick figures,
red cloth wrapped over faces,
across stick chests.
In Jalula, the children draw us pictures, too.
In white chalk, on concrete walls,
a box-shaped Humvee with two antennae
rising like balloons from the hatch.
A stick soldier holds a machine gun;
he waves at us,
us, in the Humvees.
Further down the wall, a stick man holds
aimed toward the Humvee,
the waving soldier’s head—
what the children want for Christmas,
or what they just want.
“Here’s nine months worth of sawdust and sweat, dear reader. Somehow, Hugh Martin has wrung poetry from a scab, and now, the full shock and beauty and mystery of the things of war that won’t let go will stick to you.”—Cornelius Eady, from the Foreword
“This is as good as first books get… the idea that poetry can invest and transport in terms of an unlikely experience is now almost lost. Nineteenth-century readers of poetry would queue up for blocks in front of the book-stalls of London publishers. Please now look at the games our children play off computer screens and ask: How can war be an unlikely experience for anyone in our culture? Hugh Martin has an answer for us."—Norman Dubie
Hugh Martin was born in northeast Ohio in 1984 and attended Nordonia High School. He joined the Army National Guard in June of 2001 (four months prior to 9/11) and—after graduating from Nordonia in May of 2002—completed basic and AIT training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, as an M1A1 Tanker. In the fall of 2003, Martin withdrew from Muskingum University when his unit was activated and deployed to northeastern Iraq for approximately eleven months. He returned home in January of 2005, completed his BA in English at Muskingum in 2009, worked in Ireland on a work visa in 2010, completed his MFA at Arizona State in May of 2012, and was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University.
© BOA Editions, Ltd. 2013