When I was in college, I took a poetry class.
My professor was a woman who carried as many poems around with her as there were political buttons pinned to her leather coat. With such a teacher, our poetry was less about gardens flecked with mid-morning sun, and more about the broken lines of sidewalk in the barrio outside our campus. We wrote about heavy metal music and how we were “against forgetting”, whatever that meant.
And we wrote about war like we knew something about it.
I grew up in a soldier’s home–that is, in government quarters assigned to us every three years or so. The house I lived in at six was not so different as the one I lived in at twelve, although we lived in different states. In twenty three years, I lived in two continents, three countries, nine states and twelve cities.
My father deployed a lot. Somalia. Haiti. Hurricane Andrew. South Korea. Iraq.
I grew up in a life where-at five pm-every car stopped to listen for the bugle horn as the flag lowered. Where the national anthem was saluted before every movie. Where the rifle ranges were as familiar as a lullaby.
Where war meant more than a news report–it meant Dad might be dead.
In my poetry class, I listened as my class wrote poems about Iraq and jihad. They were anti-war, and their poetry reflected it. I wrote poems about absence and empty space, about attempting to fill the hours between one day and the next.
Because on the most basic level, war to me is just that: absence.
That semester, I was introduced to a really famous poem by e.e. cummings. I’d never seen it before, but after reading it, my poetry changed. The poet wrote:
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in my heart)
Poems about war became less about absence and more about remembering how tightly I’d held onto my father despite the distance. When my father went to war, I carried Iraq with me, in my heart. I carried it because the father I love carried that place, and I carried my father.
And in some way, although I still couldn’t read the newspapers without crying at reading about the death of a solider, this perspective shift helped. I started to believe that the ones we love never really leave us, although their physical absence is tangible and painful.
Because we carry their hearts with us(we carry them in our hearts).
How do you carry your loved ones with you?