Wednesday afternoon’s interview with Perry Woodfin at our online public radio station, WhidbeyAIR about my upcoming chapbook, Collateral Damage, from Finishing Line Press challenged and intrigued me. We explored questions about post traumatic stress and drone warfare. Perry expanded my definition of the damage trauma can inflict, and engineer Gwen Samuelson updated me on our shared D.C. hometown.
I didn’t know much about WhidbeyAIR before. I kept looking for it on my radio dial until I realized, “Duh — it’s only online.” Organized by Langley artists in the late 1980s, it aims to connect creativity on our island with the world. An all-volunteer staff keeps it up and running.
My interview with Perry will air Saturday, the 19th at 10pm, Sunday the 20th at 2pm. Otherwise, just link to WhidbeyAIR and click “Listen” to hear streaming content.
Lt. Col. John Darin Loftis made people smile. He knew he could bridge Afghans and American military forces. He studied Pashto and even selected a Pashto name for himself – Ehsaan, which means beholden. He would introduce himself to people on the street using his halting language skills. You can see the bemusement in their faces in Micah Garen’s film Call Me Ehsaan, from The New York Times. Loftis even memorized Pashtun poetry and often recited Rahman Baba’s work with a Kentucky lilt.
Along with another soldier, the Lieutenant Colonel was executed in the Interior Ministry one cold February day in 2012. Another green on blue killing. My poem from the Collateral Damage collection is a tribute to his care and kindness. A section reads
softness in his smile
signals the little boy
executed in February
adventure of learning Pashto
hearing the music of its poetry
reciting it imperfectly
executed in February
whimsy of picking a name
for himself out of a hat
back of the head as snow fell
Here is a courageous book, one where men pray to rain, where men are executed in “retaliation for scorched words” that “are sacred.”When the word “heat” becomes a moving elegy and “Traffic” a boy’s name–the reader realizes that poetry’s power, its impulse, is to name the world anew despite all the sorrows–or maybe because of them. —Ilya Kaminsky
As our agonizing engagement in Afghanistan winds down, some reflection seems timely. My connection with a friend posted in Kabul and my concern for his safety led me into that turmoil. It focused my attention on the war’s actors, its reporting, its mean failures and small successes. Lesser known individuals with amazing stories riveted me. Sgt. Lynn Hill flew Predators from her base in Las Vegas, while Mohammedullah guided heavy trucks over Afghan passes with his Pepsi bottle baton. Robert Bales’ name seared our national conscience after that Panjwai massacre, and who could help loving Lt. Col. John Darin Loftis for his halting recitations of Pashto poetry.
Collateral Damage is a scrapbook of poems, of personalities who confront us with unanswered questions. What have we accomplished after 12 years in that blue land? Is it enough that we did our best to offer Afghans a chance at self-determination? Were the countless heartbreaks of loss and estrangement worth that effort? Is the effort, itself, the ultimate reward?