What does it take for a person to kill a living thing, then a human being? Why are the truths of war silenced?
The sculpture that adorns the cover of Veronica Golos’ collection Vocabulary of Silence is haunting: a man appears to be buried up to his armpits, caught in a pose of waiting for water to drop from a vessel that he holds almost entirely upside down. He is in a permanent pose of desperation. This image haunted me just as the images in the poems held beyond the cover.
In the book’s first poem, Golos sets up the image of war: “Litter ignites into funeral flares; the bread of the dead is breaking. / Above the moans of children, soldiers warm their hands” (“Dream: The City: Baghdad 2008”). This is a war we all know, either through soldiers who have fought in Iraq or by news reports, but this is not a war we have heard about from the residents of Iraq. We rarely hear this story from the other side.
She also presents us with questions in a sequence of poems under the section title “Eden is Ruin”: What does it take for a person to kill a living thing, then a human being? Why are the truths of war silenced? She drives these questions home by watching a young boy kill an egret:
The egret’s there, always in
the pale morning, mist rising
off it like a robe.
The boy goes there with
watching one brother kill another:
It covered my hands the red smell/taste
of brother on my fingers in my mouth
It was in me so loud It hurt
then offering a series of fragments from transcripts of interviews with combat veterans of Iraq:
and then yesterday another soldier in my
took s poon
brains laughed dead Iraqiii There’s a photo
arm around the corp so it wasin Samara
(“Letter damaged in transit”)
and images of a mother caring for her wounded son:
she wants to lift him, she wants to smother him, she wants to finger all the edges of his wounds, she wants him back, she wants him to die. All her words, the ones she could say on some spring day the sun’s out the rye is up
somewhere below the solar plexus of her
The questions that begin with these poems continue in the next section (“The Silence”), then through a sequence of ghazals and veils. Golos does not offer any answers; if she did, these poems would lose their power. These questions allow us to pay attention to the images she offers, to create or further define our own perceptions of what this war has cost its participants, witnesses, and observers.
This book is important not because it’s about war, but the way in which Golos chooses to present the events. She could have written a book of essays or novel, but what poetry does for this subject, other genres cannot do: through images and sequences, she allows us to see a different perspective that doesn’t get muddled in value systems. The rawness of these poems is very important, offering us truth out of the wreckage and silence of war.
Read “La Femme Rouge: Redux,” a Rumpus Original Poem by Veronica Golos.