A Voice from Inside the Classroom

I scan the distant mountains

over the silence of Soldier Field

watch the flag sliding down to half mast

set my mind adrift to the rage of war

to the dark flurry of mourning as I listen

to the howls of sea lions, the babble

of words in Hindi, Pashtu, Dari, Sorani, Farsi,

rising like swords of Tamarlane, cascading

over waves of solitude, over the hills

of Monterey

Morning light lands on the palm of my hand

three simple lines converge into a tentative M

speak of a future I do not wish to know

the horror of our boys in uniforms, rushing

out the classroom, past a teacherʼs desk,

into the rattle of war in distant Iraq, Afghanistan

into the roar of drones bursting into a wave of shudder

Associate Press splashing in screen across America

pictures of young marines on patrol pointing rifles

down the road outside Ramadi, Al Anbar province, Iraq

Then a hush

AP sends pictures of marines

lying in infinite silence on fresh wheat fields

pools of blood on trees and leaves

they are lulled by the Muezzin prayer:

“Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar”

“God is Great! God is Great”

No longer can the moon kiss lightly

on their faces like lovers do

grieving, it mounts on a moving cloud

crossing the vast empty sky of America


in the stillness of dawn

under the shaft of light

lies a land wounded

Mira Oaten was a senior instructor at the Defense Language Institute when she wrote this poem. Her students in the Marines and the Army were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

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