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America at War

A Poet Laureate Under Fire

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Poet Maxwell Corydon Wheat, Jr. was ready to accept the position of poet laureate of New York's Nassau County on Monday, when the county legislature balked. In 2005, Wheat wrote a book of poetry called "Iraq and Other Killing Fields: Poetry for Peace," something a little different from his other poetry. We talk with Wheat about the honor he is getting--with or without the county legislature's blessing.

Soldier's Anguish

In dusk of evening
at checkpoint in southern Baghdad
American soldiers remember suicide bomber
killing four soldiers at another checkpoint.
They aim at vehicles approaching on Highway I,
running up slipway toward overpass

The 22-year-old Corporal from Chicago,
gunner aboard tank bearing barrel legend, "Bush & Co,"
fires cannon shells,
sees two men in silver gray Toyota Camry die
"in an explosion of blood and steel."

Two days later, the Corporal returns.
White flags ripple in breezes over hurriedly-covered graves.
White cloth pulled over their faces against stench, flies,
brother and friends with shovels lift and throw dirt off
"huge barrel" of a body, Bahir Handi, 28,
off body of Wadhar Handi, 34,
brothers who conduct the family tannery,
sell leather goods to fashion houses in Italy.
Days before Iraqi-American War, Bahir Handi
returns from making new business deals in Milan.
Forty-five days before Iraqi-American War, Wadhar Handi marries

Helmet pulled up so he hears who the dead are,
"his face tightened," the Corporal looks up,
asks that a message be given the people:
"Tell them the fact that I pulled the trigger
that killed some of these people makes me very unhappy.
Tell them that America did not want things to happen this way.
Tell them that I wish Iraqis will have a better life."

The Corporal climbs back aboard tank.
Memories of southern Baghdad cling to his life

--Maxwell Corydon Wheat, Jr.

From: John J. Burns, "G.I. Who Pulled Trigger Shares the Anguish of Two Deaths," The New York Times, April 12, 2003

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