America Armed, No Bullets

by Brian Turner

Without bullets, a gun is just a paperweight.

—Larry Keane, Nat’l Shooting Sports Foundation

Outside Springfield, Sparks, Coarsegold and Valdez,
Winchester, Coffeyville, Badwater the same—deer
flinch at the shoulder, their ears ticking
to the click of the trigger in its housing, the firing pin
sounding itself in the hollow chamber where no bullet lies.
They stare a moment longer, then resume the chewing of grass.

The ammunition factories are working overtime,
but for now, there are no bullets. Just the sound of ducks
called over water, the spaniel with a curious look over his shoulder,
doves on the barbed wire fences, pheasants in the yard.

The old men have never seen anything like it.
They drink coffee on the front porch and stare for hours
as traffic passes on the main road to town—hybrid cars
painted in Electric Green Mica and Aqua Ice Opalescent.

Sometimes the old men sight their rifles and traverse the roadway
as they would swing the barrel over Sibley Hole when the mallards
lift up all at once, the greens and the browns in a flurry of color,
the hounds barking and chasing along the shoulder of the road
to the familiar sound of the hammer falling forward, the men cursing
as the rifles click, click, click, into the hammered silence that follows.


Brian Turner is a soldier-poet whose debut book of poems, Here, Bullet, won the 2005 Beatrice Hawley Award, the New York Times Editor’s Choice selection, the 2006 Pen Center USA Best in the West award, and the 2007 Poets Prize, among others. Turner served seven years in the US Army, to include one year as an infantry team leader in Iraq with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. Prior to that, he was deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1999-2000 with the 10th Mountain Division. Turner’s poetry has been published in Poetry Daily, The Georgia Review, and other journals, and in the Voices in Wartime Anthology published in conjunction with the feature-length documentary film of the same name. Turner was also featured in Operation Homecoming, a unique documentary that explores the firsthand accounts of American servicemen and women through their own words. He earned an MFA from the University of Oregon and has lived abroad in South Korea.

Brian Turner’s Here, Bullet is a harrowing, beautiful first-person account of the Iraq war. The poems in this remarkable collection reflect Turner’s experiences as a soldier with penetrating lyric power, compassion, sensitivity, and eloquence, while deploring the violence and acknowledging the grief and terror of war. One poem, Eulogy”, was written to memorialize a soldier in his platoon who took his own life. Adding his voice to the current debate about the US occupation of Iraq, in poems written in the tradition of such poets as Wilfred Owen, Yusef Komunyakaa (Dien Cai Dau), Bruce Weigl (Song of Napalm) and Doug Anderson (The Moon Reflected Fire), veteran Brian Turner’s affecting poetry of witness is exceptional for its beauty, honesty, and skill. These gracefully-rendered, unflinching poems make “Here, Bullet” a must-read for anyone who cares about the war, regardless of political affiliation. His second poetry book, Phantom Noise, is forthcoming from Alice James in 2010. Turner has recently been selected as one of 50 United States Artists Fellows for 2009.