Book Review

Postcards from Baghdad: Honoring America’s Heroes by Robert B. Moreland and Karen M. Miner, 2009. $19.99.

Reviewed by Kathleen Serley


Postcards from Baghdad Honoring America’s Heroes, a collection of poems by Robert B. Moreland and Karen M. Miner, presents a realistic discussion of America’s wars, especially the current Iraq War.  With poems like “Requiem for Tommy” and “War” this is not a collection to relax with on a summer evening.

The images are often graphic, as in these two lines from “Trauma” (31):

   You held his entrails in your hands,
   in panic, pushing them back in... 

The themes are at times heart wrenching as in “Requiem for Tommy” when we learn that Tommy lost his life saving a young Iraqi girl.

She was seven, trapped in a firefight...
He shielded her frail body with his
dying that she, Iraqi, live.
“No greater love has any man?” (p.50)

Other poems seem intended to raise questions about the validity of war.  One example of this is “Bellwether” (108) which begins

War is a weather vane
tugged by the wind. 
No power of its own
to choose a point.

Another example is found in “War” (34) which begins

I am war,
who is kindred to the devil.

Moreland and Miner challenge their readers to look beyond the obvious situations of armed conflict and face the human tragedies of grieving families, maimed soldiers and lives lost before these young men and women could fulfill their dreams of marriage and parenthood.

Less recognized topics are also explored.  “Singles” (81) describes a meeting between a marine just home from Iraq and an aging Vietnam veteran.

Mayonnaise jar sits
on the steamed, greased sidewalk
one block south of the train station;
protected by shaking hands
snaking out of an old army jacket.
Aging veteran, one foot in ‘Nam
ducks when bus brakes squeal.

Young marine, coming home from Iraqi sands,
slows the quickstep of his shiny boots
long enough to see his future.
“All I have is a couple of ones,”
he mutters, stuffing them into the old soldier’s Hellman’s safe.

they salute
the peace between them.

The line about the young marine slowing “long enough to see his future” makes us wonder:  Is homelessness an inevitable landing place for our veterans?

Moreland and Miner do not acknowledge any direct experience with war, but list in an appendix books that inspired their poems.  Moreland also writes in the Afterword about a man he knew personally, Captain David Langston Coker Jr., who was killed in Vietnam.  “The Wall,” dedicated to Coker Jr, begins the collection.

Postcards is divided into sections such as “Front Lines” and “Memories” and the poets seem to alternate poems in each section.  The poems, however, are printed without identifying the individual poet.  The alternating voices are evident and titles of the poems with the poets’ initials are listed at the end of the collection.  However, I found it unsettling to read through this collection without knowing who had written which poems.

Although individual poems raise awareness of the sacrifices war exacts from soldiers and civilians, the collection read as a whole is intended to unite us as Americans in support of our soldiers.  At the end of the book is a list of organizations formed to help troops and their families, and in the Afterword, Moreland and Miner ask us to “Remember those who sacrificed so that their example of honor and courage will live on.”

In a time when it is all too easy to disassociate ourselves with the armed conflicts our country engages in, Postcards from Baghdad reminds us that we have a commitment to the men and women deployed overseas and that we are all connected to their futures.

A lifelong resident of Wisconsin, Kathleen Serley [see also review of Bache-Wiig] enjoys all of our seasons: spring gardening, summer beach combing, fall hiking and winter snow shoeing. She teaches English.