In an explosive first collection of poetry, HEAT + PRESSURE, U.S. Army veteran and Tennessee storyteller Ben Weakley explores what it means to have gone to war.
In 2018, as he was retiring from the Army, Weakley began participating in writing workshops with Rockville, Maryland-based Community Building Art Works (CBAW). The practice sparked in him a passion for creating opportunities for dialogue among "civilians" and "military" audiences through writing and literature.
"I wrote these poems on phone screens in the back of commuter buses and metro trains. I wrote them in notebooks on lunch breaks at work and quiet Sunday mornings before the rest of my family was awake," the poet writes. "At first, I wrote about combat, acts of war, and unprocessed violence. As I pushed myself further, I wanted to know more about why I had decided to go to war [...] I wanted to know what it meant for my life now. The words happened. I bore witness."
THE WOODEN ELEPHANTS OF HERAT
I type Afghanistan into a search engine
that spits out words connected to places
and I get more places: Kandahar, Khowst,
I never deployed to Herat.
But Herat is where a woodcarver cut
scraps of walnut into two elephants
I brought home from the war to give my son.
For eight years they roamed his room as he played
in the ivory carpet of his imagination
until the tusks, tiny as matchsticks, fell out.
He is ten now. He does not remember teething
on my dog tags or holding my sweat-stained
patrol cap in the Fort Knox gym the night I came home.
He does not remember stopping the car
to salute the flag when the trumpet played retreat
on post. He no longer plays with elephants,
and now I pack them into a cardboard box
with faded uniforms and dusty boots-
the relics we're unable to throw out
but no longer want to display.