In his surpassingly sad and disquieting memoir, poet Turner (Phantom Noise, 2010, etc.) has rendered an unusual anomaly: cogent delirium.
Some have said a poet should join astronauts in space so we could know what it's really like. In Turner, we have sent a poet to war, and we are much closer to knowing its kaleidoscopic face; as profound sympathy washes over the reader, so does the war's horror. Alternately stark and surreal, Turner's chronicle is a textured confluence of the ages, connected by classic verse, history and arresting metaphor. He surveys a landscape of ghosts from all of humanity's wars, wraiths who walk the streets and battlefields and rise like mist from the rivers. Throughout, he is haunted by moral ambiguities. On the ground, or in dreams hovering above the fray, Turner has the acuity to see through others' eyes: a bomb maker, quietly assembling “Death's cold and metallic invitation”; an Iraqi doctor surveying the carnage; a child kissing her father's cheek; a Turkish cook, dying. The author locates the intoxication and pathology of war in a wild terrain “where profound questions are given a violent and inexorable response,” a realm bereft of reason where generation after generation of soldiers have marched to oblivion or lasting anguish. Why did a man of such sensitivity and clarity of perception feel compelled to fight in Iraq, even when he knew it made no sense? Turner doesn't know, and he dismisses each of the motivations as delusions. But, marinated in the martial ethic of his father, the author joined the infantry, prepared to be “low, cold and reptilian” and to live with fear.
It was poetry that offered succor, yet Turner, in this arresting memoir, still cannot quite answer his overriding question: How does anyone leave behind a war, its deep reservoirs of trauma and ruined worlds, and somehow waltz into the rest of his life?