War Poet.ca - A CFAP Project by Suzanne Steele

Before Wainwright

in Edmonton for a few days before Wainwright. time to pause and more importantly, to buy a warm down jacket and balaclava for the next week. soldiers work in cold. it’s not winter yet, but roaring down a long dirt road with one’s head and upper body stuck out of the gunner’s hatch of a LAV is frigging freezing. especially at daybreak. or 4 a.m. in the rain. or snow.

wednesday night, I read August Widow, from New Tans, to an audience at the Raving Poets with their live backup band. August Widow is record to the funeral of one of our fallen, which I attended last summer. unusual for me, it’s written in rhymed couplets…what I hope I do with August Widow is to heighten the beauty of the land, the nuance of love, as the soldier’s wife and brothers in arms,

“kneel to lay him gentle home.”

after my reading, I was approached by someone who had also attended a soldier’s funeral this year. the soldier had fallen not by an IED, an insurgent’s bullet, but by his own hand. he “pulled the pin,” as one soldier told me just last week when talking to me about his own PTSD and then told me about his brothers who had suicided.

the day I left Shilo, the housekeeper stopped me to talk. she wanted to tell me about her two sons. one served in 2006. another is going sooner. the first son is returning in ’09. she kept a scrapbook of everything he sent: emails, letters, postcards. she clipped articles of battles. anything. her way of keeping busy. engaged. those months long as decades.

and today, I stopped at a bookstore. a great little 2nd hand shop. the guy behind the desk, when I tell him what I’ve been doing, tells me he has a buddy that was in the vehicle hit by an IED this summer. three dead soldiers. only him alive. dealing with it.

just like the solier I spoke with at Shilo. lost hearing. lost eyesight. another IED. a young Cpl. dead on his lap. soldier puts in his hours. manages a laugh. just got married a few weeks back. tells me his story. and when I leave Shilo. waves goodbye. smiles at me. “see you next time.”

August Widow

from across the road, with church and soldiers in their scope,
story is veins and arteries, soft tissue to these black coats

this murder of shiny microphones, video cams
they beak, they claw, they pick at mourner carrion;

gray day, gray day, a brother buried half a world away
from bullet and pomegranate, on this his prairie

where wild flax blues and blooms,
and yellow canola swathed,

where love uncorked longing, the plate of grapes, the bottle of wine,
where love listened all night to thunder calling,

where love knows more than ever—as brothers right left right
down his country lane, hearse wheels on wet road, the march

to foot him to his grave, just one week out from Panjawaii—
that grasshoppers will hiss at skins of summer

that a kiss will last forever, that she leans into him
her hair falls fragrant fills him one last time

while cameras’ shutters the shudder of his world
click open, close, the rain breaking August’s umbrella

and the bugler nails notes to grimaced stone
and the brothers shoulder, kneel to lay him gentle home.

5 Comments (Closed)


How is Alberta??????
Hope u have fun and congrats on the BBC………


Oct 26 2008 · 14:50


Beautiful use of rhyme and echoing motif. I can hear and feel the meaning and mourning of the poem. The images are poignant and beautiful and shimmer with truth. I just stumbled upon your work reading an article about your project in The Tyee. Thank you for reminding why I love poetry and literature.

Your project is fantastic.

Oct 28 2008 · 05:55


Very nice, Suzanne…

Nov 07 2008 · 10:54

2Lt ID Shaw

I’m glad you have done some training, and will be going to the real action, Suzanne. I look forward to following the rest of your work, considering how good what you have already done is. I’m glad to have been part of the chain of people that got you to this place, and look forward to seeing some of your finished work displayed at Bay Street. Cheers, Drew.

Nov 07 2008 · 16:34


“murder of shiny microphones”—nice

I like your spare syntax, visceral and emotional perception.

your project gives poetry some modern guts

Nov 16 2008 · 06:39

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The page you're reading contains a single diary entry entitled Before Wainwright. It was posted here on October 26, 2008.


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