The Shape of Our Faces No Longer Matters
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You might read Gerardo Mena’s poetry to find out what war is “really” like.
However, you’ll find him describing, again and again, its interior reality,
full of humans transformed into or by bayonets, leaves, birds, bullets,
flowers, rockets, and coffins in a zone where the fireball from a convoy
vehicle blasted by an IED mirrors Van Gogh’s
where “the tenth man in a patrol/will suddenly blink at you/from the half of
his face/ that is now lying/on the ground,” where perhaps the most telling
prayer is “Do not let me die/from an incoming mortar round/as I jerk off in
the porta-shitter.” Haunting this important book is the image, stated or
implied, of the after- combat “thousand yard stare.” Made famous by a World
War II painting, it’s very likely relevant to wars from the Pleistocene
epoch to the 21st Century.
dangerous happens when the incomprehensible destruction of war is packed
into the small intimate space of poetry. The line itself is a short history
of volatility. 'First the spear and then the fire,' writes Euripedes, with
the unblinking eye of one who has witnessed the strafing arrows of history.
In Gerardo 'Tony' Mena's debut collection, the speaker is inseparable from
the war--he is the spear, he is the coffin, he is the fire. 'When I awoke,'
Mena writes, 'I was Iraq.' Indeed, these lines are all front lines. Mena
takes us to the alleyways of Fallujah, the burning minaret, the
confrontation with insurgency and urgency in the deserts. The language here
is bald, beautiful and reckless. It is loving and sad. It is the eye-witness
account of heroism and suffering we cannot fathom, because this warrior poet
has shielded us with his body. But he has given us his heart and his mind in
frighteningly present, intimate forms. This is bravery of the highest order.
In this strong debut collection, Gerardo Mena explores the many facets of
the war experience through poems that are tender and powerful. The complex
bonds formed among fellow soldiers are honored in odes to the fallen; the
landscapes of both the combat zone and the home front are rendered in
exquisite detail. No one who hasn’t lived through combat can truly
understand its effects on the human psyche, but Mena’s skill and honesty
create a window through which civilian readers can glimpse the horrors and
the wonders, the fear and hatred and love that rise up like the smoke from a