"Phantom Noise," a new collection by "The Hurt Locker" poet Brian Turner
By Brian Turner
93 pp. $16.95
Before the film appeared, before Kathryn Bigelow was a household name, before the Academy Award, there was Brian Turner's "The Hurt Locker," a deceptively simple poem about a soldier exhausted by nights of mortar fire. "Nothing but the hurt left here," writes Turner. "Nothing but bullets and pain/and the bled out slumping." It's one of the poems in Turner's 2005 collection, "Here, Bullet," a book written by a young infantryman without politics and with eyes wide open.
In his new collection, "Phantom Noise," Turner is the same soldier, with the same keen eye, but he is even more battle-weary. Taken together, these books are an unusual two-part portrait of a decade of war: its strength, its wounds, its fantasies of home and, as it happens, the strange beauty of a stubbornly foreign culture. Taken alone, "Phantom Noise" is an unsettling plunge into a returned soldier's dislocation. Through images that recur again and again, from Iraq to a podium in Colorado, from a field hospital to a pristine day on Puget Sound, we go deep inside this soldier's relief, grief and alienation.
Here is the former warrior in "At Lowe's Home Improvement Center":
Standing in aisle 16, the hammer and anchor aisle,
I bust a 50 pound box of double-headed nails
open by accident, their oily bright shanks
and diamond points like firing pins
from M-4s and M-16s.