“Aftermath,” a collection of poetry by brothers J.E. and Andrew McCollough, gives an uncensored and unapologetic look at life in and after the war in Iraq. What makes this anthology different from the other collections of war poetry out there is its unique perspective: the contrasting points of view of J.E., a former Marine, and his brother Andrew, a civilian.
In the truest tradition of the “warrior poet,” J.E. had a front seat at the war through his job as an interrogator and human intelligence collector with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines in Task Force Tripoli. This perspective gave him face to face access with the enemy, his fellow Marines, and the civilians caught in between. Andrew McCollough picks up where his brother leaves off, providing the “other side” of the war; the part that begins when a warrior comes home.
There is a lot of moving and deeply reflective poetry in Aftermath, but what I liked the most was the juxtaposition of the two points of view between Marine and civilian. It is a powerful reminder that war’s effects do not begin and end only with the warrior. An example:
Bury me at sea
Deep beneath the frothing waves
Let me sleep in peace at last
And not a dirty grave
The earth is full already
And the dead all lay together
Throw me in the water
Where I can float forever
Bury me at sea someday
Let the ocean take my ash
I’ll sail away on salted air
And forget I ever passed
I am filled with those same shadows,
cobwebbed, dark and stagnant as the broken barrel
in the garden long empty
still leaking what new water seeks to fill it.
leaving only algal dregs and flailing larvae
and the echoes of old rain.
This article first appeared in The Havok Journal on 3 April 2015.