Back to Issue Twenty-Three.

Kill Class

BY NOMI STONE

The story says we are in the country of Pineland: grassy roads curving in, named  
for longleaf pine, loblolly pine. Sassafras, black gum, slash pine
clethra sharp as pepper, shallowing
the land’s breath. 

The story says I join the guerillas. 
The story says I carry this tent in. 

Three cages at the wood line: 
the goat, the chickens, 
a solitary white rabbit.

Commander: You are Gypsy, from Taylor-town, the widow of Joker,
one of the fallen guerillas.

They make me a fighter.
One woman among 40 guerillas
and the 12 American soldiers
secretly training them to overthrow
their country’s government. 

Joker fell heroically, and our child — there was a child — they made me eat his ashes. 
I am supposed to arrive at the guerilla camp full
of fury, and if possible, to cry.  

Commander: Do you take hot sauce on those ashes?

It’s May. Heat saps the water out of the body
as pines swoon in and out
and out. They have put aside the rabbit for me.

Commander: Gypsy, this is yours. Feed it. For now feed it.

The trainees help me set up my tent. 
They give me noodles to eat.  

Trainee: Sweetheart, do you know you get fired if you break role?  
We need this work. We hold on to it like a tick. If you break
role you fail this course. Stay right here together in this wood.  
 

I break my camping fork.
Gentle-faced Whisker gives me another.

What did you do     before the war?

No one told me what I was supposed to have done
before. I decide on the truth, 
so I can better retain it: I was a student, I tell them, 
writing about war. The men come to fetch me.
It is time to tell my story:

standing in the wood, something in me, 
delicate and moving and hot. I
have spent my time considering the role: 
players crying on a loop. It is a play. 
If possible, cry.

Commander: Gypsy, two plus two does not equal five. Certain stories
make no sense.

Sense   is an edge, see
         if you dare   look
         over into the white
         falling  We are in
         a role play
         but if you feel it in there, you feel it. What is it
         you think I am lying
         about, Commander?    

His eyes flash:  So you are an anthropologist?

I say: I am here writing about the Iraqi diasporic population—they
received asylum to Pineland after 1991.  

Are they Sunni or Shia?  

I say, both.  

Do you see
how easy it is to catch you?

Listen I know the Iraqis in Pineland are mostly Shia
but many intermarried before they came.         

Julie, two
plus two does not equal five do you know
what we do to traitors?  

My name isn’t Julie, I tell them.  
My name is Gypsy. 

Time's come. We’re going on a six-hour mission.  
Carry your water on your back.          

I approach the Commander. I say I’m sorry
to break role for a moment. I’m a student from New York, 
and I appreciate the chance to play, 
but I am not the most rugged person in the world, 
and I am the only woman here, 
and I am not a contractor, 
and I would like to have a bit of control
over what I do and don’t do.        

Commander: Young lady, you have started out on the wrong foot. Don’t tell me
who you’re not.

Trainees: Suit up, Gypsy. Spray this on.   
It is 100% deet.  

We go. I can’t
keep up with the group.  Gypsy, you stay
right behind me Everything
will be alright.      I try to make small
talk because other talk brings me out 

you have to stay in.

Drink your water    Follow
me     Dissolve
your super hydration tablet    
Drink your water    Push on
tell your body      you are fine
You are fine.  

The wood is long and tall: it’s shot with light.
Light makes little lances through the leaves.

Whisker and Commander say, Gypsy, 
we need to have a talk. You come here with this
sob story. No one knows really, and none of it
matches up.  Two plus two does not equal five.  
A reporter named Julie went missing a few days ago.   
Rumor has it that she joined up with a guerilla group
in order to get a story.  We’re pretty sure you’re Julie.  
Or, you’re with the government
police.        No, 


I say.  No. I am Gypsy. My husband was
Joker. I am from Taylor-town.              

Gypsy, you know
what we do to traitors.
Give me your notebook.
I am not asking.  

They bring me to the wood line for kill class.  
Gypsy, this rabbit is yours. We have all been kind
enough to share our food and water out here.  
We all have to help out so we can eat.

There is a pit for the unusable
            portions of the entrails.  Secure the goat, slit its neck over
            the pit, and proceed with the chickens.

This one is yours.
Use this stick. One time over
the head should be enough.  

Make the spy cry. Make the spy cry.
The pines simmer and contract.
  

You have to, Gypsy, they say.
You can do it. Commander tries to give me
a fist bump to say We
are in this together.  We are not in this together.  

They cannot make me lift
my fist. Gypsy
how can we trust you? If you can’t kill
an animal, how
can you be a fighter?  

The pines.  

I’m sorry. I will clean it after if you want.

Commander is shaking. He returns
the rabbit to the cage.  

They bring me over   the chickens warm and still
The flesh under
their feathers  
the organs
pulled out the pearled
interiors.     This is meat now. I turn them
into something 

we eat. I think I am done, 
but Whisker says almost gently
Gypsy, you need to kill the rabbit. Unfortunately
you do not have a choice.      

I have a choice.            Let me be perfectly clear, 
                                    I say. It is not happening.    

The men make a circle
The pines make a circle
You need to hold     
the legs.     They are tying together
the legs       the animal
screaming        They raise
the stick        the legs are in
my arms         The legs are in my arms.

 

The Anthropologist Follows Baghdad’s Lost Books and Refugees

BY NOMI STONE

On the day we fell through the black
vortex, a friend forecast our futures
from traces of coffee
in lacquered cups: 
three journeys and twin daughters. 
When we fell, we fell past
inseparable rivers and dusk in the trees, 
water in jars / spilling rain bells
. Falling, 
we passed boats sluicing over draining marshes, 
orchards, which resprout  
just as they’re leveled. Twitching, you
might think, is more like an involuntary jerking
of limbs. This tale is also a dance. 

And why did you work with the Americans?

“I did it to feed my family.” “I drove a truck for an Iraqi company that supplied the US military.” “I did not know who I was working for exactly.” “Who doesn’t love a good bootleg Hollywood movie?” Inside our dream of country, a tiny bird is singing harshly with oracle. 

Can you tell me about The Drawing of Lots by Ibn al-Mutahil?

Supple, the air the morning
they drew lots. An ambush
scheduled for that day.  
We stood in the giant field
of wild onion
in the exact middle
of those curls
of grass-scent and weeping. 
Everyone pantomiming 

morning. 

Al-Mutahil disorients us before we are given
our lot. It’s is a Mass Casualty Event. 
We will lose our limbs. 
The machine covers 100% of the Kill Zone.          

You just bought a ticket to the show. 

Every blade of grass waits for its lot.  

What is especially singular about this book? 
The quiet noise of pollen, 
our speech soft as small
dew on white flowers.

*  *  *

What did you do before the war?

Library fattening
like roses, al-Mutanabbi Street
had not yet been fed to the sky. “Not one 

I loved had yet been lost.” We trusted 

the khayyat-al farfari, who walked between
villages and towns repairing every
broken thing: 

crushed clasp, fragmenting 

wedding song. “Those days, the President cut
the dates and orchards so no one could hide
inside them.” When they smile, your eyes,

 the vines put forth their leaves.  

Was there solace to be found?

Trees lower their limes. 
One night, as light cools
we eat dolmas, meat-laced
rice folded into hollowed
onions and grape leaves. 
They bring honey to my lips. 
Somewhere nearby, someone
digs a grave in the velvety dark.  
In the War Game (a book anticipated it
in a footnote), soldiers pantomiming
death lay shirtless by a fire.

What did you come for, Traveler? Why
do you think this has anything to do with you?

*  *  *

        Tell me, what happened to those who worked with the Americans?

One room we called the blue-lit stage. 

Music cracks. Measure
the suffering on the stage
by the piano-key teeth, 
the gleaming surgery’s afterhour. 
Root to tooth. Bone to eye.  

What happened to you in that room? 

Upon the husks of wheat, a blight. 
Eyespot, stem rust, stagonosoroa
nodorum
. Loosen this chaff. Plough it 

into the soil. Sunnis say علاسة and he
is chewed; the Shia say سكاكة, then a smashing, 
kernel to terrible. Burn it. Douse it.

Lather over the cracked stones. Consume it
when desperate. Wind, who wouldn’t
you blow? Carry the naked floret away from this place.

Who were you, after The Varieties of Creeping Things by Ibn al-Batriq?

That which crept
could not always be named. 

There was a catalogue: the squirming and the beetling, 
the under-strata in the mulch, the simmering 

among the needles of the pines, the metallic-smudged
handprint on the door, the traitor wrapped in sacred verses, 

the white worm of pain
inside your skin, the almost-lit 

match in your chest, 
in that moment you did not speak. 

Your mother, who is the most tender
and most persevering person you know
cannot put a wall between you and the creeping things. 

Our author wants you to know: 
you are on your own. 

Do you expect to one day return?

“I went back to sell my land.”  
[iPhone photo: Date Palm.]
“I felt nothing.”  

“Grab your camera! Get ready
to film this!” says the soldier, observing the War Game. 

“Two of them are still moving around. Haven’t they bled out by now?”  
In the truck, each laughs off her death as the game ends.

*  *  *

But the camera burned
the hole. We fell through. 

Anthropologist, why are you in this story?

Forest: War blinks
through each
of my friend’s losses: 

leg, 
house, 
son. 

Press Record: A spartan room, flowered mattress pad, droning TV and fan; rain spots, mold spots. Their living son does not turn from the TV. 

“I did it to feed my family. I did not know who I
was working for exactly. They found us. It
happened in the morning.” Batteries stutter: 
the recorder beeps. 

“Son, hurry, find her
a battery.” Press: they 

are crying I am crying. Press: I will never
understand and how dare I come here. Lord, I 

came here. I knew not loss. These woods are lit by you, and you, and you.

And who are you now, on the other side, Coming on Objects
Unexpectedly (verse)
by unknown?

Out of the sonorous dark, came the objects: the bells
beneath the river; the bridge (it is your childhood bridge):

the men and women and children crossing
the bridge on that holy day— 

someone yelled: “it is a trap,”
and do you know, they jumped that moment 

out of their deaths, 
the river took them. 

From the darkness, came the light-drunk hole
out of the white-hot nerve; came beekeepers

from the Yusifiyya farm, their bees fanning
the air. Amber-yellow, almost bitter under the sweet

it can cure your sore throat
if you eat the eggs of the bees right from the comb 

(he explains; have I translated this correctly) 
you will have a very strong heart. 

 

Note“dusk in the trees, water in jars / spilling rain bells” and “When they smile, your eyes, the vines put forth their leaves” are lines from the Iraqi poet Badr Shakr al-Sayyab

 

 

NOMI STONE.png

Nomi Stone’s second collection of poems, Kill Class, is forthcoming from Tupelo Press in 2019. She is also the author of the poetry collection Stranger’s Notebook (TriQuarterly, 2008), a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Anthropology at Princeton University, and has an MFA in Poetry from Warren Wilson. Poems appeared recently or will soon appear in the New Republic, the New England Review, Tin House, Bettering American Poetry 2017, the Best American Poetry 2016, Guernica, and elsewhere. Kill Class is based on two years of fieldwork she conducted within war trainings in mock Middle Eastern villages erected by the US military across America. 

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