Joanna Grant

Afghan Villanelle 1: Explode

At Mazar-i-sharif I watched the land mines explode—
controlled detonations on the distant hillsides.
We never thought it would end like this.

We did our jobs. The moon lit up our rough dirt roads
on the blackout FOBs. Those long, cold desert nights.
At Leatherneck I heard the Taliban rockets explode. 

At Bastion a kind Scottish Buddhist told
me that, to escape from suffering, give up desire.
Attachment. Or else it will always end up like this.

At FOB Salerno my second time, the dirt perimeter road
buckled under my feet when the VBIED went off inside
the wire. Crouched in a bunker, I heard a man explode.

There was nothing left of him but mist. I suppose
we scraped up the pinkish dirt and threw it in a ditch
where the wastewater swept it down to the scrub pine grove.

On Facebook, ITV, BBC, now I watch—over and over—
Kabul airport, the jostling, confusion—then haywire,
then bloodsmoke, then shrapnel, shaking cameras, confusion.
We never thought it would all end like this. We knew. 

Afghan Villanelle 2: Someone I Knew

I thought he was someone I used to know.
Travis, maybe, or Luis, or Kim Lee, or Daquon.
Ten years overseas, you meet a lot of boys.

Flying from base to base to teach, always on the go,
Names and faces get a little scrambled before long.
I thought it was someone I used to know.

With their matching crew cuts uniformly overgrown,
Loping at the low ready like packs of wilding dogs.
Ten years in service overseas, you meet a lot of boys.

Back at this base again, I think I see my own ghosts—
Myself as I was then. Those Air Force firemen from Warner Robins.
Strangers, of course, but I thought they were someone I used to know.

More time for déjà vu tonight, perhaps, after I open up this
Stars and Stripes and see who almost made it—dead in the last action.
Thirteen killed at Kabul. Ten years overseas, you forget a lot of boys.

But tonight, here on the Ed Center’s cheap black sofa,
This picture, those eyes. No need to look at the caption,
Even though I do. Yes. And the rank. Lance Corporal.
And this time, yes, it was. It was someone that I used to know.


Joanna Grant holds a Ph.D. in British and American literature, specializing in fictional as well as nonfiction travel narratives of the Middle East. She spent eight years in that region, notably two years in Afghanistan, teaching writing, mythology, and public speaking classes to American soldiers and gathering materials for her own memoir, which she is currently completing as part of an MFA in Creative Nonfiction at Southern New Hampshire University under the direction of Mark Sundeen. Her poetry and prose have appeared widely in journals including Guernica and Prairie Schooner.