Word from the Editor

I began drafting this essay at the end of the presidential election season, in light of what many of us thought would be a landmark historical moment: the United States’ election of our first woman president. On November 8, as we are all too aware, despite winning the popular vote by (as of this writing) over two million, the Electoral College results tallied in favor of her opponent. Spurred by a campaign rhetoric that relied on a cornerstone of violence, fear, and hatred, the president-elect continues to provoke considerable domestic and international criticism. Shocked by what this outcome revealed—that nearly half of voters responded positively to his rhetoric—, many say that it appears we have two Americas, red and blue. Like warring tribes, we’ve now turned away from each other and returned to our camps, separated by a modern Mason-Dixon line in the divided states of America. We curl up with our own news sources, revel in our own truths. The fissure is too deep, we say, and so draw a line that relieves us of reconciling our differences, scrutinizing root causes, or compromising our values.

Fissure is just one analogy to describe the state of the (dis)union. We could, instead, look at our picture of this country and say that part of our view was obscured. As political theorist Andrew Robinson writes, “Any particular way of seeing illuminates some aspects of an object and obscures others.” With our sights set on equality, community, and eco-conservatism, we now realize that we missed a large segment of the picture. Feminist scholar Julie Jung calls this synecdochic understanding: using part of something to represent the whole. As it turns out, many of us—including every major newspaper and pollster—were looking at the U.S. through this device. The election results lifted the shroud. Now we’re squirming in discomfort about two new sources of awareness: that which was underneath the shroud and the shroud itself. As long as there’s a shroud, the former cannot be helped. But we should question why we didn’t investigate our blind spots, why we overlooked the shroud.

Often writers think of revision as a task grudgingly—or happily—undertaken to perfect our work. We reread our words seeking moments of disconnect for the bits that don’t seem to belong, and we assess their worthiness to the story. We want our work to make sense, so we seek a narrative arc. If something doesn’t propel the narrative or make consistent sense for a character, it falls to the cutting room floor. Smooth out the wrinkles, wash out the stains, turn in the essay, get an A.

But what if we revised revision? What if instead of smoothing out the wrinkles, we held them to a magnifying glass? In this approach, so-called flaws would not to be brushed away but, rather, probed. As writers, artists, and activists, can we approach our work so that revising—that process of looking closely at our work for moments of disconnect—is not a process of glossing over but of examining more closely? Instead of manipulating truth in service of a smooth narrative, we should examine our motives for creating a smooth narrative to begin with. In this light, revision becomes not an act of making something flawless but, rather, making it more whole. As Annie Dillard writes in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, “Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. . . This is how you spend this afternoon, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon.”

Given this approach to revision, what cultural material have we rushed to brush away before truly exploring? In our attempts to move toward equality and understanding, it’s now apparent that we’ve not fully attended to the underlying bigotry, misogyny, and xenophobic ills that this election season oozed to the surface. We have a country half-peopled by those who either resonate with or can overlook narratives of distrust and resentment for “the other.” Although it feels for many that we’ve now taken six decades’ worth of steps back, perhaps the reason we need to do so is because our progressive vision glossed over too many foundational cracks. While we were moving forward, half the country planned a revolt. If we’re committed to walking our talk of inclusion, then we need to hunker down in this new climate to revise our understanding of the United States and build something more tenable.

It was with these thoughts that I have been turning the pages of our tenth issue, which is my last as editor. It appears to me that what we’ve put together here is a multi-layered, multi-genre conversation about gaps in cultural narratives, moments of disconnect or desire for connection, and an attempt to, as Dillard wrote, stalk the gaps. If anything, the eighty-two pieces in this Winter/Spring 2017 issue, from interviews to art to new and translated work in fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, point to the value and necessity of open discourse, of reading the white space between words along with the words themselves.

In her interview for our Lunch Special, Maggie Nelson says “every draft is slathered with self-deceptions,” which we must examine in order to get to honesty. In a separate interview, artist Harry Dodge responds to Nelson’s The Argonauts by reminding us that “any piece of art, whether nonfiction or otherwise, is a construction” and asks “whether language is able to do the work of describing fluidity, or anything really.” In his interview, poet Fred Moten talks about how writing should not suppress what he calls the monstrous, the strange, the radically disruptive fundamental aspects of life. And Susan Southard says of Nagasaki, a braided nonfiction narrative about the U.S. bombing in WWII, “I felt it was so important to bring [the survivors], still hidden from view in our country, into visibility.”

This theme of visibility is stitched throughout the issue. We could say the stitches are like sutures, repairing cultural wounds, but the stitches are also like hand-sewn needlepoint, each threaded with its own palette, in its own frame, its own unique picture. Gabo Prize winner Jim Pascual Agustin’s poem Danica Mae is about the recent mass killings in The Philippines. Diana Woods Memorial Prize winner Sarah Pape’s CNF piece Eternal Father & The Other Army brings to light a nuanced experience of depression. Call to Arms, Marine Lieutenant Lisbeth Prifogle’s featured essay, is about the need for publishing “stories that could alleviate the fear, isolation, depression, and anxiety of joining the old world after a deployment.” Grace Lynne’s featured art collection, The Exploration Series, seeks to show “Black culture in a new light, and open people up to a side of my culture that they haven’t seen.”

I could, without reservation, list every single one of the eighty-two pieces in this issue. It is a beautiful, heartbreaking, mind-expanding collection, and an honor to publish this one as my last. After three issues as editor, this is a bittersweet goodbye as I now step away from the journal. My studies in the Antioch MFA program and, recently, as a Post-MFA in Pedagogy student are nearly complete, and Lunch Ticket has and always will be student-run. My work leading the editorial and production staff, reading our submissions, developing relationships with our writers and artists, and connecting with literary and art lovers who come to our pages has been humbling, inspiring, and invaluable for my personal growth as a writer and as a woman in this world. Thank you for being here, for sharing your stories, for reading ours.

And take good care,

Arielle Silver
Editor-in-chief

arielle-silver-3_optArielle Silver is a writer and musician. Her work has appeared in BrevityGulf Stream, From Sac, Moment, and Lilith Magazine. In 2016, she was nominated by The Poet’s Billow for a Pushcart Prize and received the Antioch University Los Angeles Library Research Award for her MFA critical thesis, “Wicked, Selfish, and Cruel: An Inquiry into the Stepmother Narrative.” She is currently at work on a memoir about love, childlessness, and stepmothering, a portion of which will be published in a Burning Man anthology in 2017; and an historical novel set in the bebop and burlesque world of New York in the 1940s. She received her MFA from AULA, where she served on Lunch Ticket in various roles from May 2014 through June 2015, and as Editor-in-chief from June 2015 through December 2016. www.ariellesilver.com.

Witness 2016, United States of America

The People wanted a reality television star to be their leader and we have to take responsibility for creating that.

It was 2003 when the first season of The Bachelor aired. Girls were on their hind legs like animals begging to be picked for a rose. Jerry-Springer-type talk shows began their de-evolution into hysterical chanting and violence. We’d already lived through the start of reporters and news stations discarding sacred words like report and news in favor of irresponsible mandates like speculate and entertain. Thirteen years ago, our modern day version of throwing Christians to the lions for entertainment was in an unfortunate full swing. I remember watching that first episode of The Bachelor, the new advent of this “reality” television. The farther along the show progressed, the tighter I curled up. I pressed myself into the farthest corner of my couch watching, through my fingers, in horror. My soul was already reacting my body because of what I was witnessing. I felt physically sickened by it and I never watched another reality TV show again… almost. Never one minute of Trump’s,  but I’d peek in on others from time to time; the advent of DVRs made it easier to fast forward through the painfully scripted and edited-within-an-inch-of- its-life “unscripted” chaos.

No one can ever tell any woman, minority, LGBTQ, transgender, Muslim, African-American, American Indian, Asian, Middle Eastern, any and all ethnicities other than white, that we are paranoid ever again, because this shit is real.

For almost thirty years we’ve been watching people act inhumanly towards each other in the name of ratings and money, and calling it entertainment. Not only is it the norm: entire generations know nothing else. The nation has become negligently desensitized to what it means to be a respectful, thoughtful human to another human because that’s not good TV. The medium is so powerful, it created a caricature of a person so strong that he could not be stopped. The Democratic and Republican parties TOGETHER were not strong enough to stop what reality television and the media had created: Donald Trump. He is the worst of humanity and he uncovered the millions of people in our country who respond to that. We have made him a drug, and people are ravenous for it. We, the watchers, have to take responsibility for that. We are complicit.

I’ve had this terrible feeling for months and months that we are at an actual crossroads of humanity. That we are experiencing something like 1930s Germany, to which people look back and say, The signs were so clear. Why didn’t they stop him? He was just one man. Well, everything is extremely clear. There has been nothing covert about this man’s message. Whether he meant it all, whether he means to follow through, Trump has shined the biggest black light on our beloved country. Apparently, people have been lying in wait for this particular trumpet call. And, boy, did they instantaneously respond.

No one can ever tell any woman, minority, LGBTQ, transgender, Muslim, African-American, American Indian, Asian, Middle Eastern, any and all ethnicities other than white, that we are paranoid . . . ever . . . again, because this shit is real. It is deeper and darker real than even any of us could have imagined. Even in our beautiful bubbles of Manhattan and Los Angeles blood has already been spilled.  It is not hyperbole to be afraid because it’s already begun. If we let it continue, families will be ripped apart. People will be deported. Separated. Segregated. Rights will be stripped. January 20, 2017 could set our clocks back decades and be marked as one of the darkest days in American history.

This has been exhausting to the core. To be so bewildered by humanity, so gob-smacked by people we love, whom we thought we knew, whom we thought loved and respected us and our rights and our freedoms. Millions of little civil wars have already begun, brother against brother, the stepping away from, the distancing of.  As artists we have an abundance of empathy, which is usually a great thing, but in these days it can feel like quicksand trying to course its way through our veins. We are weighed down by our disbelief, and shattered at witnessing some crazed game of telephone where the truth, crystal clear, is spoken, and as it passes, even just to the very next person, it is somehow transformed and ignored.

The most hopeful thought that moves me forward is that they can want to make a group of people register with the government because of their race or religion, they can want to take away our rights, but because it is today and not 1930s Germany, there will never come a day where this can be allowed to happen again. There is no way we would let it. Artists have always been part of the resistance, and here we are, so that there will never come a day when….

Artists and storytellers, with the mandate of talking about what our job is now, I put forth that our job now, as always, is to do magic. We create tangible worlds out of thin air. A thought has its lucky genesis in one of our gorgeous heads and we create people and their worlds where nothing existed before. We start to care for them, and hand the baton to an audience who begins to care for them, too. The world watches and laughs and cries and gasps and cares. We have our  shared experience, and that, my loves, is Magic. There is so much value in not only shining a light on the darkest parts of humanity, but also in making humanity giggle its ass off. Make music and art. Write stories and poems. Make documentaries and films and plays and television shows… scripted. As the music swells, so will our hearts.  As voices rise, so will our spirits. As collaboration strengthens, so will community.

I vow here, today, to do everything in my power, including stand in front of the harm with arms linked, to bear witness, in the name of what is right and good and decent, to support our nation, so that our creative community can shine our collective light to heal the pains and awaken the slumbering so they can see clearly: he is like me is like she is like we.

Deidra EdwardsDeidra Edwards is an LA-based actor, director, writer, and collaborator to writers. Her work has appeared in television, on film, and in theatres around the country. She directs with her mentor Jeff Perry, Co-Founder of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, in theatres such as The Alliance and The Guthrie.  She’s spoken out on LGBT Issues with her videos on YouTube under the title Enough Already. “Witness 2016” can be viewed here. Deidra is honored to be a contributor to Lunch Ticket.

 

A Corrido for Macondo

1. There was a table.

Around the table, there were women and men and people who entered rooms holding their hearts in their hands. Around the table, people sat and they brought with them stories or words that would make stories, parts of little poems, thorns, and parts of their hands that would tremble with the long limbs of sentences or syllables that would grow into lilts. It was a table where so many things began.

The sound of a story happening inside a body is a marvel not everyone has witnessed. Or a poem. But shouldn’t we all be allowed a little bit of sound, a bit of that good light, if not all of it, if not a heap or a whole feast?

A table with pencils and loose paper, journals, books, and voices growing feathers, making themselves into old plumes. I imagine it like this. Laughter and coraje, Love and the naming of despair. I imagine so many things, but is imagining enough to mean realness, to mean wood and feathers and pencils and hair??  A caserola teeming with yeses when the belly has unpacked its nos is a hope I can hold in between my teeth or my hands, both of which Macondo has affirmed that I need for writing, though I could not see myself at that first Macondo table, not because I didn’t belong, not because I did not have anything meaningful to say. Others had to come before me so that my tongue could understand its own fire—I’ve learned that much about fire.

So, I figure one day my words, too, will play ancestor for those yet to be born.

Like all precious things, it began from need, this space for people like us to sit and be heard, to ask questions, to let our questions breathe light, and perhaps we left only with more questions, if not simple answers, perhaps we left knowing how to ask more questions and why and how we belonged, these bodies we are in, these stories our bodies wear like hair.

 

2.

There was a table made of wood.
Strong, handmade piece of furniture,
that was not only furniture,
but a sacred gathering place.

There were men and women, but I
was not there. Not because I had
nothing to place on the mantel,
salty and steaming like fat tears,

but because I still had too much
to consume. At the first meeting
the table was decorated
with cazuelas, pitchers, platos,

a bright rainbow of ceramics
hugging carefully cooked dishes
flavored with laughter, trauma, grief,
and joy, a legacy of joy.

The table is a metaphor
for family and the elders
who cared for the young. I was fed
from this table like a young doe,

but now, I am grown with my hand
on the back of a wood-carved seat.
The men and women have made room
for us, my brothers and sisters

and me. We are smiling. They say,
“Por favor, come! Sit! Share with us.”
Shy, I offer my meager dish:
nopales boiled, sliced into strips,

and mixed with red diced tomatoes,
purple onions and cilantro.
I make it like my grandmother
taught me, but I am embarrassed.

Nopales are not exciting
or new. No importa. They ask,
“Will you speak your grandmother’s name?”
“Ubalda Duran Bermejo,”

I share. And together we call,
“Ubalda Duran Bermejo,
Presente!” And I know this place,
this strong, handmade table is home.

 

3. Then, too, there is a tiny red bird.

And of course, of course, I will tell you there is something to wield when we gather. I won’t tell you its dimensions, not its dim textures or songs. Perhaps you already understand that you don’t have to hold something in your palm to believe in its magic. In this life, everyone should know a place where we feel we belong, a place where new parts and old ones, too, are born and reborn.

About fire, I will say this: the saddest thing is when it has to leave, or you do.  O, where do I begin?

And look, I cannot solve my loneliness alone. I cannot write anything that is built of rock and wind and feathered, of water, and fire, of course, of course, unless we speak their names. A few days of sitting at the table has helped me realize this now: tomorrow I will be someone’s ancestor, and so will you. It’s a fact that is written in our muscles, breath, and hair.

In any case, Love is a feast, a whole feast, a feast that begins with what we have lost and ends with what we give the world in return.

In any case, there, too, is that tiny red bird. And what did the poet tell us it meant? Again, what did she say its red feathers and tiny heartbeat could do with the trees, the montes, the winds?

 

4.

Remember the tiny red bird?
Like the table, it is fleeting.
Not to say it is frivolous,
but of a single, bright moment,

a sound home we create again
and again, but never live in.
Feathers cling to our fingertips
like magic so not to forget.

The summer of 2016
we were each a tiny red bird
nursing broken wings, silenced songs,
violated nests, but the fire

smoldered beneath plumes, and refused
to die. Is the tiny red bird
his fragility, her spirit,
or their ability to fly?

Is Macondo the tree we took
refuge in when the summer winds
grew too hot, too violent? Surely,
we found comfort in its branches.

We thanked it for embracing us
like a mother, raising us up.
Surely, we blessed the mothers too
for caring and giving too much.

I cannot solve my loneliness
alone. Alone a spider knits
a web trying her best to live,
but then the leaf, branch, wall and sun.

One day, I too will be a branch.
That is to say, we are the tree,
ancestors to those not yet born,
tiny red birds looking for rest.

 

5. Imagine holding Love in your hand like a bone.

Of every place I have been: leaf spiders and tree walls, the fingertips of feathers and moonlight, mesquite songs—

In the meantime, I can sit next to a woman whose poems remind me I am supposed to be alive. I carry tierra in my mouth, not because I am meant to suffer, not because I am made to eat mud, but because there is a tree inside me, which the table, which the people holding their hearts in their hands, help me allow to be a tree, which means it will release its saps, which means its roots will touch the earth and remember humming of the sun.

In other words, I can sit next to a woman who wields a machete and not be afraid.

In other words, if I open my mouth, some will see feathers. Red ones and wing-flap and moonlight and hard dust.

And so, I have a bone in my throat, which arises out of lust and sadness and great dark joys, and of course, of course, Love. Everything, after a certain point, means feast and birth and darkness, fire and hair.

And so, I have the urge to tell you I am struck by the magic. The great mercy of Love is telling ourselves we are good enough. It is the same when I hold a man or you hold a woman or we are held by someone with Love. Most enjoyable is the urge not to leave.  Most enjoyable is the fact we belong.

 

6.

Find a bone in the poet’s throat,
you will see the tender scarring.
Find the little part of poems like thorns
cutting and clinging to the skin,

and you will see my heart. My heart
wants to wield the bone tearing at
my insides, but I am fatigued
from all the scratching and bleeding.

To be a poet is to be
muscle movement, deep breath and hair.
Together we gather the hairs
like thread and weave a great blanket

of colors that stretch a rainbow.
Embedded tight in the knots, stars
or pieces of glitter shimmer,
and we remember we are light.

We remember light is love is
love is love is love is love is
to be good enough is to be.
We is made of you and me. Breathe.

Breathe.      Breathe.      Breathe.       Breathe.

Gather strength, collect provisions,
and prepare for the next battle.
Find the poet, the warrior.

Joe Jiménez Joe Jiménez is the author of The Possibilities of Mud (Korima 2014) and Bloodline (Arte Público 2016). Jiménez is the recipient of the 2016 Letras Latinas/ Red Hen Press Poetry Prize. His writing has recently appeared in Entropy, Drunken Boat, Atticus Review, and on the PBS NewsHour and Lambda Literary sites. He lives in San Antonio, Texas, and is a member of the Macondo Writing Workshops. For more information, visit joejimenez.net.

 

 

Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo

Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo is the author of Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge (Sundress, 2016), a 2016-2017 Steinbeck Fellow, former Poets & Writers California Writers Exchange winner, and Barbara Deming Memorial Fund grantee. She’s received residencies from Hedgebrook and Ragdale Foundation and is a member of the Macondo Writers’ Workshop. Her work is published in Acentos Review, CALYX, crazyhorse, and The James Franco Review among othersA short dramatization of her poem “Our Lady of the Water Gallons,” directed by Jesús Salvador Treviño, can be viewed at latinopia.com. She is a cofounder of Women Who Submit and the curator of HITCHED.

.  

Call to Arms

I sip on my coffee and scan over emails: doesn’t apply, not me, junk, I have a meeting with the Colonel today. The Marines’ voices bounce off the walls with excitement as they chug Rip-It energy drinks, the unofficial sponsor of war. When I ask where they get neverending cases of the eight-ounce cans of carbonated super caffeine, the answer is always the same: one of the Marines snaps to attention and announces, “We know people who know people who kill people, Ma’am.” That Marine remains at attention until I lose my bearing, which doesn’t take long, and everyone erupts into laughter. This is how every day starts with the exception of Sunday. Sunday morning, I wake up before dawn and head out for a long run on the lesser-traveled dirt roads that wrap around the perimeter of base. The Marines have the option of going to church or sleeping in, but the workday doesn’t start until noon.

I hit reply to an email from a friend back home and write, “Good morning, things are exactly the same as they were yesterday and the same as they will be tomorrow.” As I hit send, I hear the thick metal door of our warehouse-turned-office creak open, as whoever opens it fails to realize how heavy the door actually is; this is my first clue that it’s not one of the warehouse Marines coming in to grab a Rip-It before carrying out the plan of the day. I slide my chair to the side to stay out of view from the visitor.

Our office is a small warehouse made of cement blocks and filled with dust-covered desks and beat-up office chairs. Along the back wall, next to the fridge full of Rip-Its and bottled water, is a rifle rack where the Marines place their M16 rifles while they work. When they leave for chow, go to the headquarters building, or pick up supplies from the depot, they wrap the various styles of tactical slings they have acquired around their bodies and carry their weapon at their side.

I was warned to be careful. This is the battle I face in war—someone or someones in the unit hiding behind computer screens waiting for me to incriminate myself online.

At some point in the war, a unit that inhabited the space built half-walls out of plywood, making a break room next to the rifle rack. In the small, cluttered space there is a dirty sofa that nobody uses because a poof of dirt explodes when you sit on it; crates of ground coffee; rusty wall lockers filled with boxes of Girl Scout Cookies, candy, paperback romance novels, other random items that strangers have sent in care packages throughout the years of war (including the occasional pink nail polish that Sergeant Browning picks out to secretly paint her toenails); and boxes of letters from school children, women looking for dramatic love stories, and parents remembering the children they have lost. In front of the break room is another segregated area where I share an office with Staff Sergeant Sharpe, my sister-in-arms. The plywood walls were not intended for privacy, nor was the window cut out in front of my desk that allows the Marines to roll their chairs over and pass documents back and forth instead of walking twenty steps to get my signature. In the front of the warehouse are desks lined up where the five supply admin Marines work. Due to the closeness both here and in the barracks (which are also converted warehouses), everyone knows everything about everyone. I can’t even hide it when I get a Dear Jane letter from my boyfriend during the second month of the deployment—some of the Marines offer their own letters for comparison and condolences. We are more than family because we can’t afford to tease and bicker; at war you have to love and support those to the left and right of you, because at any given time they could be the one to save your life, and during the daily grind they are the ones who save your sanity.

I know exactly how far I have to lean to the left to stay out of sight of visitors. My introverted self needs the extra ten seconds to gain awareness of the situation before confronting whoever is on the other side of the wall. As I lean, I overhear the conversation.

“Good morning, sergeant, can I help you?” Lance Corporal (LCpl) Curlee announces with pride. LCpl Curlee is barely nineteen, just over five feet tall and might weigh 100 pounds soaking wet with a bag of pennies in each cargo pocket. She’s one of the most motivated Marines in the shop. When she checked into the unit with LCpl Shivers a month before, they were told, “Pack your bags you’re going to Iraq.” Neither complained; both eagerly prepared for six to thirteen months in a combat zone. I hear her voice over the sergeant she’s addressing. “I don’t know, sergeant, let me see if she’s available.” The office gets quiet as everyone wants to know what business the unexpected visitor has with “The Ma’am.”

“Ma’am, there are three Army sergeants here to see you,” LCpl Curlee says.

“What on earth do three Army sergeants want?” I ask rhetorically.

“I don’t know ma’am, they said something about a blog,” LCpl Curlee says with her normal tone of enthusiasm.

My heart drops as my stomach twists into a tight yoga knot that I can never get the rest of my body to mimic. A week ago, during an unexpected invite to the base coffee shop, I was warned to be careful. Specifically, I was told, “Lieutenant Prifogle, people are reading your blog and I don’t mean for entertainment.” This is the battle I face in war—someone or someones in the unit hiding behind computer screens waiting for me to incriminate myself online. I registered my blog with the all the right authorities, sat through a brief with the public affairs office about what I can and can’t post due to operations security (OpSec). I have been so terrified of posting something that could violate OpSec and cost troops their lives that all I’ve written about is the weather and my daily runs that range from three to fifteen miles. I draw in a deep breath and stand tall.

Nobody wants to hear about the blasé days, they want to hear about triumphs and war stories that change the course of history.

If I’m going to be arrested by PMO in front of my Marines, I will do it with dignity. After all, the sergeants are just the messengers, not the accusers.

I turn the corner of the wall that separates my semi-private office to the open space and am surprised to see three young sergeants eagerly waiting like they are about to meet Megan Fox.

“Can I help you?” I ask confused.

“Ma’am, we just wanted to meet you in person. We’ve been following your blog the past few months and we just really enjoyed it. We’re on our way home and asked all around base to find your office.” The leader of the pack, a male sergeant, smiles and talks rapidly. I look behind at the two other soldiers—one is a female. I shake all their hands, still confused.

“Well, thank you for reading, I’m not really sure why you find it so interesting,” I say. “I’m just a sup-o stuck here on Al-Asad running myself into the ground.”

“Ma’am,” the young woman jumps in from behind the other two, “when you’re out here, nobody back home knows what to say or how to relate. It just feels like I’m not alone when I read your posts.”

I thank them for stopping by and wish them well on their journey home. I think about the young woman’s words. My emails and phone calls are sparse and the details I provide about life out here even more sparse. How can someone back home relate? The never-ending work day, the hurry up and waits, the eagerness to get in the fight, the never discussed fear of death. Nobody wants to hear about the blasé days, they want to hear about triumphs and war stories that change the course of history.

When I return home, I don’t fit into the keyhole that opens the door to my old life. My friends, the restaurants and bars I used to frequent, even the beautiful beaches of San Diego, all seem pointless after living in a war zone. I kept a blog to fulfill Antioch’s field study requirement for its MFA program. The assignment was to keep a blog while deployed, so after I unpack my bags and storage container, I file the paperwork to complete the project and stop blogging. I take the next semester off and stop writing altogether.

Eventually, I finish all the requirements to earn an MFA, but I never go back to writing with the enthusiasm I had before. Even now, as I write this, I struggle to put the words on the page. The various traumas of four years on active duty brings a monsoon of memories that flood my body with hormones of fear, then rage, then finally a sadness that no amount of prescription drugs or alcohol can combat.

After graduating from Antioch, I submitted to literary agents my final manuscript, a memoir that covers my experiences in the military. Some asked for samples, others didn’t—all said it wasn’t marketable, even though it was a remarkable story and excellent writing. I cried, I screamed, I destroyed my computer in a fit of rage, and then I tried to stop writing forever.

Six years after graduating, I share a few of my essays with my fiancé who is also a combat veteran. He says nothing at first, but asks to read them again, and again, and one more time without saying a word. Finally, he looks at me and says, “This isn’t about you. You realize that right? You have to publish this, but not for you.”

I stuff a piece of sushi in my mouth to inhibit my ability to say anything.

“You have to share this for the vets who are out there alone, scared, tired, depressed. You have to share this so they know they aren’t alone, that they aren’t the only ones who feel this way. You have to show them that they can overcome it.”

“But,” I try to interject with my mouth still full of rice and seaweed.

“God gave you this gift, you don’t have a choice, you have to finish and publish your story.”

To date, my story goes untold, as do the stories of countless other veterans struggling to make sense of what they experienced.

I think about the sergeants who came to my office and the many soldiers and marines after them who stopped by to shake my hand and thank me for keeping my blog because it made them feel less alone. I think about how I’ve felt since I stopped writing—like there’s a fog that constantly surrounds me; some days it’s light and misty, almost refreshing, but other days it’s so thick that I can’t find my way out of bed.

Periodically, I get an email or phone call from a fellow veteran chronicling his/her struggles in a journal that he/she wants me to read. They want to know if they can be writer.

“You are writing,” I tell them, “so you are a writer.” I instruct them not to focus on publishing, but focus on the act of writing. I tell them that they can publish it after their wounds are healed. I leave these conversations feeling like a hypocrite because most days I am still afraid of putting words on paper. I hit send or hang up the phone and glance at the manuscript sitting on my desk. I think about what my loving fiancé told me, “God gave you this gift.” I sift through the rejection letters, all saying the same thing—war stories just aren’t marketable.

To date, my story goes untold, as do the stories of countless other veterans struggling to make sense of what they experienced. Stories that could connect us; stories that could alleviate the fear, isolation, depression, and anxiety of joining the old world after a deployment; stories that could save one of the twenty-two veterans every day who just can’t take another day in this new world they are expected to navigate through alone.*

These stories aren’t told because, according to agents and publishers, readers don’t have any interest in war stories that don’t fit the mold of a young boy going off to war, triumphantly leading troops into battle, and coming back a man. We all know intuitively that this archetype isn’t real, but a true war story told well breaks our heart, makes us uncomfortable, forces us to look at heroes in a new light—they are just ordinary people who went down a relentless and unforgiving path in life for the greater good.

So, this is my call to arms to civilians: Go out and purchase the literary magazines and books that don’t sell as well but tell a true narrative of what hell-on-earth looks like. I suggest Incoming: Veteran Writers on Coming Home, but there are plenty of others to explore. Let these stories disturb you, wake you up covered in sweat from the nightmares, make you weep in public for unimaginable losses, and laugh out loud as we retell stories of chugging gallons of milk to see who pukes first. Let it surprise you as you discover you have more in common with the experience of war than you could ever imagine, because war is a part of the human experience. Only then will you know what that sentimental meme you posted on Facebook about supporting the troops really means. Only then will you change the market and help new voices of the war narrative be told.

And this is my call to arms to veterans: Create art no matter what the market looks like or who tells you that you can’t. Write books, plays, songs, poems; draw, paint, make murals through your city. Do it because God gave you a gift, do it for your own peace of mind, do it to give a voice to those who haven’t found theirs yet. Most importantly, do it to connect to a stranger who is lost and needs to know they aren’t alone.

Together we can do more than raise awareness of those twenty-two veterans who commit suicide every day. Together we can reframe the war narrative and change the way the world sees veterans. We are called heroes and put on the highest pedestal, but we’re more like glass figurines of our former selves sitting in a curio cabinet. Together, we can make the shelf stable, together we can protect those who protected us.

 

*Editor’s note: This statistic—that twenty-two American veterans commit suicide every day (or one every sixty-five minutes)—comes from a 2013 report from the Department of Veteran Affairs. More recent sources, such as the Washington Post, have attempted to put the figure in context, saying that it may overestimate service-related suicides among aging veterans; at the same time, it does not include a 2014 update from the VA , which indicates a spike among the youngest (aged 18 to 24) veterans who take their own lives.

Lisbeth Prifogle

Lisbeth Prifogle is an officer in the United States Marine Corps. Her work was featured in Incoming: Veteran Writers on Coming HomePoem Memoir Story – Volume 11The Splinter Generation, and Citron Review. She also received an honorable mention in Best American Essays 2012. Lisbeth holds an MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles and is currently working on a travel memoir about a two-month, solo trek through Peru immediately following a deployment to Iraq. She lives in domestic bliss with her fiancé and family in Southeast Louisiana.