Feature Poet:

Karen Skolfield









Most common and thus easiest

to hide amongst, gravel swept,

grassthin, low crawl, creepalong,

identical sway and leaf, palmate,

camouflage, among many

one soldier one civilian

shopping in a market





Sinuous, bidirectional

as in a man looking both ways

sensing another

behind him, intent drawn,

the senses become sharpened

in times of war, most often isolated,

strung thin, and if two converge

one swallows whole the other





Slipfaced, radiant, heart refusing

to detach, O brothers upward

leaping, eyes all around

battle buddy, latrine even,

meaning more when dusk

growing upward, tallest thing on earth





Circular the reasoning of war,

no fools, they’ve seen

political cartoons, had the joke

enacted on their bodies. The soldier

forwards a .gif of M-16 casings

turning gold, cast into pockets

of the whiterich, set on repeat,

mouthgrit they learn to laugh through,

on patrol stands at the

upwind margin of sandsea,

horizon scans the nothing, which means

not yet





Blowout, hairpin, crested,

elongate arms for pushaway,

stormsifted, ragecrossed,

horn of the bull, held back

in part and fixed in place,

the rest in migration

impossible to sitstill

with the windburn, even just

the sound of it, remember?





You here for the hummingbird talk?

the ranger asks. It’s 102 degrees

and the visitor’s center has AC.


Over battlefield relics, the ranger’s taped

pictures of delicate nests, a whir of birds.

Jewel to the throat. Behind them,


Minié balls hover, never reaching a target.

He recommends the driving tour,

radio set to 1610.


I drive the last major battleground

of the Army of Northern Virginia,

just days before surrender.


Thousands died not knowing

that in 150 years the streets would bear

cheerful signs: “Lee’s Retreat”


with a cartoon bugle. The radio crackles.

The corn’s grown tall again

and there are cows, generations


from the cows Confederate troops ate,

raw, so faint from hunger cooking

wouldn’t do. Even hummingbirds


can’t cover what’s been done.

A commemorative painting dark enough

I can’t tell blue from gray, and maybe


that was true in life. Because

of AM propagation and Virginia hills

a ghost voice fades out, comes back,


telling me what happened here

but it’s so faint it might be telling me

the thing that’s still to come.




“If war is the dark side of humanity, then military medicine is the light.”

Dr. Jonathan Woodson, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs





Windlass, turnstile, the gate

latched to stave the wandering,

self-adhesive, twistage,

rod included, never at the joint.

Item of last resort, revolutionary,

one-handed operation,

the blooded grip, constriction,

door closed, the tap turned off,

the light intentionally dim.



Battlefield Dressing


From the carapace of lobsters

comes the stanching, clotting agent;

a full 50 percent perish out of want.

Morbidity versus mortality

and the words borne within:

morbid, mortal, moral,

as of a story with a less-than-happy

ending until the newest combat gauze,

from the middle French gaze,

seen dimly, the curtain’s descent,

chitosan so similar to our own

fingernails. Biodegradable, even.



Golden Hour Blood Container


Because heat or cold

is the ruin, slim window

of living, from this person

to that, from me to you,

one soldier born a universal donor,

another a universal recipient,

we say factors as if blood had a choice.

Treatment at the point of injury,

how a place is a field

before it is forever a battlefield.

Scraping away of the final boundary

of skin, the blood rising as it is wont.



Lozenge for Pain Management


The body taught to dampen

a nervous system overfull

of sympathies, learn to power down,

the soldier cooperative and fully awake,

candy to the tongue. Clip the wires,

reroute traffic, as if waterways,

as if the body were one long river

no longer touching its own banks,

left to run dry.





Dancing With the Stars

made us believers.

Such leaps made, see how

the civilians benefit. No longer

the frustration of zippers,

pennies in their slimness,

inclines as tricksters,

how the mind controls

and the digits obey, titanium,

lightweight, pinch process,

the algorithm of grasp and release.

Comes in all the tones that once

were called flesh.



Treating Traumatic Brain Injury


The signature wound of Iraq

and Afghanistan, concussive, small blast,

not a bruise exactly but a quake,

slosh in the bucket.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy,

or was it hyperbola, loop

around the brain, the points

of anger running an endless track.

What we thought were stars:

cells winking out of existence.

Still unexplained: tinnitus,

the smallest of bells

ringing, ringing, ringing.

Slated for trials with children,

the danger of soccer and playgrounds

always a worry.



Regenerative Medicine


Who doesn’t want to be reborn

after the flame, skin graft

sprayed like graffiti on a wall

blackened by soot, burn victim,

that great open wound.

Definitive coverage, how the skin

speaks in binary: here, not here

and the organs listen only to the skin.

Scars a map to nowhere, fading each day

until someone says “Oh, were you

in the military?” and how startling,

how very good to be asked.



Karen Skolfield’s Battle Dress (W. W. Norton) won the Barnard Women Poets Prize and will be published in 2019. Frost in the Low Areas (Zone 3 Press) won the 2014 PEN New England Award in poetry, and she is the winner of the 2016 Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize in poetry from Missouri Review. Skolfield is a U.S. Army veteran and teaches writing to engineers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

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