I like to say that poetry can be a form of life writing. The Ghosts of Babylon by Jonathan Baxter is an impressive example of that. Baxter was a US Army Ranger in Afghanistan and Iraq, then a security contractor. After his third deployment, he began writing poems to capture his “average” experiences as honestly as he could. He has seen it all and his honesty is hard and cuts to the heart. I felt the damage war does to the souls of soldiers. How do they cope?
Everything is solely
What you choose to make it mean for you
Whatever you need to believe
you can make it all come true. . .
– from Theories of Relativity
Jonathan’s poems are raw but beautiful, many lyrical, and he is more literate than most of us would ever expect a volunteer soldier to be—surprise! Bits of Shakespeare or classic famous works including The Epic of Gilgamesh introduce each of his story poems. I don’t favor modern poems that rhyme because so many feel strained or too contrived, but Jonathan follows a traditional style that made us love the poets of old. His rhythmic rhyming lines flow into the heart of the dusty danger he lived. The influence of Edgar Alan Poe is strong and dark. I hope many people read this book to get a better understanding of what our men and women in combat situations go through. I commend Jonathan for being brave enough to share these intimate thoughts.
Jonathan is a jaded soldier. And why didn’t he just stop and come home? That’s a story poem he tells, too, about the bonds between warriors, the addictive rush of adrenaline. When a soldier is killed, don’t say what a waste of a life, he lived life to the fullest. When you live with death, every moment is alive.
An Appendix gives a list of resources for combat veterans needing help. One of them is Vets4Warriors, an organization of veterans providing 24-7 emotional support for those in service, veterans, their family members, and caregivers. 855-838-8255.
On Memorial Day, remember those who died in war. Remember those for whom a part of themselves died in war.