Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Jean Van Loon

Afghan Spring, 2012

Fathoms of night. A huddle of mud
huts, rough wooden beams
worked by grandfathers’
grandfathers. Inside, they breathe – 
husbands, mothers, children
assassins. They pray
for their crops, ponder
which armed men to back.

The foreign soldier steals
away from his outpost, an Afghan
robe cloaking his cradled
gun. Dust boils from his bootsteps.
A man not out of his twenties, shipped
from a country still young
that wants to teach peace.

His night goggles limn
the road in emerald dark
fields sown with grapes and poppies
and IEDs, like the one that blasted
the leg from his buddy last week.

His knuckles bark on doors
rousing sleepers in nightclothes.
Bullets rip through flesh and ancient
walls. Three men, four women, nine

At home, the soldier’s President
slumps in his armoured
car, its thick white interior arched
like the Capitol dome.
His eyes squeeze
shut, forehead deep-plowed
ear pressed to his scrambled phone.


This poem was inspired by an incident that took place in mid-March 2012 and a related photograph from the front page of the Globe and Mail.

On the Way Home:
Aunt Bea’s BBQ, Galax VA

Half past church. In a plastic
booth, she sits in her Sunday
dress, grey hair long, in curls
the way she wore it
the year she met her man.

At the next table
two women talk of squirrels.
- I laid one out real good
she laid out three.
- Haven’t ate squirrel in years.

Her husband carries two
Small Meals on his tray
tall, in his good suit, creased
loafers polished to gleam.
They stick to the floor.

He hands his wife pale
fries, hush puppies, sour slaw
barbecue nothing like
what their son used to make –
sweet applewood smoke
savour rubbed deep by his fingers  –
before he was sent to Iraq.

They clasp hands, bow their heads.
For what we are about to receive …


Summer suddenly here and everyone
out in it, breathing the smell of hot grease
waiting for Britt’s Fresh Fries.

An old man sprinkles vinegar, carries a Large to his wife
whose hips spill wide across the truck’s front seat.
A blonde in a long red shift and cowboy boots
remembers out loud the fries she tried with butter.

To one side stand a young pair
she in ruffled tiers of orange chiffon
he in lean young jeans. Her eyes slide past
his clean and serious jaw; he holds his gaze
above her naked shoulders.

He steps back, then close, back
then close again. Her dress
riffles in the fresh new breeze. It does not brush
his hands – large like those of Michelangelo’s David
roped with veins, a man’s.

Some day her flesh may
spread across a truck’s front seat
some day his wiry body sport a paunch.
Today they have it all
Britt’s chips
orange ruffles
and, oh, with all they’ll reach for
those hands.


We step outside after an afternoon shower
into the scent of rain. Gusts of south wind
palm our startled cheeks with vagrant warmth
and spinning birch leaves land like golden coins.

Let’s drive, you say. We clip our seatbelts, follow
the yellow line past fields of umber and ochre
under a somber sky where geese on down-swept
wings slope low to flock on stubbled grain.

We cherish the rationed daylight, you and I
as winter looms – our colours wan, our foliage
crisp and thin. A sudden dazzle –
brass-slashed horizon, treetops in slanting rays.

How many more such days will we know this year?
How many more days?

JEAN VAN LOON, a member of Ruby Tuesdays writing group, holds an MFA from the UBC Optional Residency Program in Creative Writing. Her short fiction has appeared in The Dalhousie Review, The New Quarterly, The Queen’s Quarterly, and Ottawa Magazine, is forthcoming in Room, and has been anthologized in Journey Prize Stories 19. Her poetry has been published in the Queen’s Quarterly, Bywords Quarterly Journal and Bywords.ca. She has also published non-fiction and reviews.

Read her story “Life List”

Read her Journey Prize anthologized “Stardust”

Hear Jean read an earlier version of Afghan Spring

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