01 June 2016

Lit Journal 'As You Were' No. 4 Available FREE On-line

"Hunter or Hunted?" by Josh King. oil and pastel
The fourth and latest issue of the on-line literary journal "As You Were" lands today, Jun. 1, 2016, disgorging stories and art via the non-profit organization Military Experience & the Arts. The journal is published twice annually, and includes poetry, short stories, non-fiction, and visual art produced by veterans, family members, and others with connections to military service.

The journal can be read on-line for FREE here.

In the international "veterans lit" publishing space, the journal uniquely packages its submissions process as something akin to a virtual writing workshop. Unlike the thumbs-up-or-down approach of other journals, writers of all experience levels may engage in multiple drafts with peer editors and readers, while preparing pieces for publication. Regardless of whether a piece is accepted after one edit or many, however, the objective, however, is always the same: Help writers find new ways to document and communicate the military experience.

To do otherwise, as Frank Blake cautions in his poem "I Didn't Keep a Diary," runs risk of losing the war:
[…] The mission was accomplished
so we moved into an abandoned school house in between attacks
The war was young and our true enemy wasn’t born yet.
I sat down to write but how could I
the depth of a few weeks without running water made my memory too cloudy
I couldn’t recall the amazing detail I felt I needed
So I didn’t
"Camouflage" by Susan E. Kashmiri, 
mixed media on paper
The issue's fiction section delivers a wide range of images and voices. Not surprisingly, the stories often center on themes of loss and homecoming, and are driven by memorable and compelling characters. Seth Harp's "Jeremiad in Nuevo Laredo" tells the story of a possibly AWOL soldier motorcycling in Mexico, who encounters a prophet who sounds like something from a post-Apocalyptic fever dream. In "The Gadfly," Christopher Lyke tells of Eugene, a much-loved, good-natured Hoosier who suffers from a potentially terminal case of the hooahs:
He’d come to us straight out of basic training. And that had come directly after a lackluster four years in high school. He was light, and tough, and easily wore the smallest uniform in the platoon. Sometimes he’d ask out of the blue, "Sarn't, permission to smoke myself?" Then he’d jump to the ground and bang out fifty push-ups or mountain climbers and pop up laughing at the big joke and at being so hooah. His buddies were also super gung-ho and had a sense of humor about it too. They started copying him with the whole push-up thing when they felt like it. When he insisted on being on a gun team, his friends did, too.
Kyle Larkin's "The Night Before Christmas" introduces a background character who brings to life the careful routine of memorial services downrange. Consider this vignette:
I notice a young soldier setting everything up. He’s obviously done this before, and has a specific routine. He even looks bored as he brings out a green wooden stand, which I’m pretty sure was built specifically for these memorials, and stacks MRE boxes on top of it, which are probably the same boxes used for each ceremony, and then he covers this all with camouflage netting. He laces a brand new pair of boots and places them on the wooden stand in front of the boxes, adjusting them slightly until they are just right. He brings out a rifle and attaches a bayonet, clicking it into place. He turns the rifle upside down and sticks the bayonet into a pre-cut slot on one of the MRE boxes, confirming my guess that the same boxes are used each time. Then he pulls a set of dog tags out of his pocket and hangs them from the pistol grip of the rifle. A clean, new-looking helmet is placed on top of the stock. He walks away for a moment, and then comes back carrying a table with folded-up legs. He stands it up, sets a laptop on the surface, and attaches two small computer speakers with some wires. He looks at the screen, clicks a few times, and then walks away and lights up a cigarette.

It occurs to me that this might be his actual job. I want to ask him if there’s a closet where they store all of this stuff—a dead guy closet; and I want to ask him how it is that he got stuck doing this; if maybe he got suckered into the first couple ceremonies, but then they decided to just keep tasking it to him since he already knew how to do everything. I want to ask him how often he does this; if he wakes up and looks at his schedule and says, "Son of a bitch. Five memorials this week."
"Wall and Trench" by Seth L. Lombardi, digital
In non-fiction, the issue's offerings provide just as much drama and energy as the short fictions. In "Why Not Me?", essayist Howard B. Patrick provides a clear-eyed reflection on the vagaries of war, in which the author carefully interrogates more than a handful of times he or his soldier buddies should have been hurt or killed in Vietnam. Patrick's tone is neither boastful nor incredulous. Helicopters crashed. Duds impacted at their feet. On one patrol, Patrick writes:
During the night we heard noises all around us, but no voices. The flares were not tripped, and we didn’t see any movement on the trail, in the bushes, or in the trees behind us. I made sure every man maintained extra vigilance, with rifles ready and hands on the Claymore plungers, but told them not to detonate them unless we actually heard voices or saw movement.

Luckily, we never set off any of the Claymores, and in the morning we realized just how fortunate we were. The noises we heard were indeed the enemy – hoping we would set off our Claymores, because they had managed sneak up and turn them around to face us.
Patrick's titular question is as matter-of-fact as it is full of wonder. These things happened. And the worst did not. And neither luck nor God may have had anything to do with it.

In "Friendly Fire," Jim Bryson illuminates the uneasy relationships between an aircraft carrier's assigned crew and the itinerant air wing personnel that fly in and out of ship life. In the 1980s, Bryson was a supervisor of electrical shop charged with maintaining the catapult and arresting gear on U.S.S. Nimitz. His prose is full of grease and steam, and lands with a satisfying bump:
Imagine a thirty-ton jet crashing onto the deck, jerking a steel cable connected to a hydraulic piston below decks that absorbs the momentum of this massive bird plus the thrust of its engines raging for the sky. Failure to blast the engines can mean a quick dip into the sea. Jets sink fast and pilots are notoriously poor swimmers.

The good ones never miss. The bad ones forget they are fallible.
Disclosure: The writer of the Red Bull Rising blog is also the poetry editor of the journal "As You Were."

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